Ag visa brings cautious optimism

17th June 2021 | Eativity editors

Yesterday’s announcement of a new ag visa for seasonal agriculture workers has come as a relief to growers who’ve been struggling to find a secure workforce since COVID hit. However, industry bodies remain cautious, saying that they’ve heard such promises before.

AUSVEG, peak industry body for Australia’s vegetable growers, has welcomed the news that the federal government will make a new agriculture work visa available to 10 countries from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The visa will provide farmers with a wider pool of workers to help meet seasonal labour gaps. It would enable workers from ASEAN nations to work in Australia for up to nine months, three years in a row.

According to the announcement from Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, the new seasonal agricultural worker visa will mirror the existing Seasonal Worker Programme.

The ag visa will bring workers from 10 ASEAN nations
The new seasonal agricultural visa will add to the pool of workers available to work on Australian farms. 

Timely action needed

“The horticulture industry has been calling for a dedicated and productive workforce for years,” says AUSVEG National Manager of Public Affairs, Tyson Cattle. “Growers need access to a productive, reliable and competent workforce. Working holidaymakers will always have a role to play within our industry. But giving workers a pathway to primarily work on-farm should be seen as a major step forward for the horticulture sector.”

The 10 ASEAN countries are some of our closest trading partners. Extending an agriculture visa to these countries also makes economic sense, Cattle says.

“What we need now is timely action to get this ag visa class up and running,” he says. “So we can start bringing in workers as soon as possible when borders open up.”

Ag visa to address farm labour shortages
Farmers continue to struggle with workforce issues, and industry hopes the new visa will lead to improvements.

Only the first step

Citrus Australia and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) have also both welcomed the announcement of the new ag visa. However, Citrus Australia’s CEO Nathan Hancock says the government must implement the agriculture visa this year. This will ensure growers are no worse off under the new UK Free Trade Agreement.

Working holidaymakers from the UK don’t have to work in regional Australia for 88 days to acquire a second year of their visa under the new FTA deal. It’s expected these changes will lead to a large decrease in the number of holidaymakers taking on agricultural work.

“For many years, industry has been calling for appropriate visas to attract people who want to work in agriculture rather than people who have to work in agriculture to extend their holiday,” Hancock says. “It’s regrettable that the ag visa has taken so long to find favour within government. This is only the first step. There are few details, but the rhetoric indicates we’re moving in a direction industry is comfortable with. But we can’t help but be cautious; industry has been promised an ag visa since at least 2018.”

NFF President Fiona Simson is also feeling cautious. She says farmers would be forgiven for being a little cynical. They have heard similar ag visa promises for years.

“What matters now is that industry and government work collaboratively,” she says. “To design a scheme that will deliver genuine and effective relief to farmers.”