Responding to skills shortages experienced by businesses across the agriculture, meat processing, fisheries and forestry sectors, the federal government has formally announced the introduction of the Australian agricultural visa.
A joint media statement issued by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke confirmed that regulations to enable the creation of the visa will be in place by the end of September.
Mr Joyce said the visa intended to build on the success of the Pacific Labour Scheme, which provides opportunities for Pacific and Timorese workers. The recent announcement, however, did not specify which countries the new visa would be open to. That will become clear as bilateral agreements are negotiated with partner countries.
“Full conditions will be developed and implemented over the next three years as the visa is operationalised,” the joint release stated.
“During this implementation period, we will work to achieve a demand-driven approach and consider permanent residency pathways and regional settlement.”
The announcement was welcomed by AUSVEG, an industry body representing vegetable and potato growers in Australia.
“AUSVEG has been calling for an agriculture visa for many years to address the industry’s worker shortage and to help ensure that fruit and vegetable businesses can access a reliable and efficient workforce,” AUSVEG CEO Michael Coote said.
Mr Coote noted that the pandemic had exacerbated a chronic labour shortage that was causing issues for agricultural sectors even prior to 2020. AUSVEG estimated the industry will be short roughly 24,000 harvest workers for the 2022 peak harvest season.
“While the visa is a great step forward, industry still faces the ongoing challenge of quarantine capacity, where the number of quarantine spaces doesn’t match industry’s need. We urge state and federal governments to work together to come to a solution as we fast approach our peak demand period,” Mr Coote said.
The joint statement from legislators acknowledged that there were roadblocks ahead for getting workers to Australian shores.
“Quarantine places remain the biggest constraint to bringing in overseas workers where there are no Australians to fill workforce shortages,” the statement noted.
The government is set to immediately begin industry consultations to understand needs across the agricultural sector.
The visa will be designed by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Home Affairs and Agriculture, Water and the Environment.