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APAL welcomes new Agriculture Visas to address labour shortage

Industry Advocacy

APAL has welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement of a new Agricultural Visa to fill the labour shortage in Australia and provide a sustainable source of motivated agricultural workers for future harvests. 

The new agricultural visa, which was announced today by the Federal Minister for Agriculture will be open to the ten ASEAN nations, including Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia and Brunei. 

This is a fantastic outcome, as it follows the model APAL and other industry groups have been lobbying the Australian government to adopt for years.  

Phil Turnbull, CEO of APAL, said “We have been working very closely with the NFF Hort Council and the Federal Government to establish a dedicated Ag Visa. It is pleasing that the government has responded to our requests and adopted the model we recently proposed to them.” 

Nationals deputy leader and Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud has stated that visa-holders would need to return to their home country for 3 months out of every 12 months, but that the visa would last for 3 years. 

While details have not yet been confirmed regarding when the visa program will begin or whether there will be any age restrictions, APAL will be encouraging the government to implement these new agricultural visas as soon as possible. 

Filling gaps and increasing productivity

The deal coincides with the ending of the 88-day farm work requirement for UK backpackers on working holiday visas.  

As the incentive for backpackers to work on farms was to extend their visa, this workforce was not necessarily motivated to be productive. By replacing that labour force with workers who come to Australia for the purpose of working in agriculture, harvest productivity should improve as a result. 

Ensuring safety and wellbeing

A clear and established COVID-19 quarantine pathway will be key to the successful implementation of this visa, ensuring the movement of overseas workers into Australia does not compromise public health or the health of other farm workers. 

This could potentially involve: 

  • Pre-quarantine clearance offshore 
  • On-farm quarantine, allowing visa holders to commence agricultural work immediately 
  • Hotel quarantine, subsidised by the government. 

Additionally, it is important for the government to improve enforcement and compliance activities via the Fair Work Ombudsman and Australian Border force to ensure a safe and secure working environment for agricultural visa holders. Employers must provide transparency about the nature, conditions and pay rate of the work, as well as their accreditation status. 

Flexible working arrangements

It is unclear whether the visas would operate on a particular ‘sponsorship’ model tied to a single employer, but increased flexibility in this area would benefit both the workers and the growers. 

APAL would like to see flexibility and portability for Agricultural Visa workers, whereby they can move around to different registered growers with ease. As smaller growers are unlikely to be able to guarantee six months’ work, ideally when that harvest is completed, the visa holders could then move onto a different farm where they are needed. 

APAL will continue to liaise with government and monitor the implementation of these visas to ensure long-term success and sustainable labour solutions. 

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