New Ag Visa timeline announcedNews
APAL has welcomed the announcement by the Australian Government of timelines and implementation for the much-needed Agriculture Visa.
APAL CEO, Phil Turnbull, said this is the culmination of years of industry advocacy and consultation with government.
“The agriculture sector has been calling on the Australian Government to create a dedicated Ag Visa for a number of years, and APAL has been lobbying strongly with the whole horticulture industry,” Phil said. “While the impact of Covid-19 on working holidaymakers created an immediate urgency to fill the labour shortfall, this Ag Visa is a well-considered solution to long-term agricultural productivity and profitability in Australia.”
The visa is aimed at workers from ASEAN nations, and will build on the successful existing Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS). It will be developed with a demand-driven approach across the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, with no stated cap on numbers at this time.
The regulations to enable the creation of the visa will be in place by 30 September, 2021, however it is unlikely this new workforce will fill the gaps of the upcoming harvest season.
“We understand that as a long-term solution, the actual implementation will depend on negotiations with the partner countries, with bilateral agreements and clear quarantine pathways needing to be established first,” Phil said. “However, we have strongly advocated modelling the new visa on the success of the SWP, which is already understood and used by our growers.”
The conditions of the visa are to be developed and implemented over the next three years. As part of the development of this new visa, Government will consult with industry to understand needs for a long-term, reliable workforce.
“We look forward to the next stage as the visa progresses,” Phil said. “If the government were to move ahead with the three-year visa plan and consider residency and settlement pathways, this would be a positive for staff and team development in orchards over multiple harvest seasons. The experience of the horticulture industry suggests that the productivity and motivation of SWP workers has made them a valuable asset in our orchards. The new Ag Visa arrivals could similarly boost our workforce not only in numbers, but also in skills and long-term staff investment.”
The success of the new Ag Visa for the horticulture industry will require different or additional conditions to the current SWP model.
“Flexibility to move between employers and meet different seasonal and regional workforce demands will be necessary for the long-term success of a new Ag Visa, and would allow smaller growers to participate,” Phil said.
“The safety and wellbeing of these workers is still paramount, so we would seek proper government oversight of the program to ensure rogue operators could not exploit this new workforce.
“Establishing safe and efficient quarantine pathways, and potentially increasing the quarantine capacity of individual states, will be a key challenge for the effective implementation of the visa.”
APAL will continue to consult with Government as the Ag Visa framework is developed and implemented.
Some current guidance for the upcoming labour season can be found here.