The Federal government has confirmed a new agriculture visa program to address workforce shortages in the agriculture sector. It is a long-term contribution to Australia’s labour supply and includes pathways toward permanent residency and regional resettlement.
Australia has started discussions with a small number of countries in Southeast Asia, namely Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Brunei, and Cambodia. Details are expected to be finalised shortly and recruitment will start after negotiations are complete. The visa program will also supplement the existing Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme (PALM scheme). The PALM scheme will remain the primary scheme for meeting agricultural workforce shortages. The Agriculture Visa is a sponsored visa program, operating with approved employers and strong worker protections. The government is working with a group of employers to have a small initial group to test systems and processes before the program’s expansion throughout 2022 when more workers are expected to arrive in Australia.
What is the PALM Scheme?
Welcome to the PALM scheme
The PALM scheme helps you take up jobs in Australia, develop your skills and send income home to support your families. Find out if you're eligible.
The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme allows eligible Australian businesses to hire workers from 9 Pacific islands and Timor-Leste when there are not enough local workers available. The 9 Pacific islands are:
Through the PALM scheme, eligible businesses can recruit workers for seasonal jobs for up to 9 months or for longer-term roles for between one and 4 years in unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled positions.
Australian businesses can access PALM scheme workers by either applying to join the PALM scheme or through a PALM scheme approved employer.
From April 2022, the 2 separate worker visa streams under the PALM scheme will be consolidated and replaced by a single PALM scheme visa with both seasonal and longer-term options. The new visa is valid for a longer period of up to 4 years and allows workers to return to Australia multiple times.
How to join the PALM scheme as a worker?
Citizens of participating countries must apply to join the PALM scheme through the labour sending unit in their country. They can also find contacts for their labour sending units or visit the 'how to apply' page for workers.
No payments or gifts are required to join the PALM scheme. Costs may be incurred for flights and other expenses once successful applicants have been placed in jobs in Australia. These costs are paid upfront by the employer and reimbursed later by the worker once they start earning a wage.
Visit the official PALM scheme website for more information.
What sectors and skills are covered by the Agriculture Visa program?
The Agriculture Visa program will support the recruitment of employees across a range of agriculture sectors, including horticulture, dairy, wool, grains, fisheries (including aquaculture) and forestry, including support services and primary processing.
The program will target skilled, semi-skilled and low-skilled employees within specified occupations across these sectors. In the initial phase, recruitment will focus on lower-skilled occupations, and this will be expanded as the program evolves.
Employees must have the experience and/or qualifications to commence work at the skill level and occupation for which they are recruited (where relevant).
What are the requirements for being employed under the Agriculture Visa program?
Initial applications from workers to participate in the Agriculture Visa program will need to be completed offshore. Applicants must meet the following criteria to be able to participate in the Agriculture Visa program:
have the necessary skills to perform in the occupation in which they are being employed (where relevant);
have minimum English language skills (International English Language Testing System (IELTS) average band score of 4.0 (or equivalent), or higher when the specific occupation requires it;
be unaccompanied (participants will not be able to bring family members); meet the minimum age requirement of 21 years of age with no maximum age requirement;
meet the criteria for the grant of an Australian Agriculture Worker stream visa, including:
being sponsored to Australia by a Temporary Activities Sponsor (TAS) who is
an employer approved by DFAT to participate in the program;
being supported by DFAT to participate in the program;
meeting all character and health requirements; and
having adequate health insurance for the period of stay in Australia.
Labour use in Australian agriculture
To understand how critical overseas workers are for the local agriculture sector, we can look at the data from the previous years.
In 2018–19, overseas workers accounted for more than half of the temporary workforce employed on horticulture farms. An important source of these workers were people on working holiday maker visas. Significantly fewer of these people are currently in Australia.
Number of workers by type, all industries, 2018–19. Source: ABARES
Some industries rely on seasonal and overseas workers much more than others. Horticulture farms use relatively large amounts of casual and contract labour at key times of the year and less in other months.
Regions with high volumes of horticultural production and a range of seasonal crop types particularly rely on casual and contract workers from overseas. This includes regions such as southeast Queensland and northwest Victoria.
Will the Agriculture Visa program provide seasonal employees or longer-term employees?
The Agriculture Visa program includes two groups of employees to fulfill different industry requirements. Eligible employers will be able to recruit employees under the Agriculture Visa for longer term work and for short-term, seasonal work. Recruitment of overseas employees will take place offshore (visa applications to join the program cannot be made in Australia).
Employees in the seasonal category will be able to work in Australia for up to nine months in every 12 months. However, seasonal employees will be able to apply for a visa for up to four years to undertake seasonal work every year, without having to apply for a new visa every year.
Those who hold this visa will still be required to return home between seasons. Employers will need to offer minimum hours of work to this group. Visa holders in the long-term group will be able to work for between one and four years. And, employers will need to offer full-time work to this group of employees.
How much will employees be paid and will they have minimum hours?
All employers must adhere to Australian workplace laws, awards and registered agreements. Program arrangements administered by DFAT will require approved employers to adhere to minimum hours and income policy settings.
These will be managed through program guidelines and Deeds of Agreement with approved employers. These settings are comparable with other economic labour programs
Pathways to permanent residency in Australia
The Agriculture visa will provide a long-term reliable workforce to support ongoing growth of Australia’s critical agricultural industries. The Australian Government has committed to creating options for permanent residence pathways for participants in the program, including regional settlement. This involves further consultation and design work.
The Australian Government will make announcements on permanent residence pathways in due course. Check out this page for updates and additional information.
IELTS for migration
When you apply for a skilled visa, you may need to demonstrate that you meet certain minimum standards of English language proficiency (unless exemptions apply). IELTS helps you prove your language proficiency.
Why take an Academic test when you don't need to? The IELTS General Training test test examines your English using every-day, non-academic English, and is accepted for migration, secondary education and work experience in Australia.
It has the same modules as the Academic test but its Reading and Writing sections are based on general interest topics. In Australia, you can take the IELTS General Training test on paper or on computer.
*Always check with the Department of Home Affairs, your migration agent, education consultant or workplace to find out which IELTS test you need.
Study agriculture in Australia
If you are not ready to apply for a visa under the skilled migration program, you can choose to upskill and study instead.
An Australian Student Visa (subclass) provides opportunities to remain and work in Australia after you complete your course. You can include your family members and/or your partner with your student visa. This means that your family can join you in Australia while you study.
Generally, you can apply for a student visa by enrolling in:
Immigration and the law
Legislation about immigration changes frequently. For example, in June 2021 Australia added 22 new occupations to its priority migration list. So, it’s important to check the Australian Department of Home Affairs website for changes that may apply to you.
If you are interested in Australian student visas, work visas, or looking to migrate permanently, you need to lodge an application with the Australian Government. You may want to consider getting support from a lawyer or migration agent. However, you can also get free advice for student visas.