Earlier this year, Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack promised to help farmers fill labour shortages by delivering a new agriculture visa before the end of 2021.
The decision came after the Australian government removed the requirement that British backpackers work on farms before extending their stay in Australia. This move would reduce the seasonal workforce by 10,000 people.
The latest report estimates that Australia's fruit and vegetable farmers need an extra 26,000 workers to harvest their crops this summer.
A statement co-signed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Agriculture Minister and Immigration Minister said the visa would be available to workers in farming, fisheries, meat processing, and forestry. It will not be capped and will include pathways towards permanent residency and regional resettlement.
When will the new agricultural visa be ready?
According to the statement, regulations to enable the creation of the Australian Agriculture visa will be ready by the end of September 2021. Ahead of the next harvest.
“This is the biggest structural reform to Australian agricultural labour in our nation's history”
- Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told the ABC as per SBS
“There are some features to this that are particularly going towards the heart of the structural change that the agricultural industry in regional Australia has been asking for so long,” he said.
He explained that most of the meat processing sectors in Australia are running at around 60 to 70 per cent capacity. They don't have the people to do the jobs.
Employment on Australian farms
Australia's agricultural industry relies heavily on labour. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has seen fewer farmworkers arriving from outside. The mobility of Australian farm workers has also been restricted.
COVID-19 has particularly impacted the meat processing industries and horticulture sector. Horticulture is the branch of plant agriculture dealing with garden crops, generally fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants.
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.
According to the Agriculture Minister, due to the ongoing pandemic, all workers will need to quarantine. The move will add additional constraints on bringing in Pacific workers.
Mr Littleproud said the federal government was working with states and territories to ensure workforce needs can be met. Another priority is to abide by strict caps on international arrivals.
In January, the state of Victoria struck a deal with Tasmania to allow seasonal workers to quarantine there before travelling to the mainland, to help fill gaps in the workforce.
Pathways to permanent residency in Australia
Australia has one of the biggest migration programs in the developed world. The country offers up to 160,000 permanent visas every year.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has halted the flow of overseas migrants, those already onshore on temporary visas can use their opportunity and apply for Australian PR.
Within the permanent migration program, the Skilled stream has the highest number of visas allocated. It is further divided into different skilled categories: Skilled independent, Regional, State/Territory nominated, employer-sponsored, Business Skills and Global Talent Independent program.
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.