Applicants will be able to apply for permanent residency and resettlement in the region under the program aimed at Pacific and Southeast Asian workers.
A dedicated agriculture visa will be introduced by the federal government to fill a labour shortage resulting from COVID across the fishing, forestry, and farming sectors. An Australian Agriculture visa, which will entice workers from the Pacific and Southeast Asia, will not be capped and will offer pathways to permanent residency and regional resettlement. At this point, it is unclear which countries will apply for the visa. In addition to the existing Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme, both considered highly successful by the government, the new program will commence on September 21.
AGRICULTURE MINISTER STATEMENT
According to Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, this reform is the biggest structural reform of Australian agricultural labour in our history. “There are some issues that are particularly relevant to structural change that agriculture businesses in regional Australia have been asking for more than 30 years,” he said. Current coronavirus border closures, which have resulted in fewer working holiday visa holders, have left the agriculture sector with a 30,000 worker shortage.
Mr Littleproud explained that most meat processing sectors are only operating at 60 to 70 percent capacity at the moment due to a shortage of workers. Farmers have been patient, but they can no longer wait to harvest their crops when they need to get their crop off. It is important to understand that Australians were first in line for these jobs, but they have been patient.
Under the scheme, the number of Pacific and Timorese workers in Australia will double to over 24,000. Bringing in Pacific workers will be more difficult due to the ongoing pandemic, which requires all workers to be quarantined.
Deputy Secretary Littleproud said the federal government was working with the states and territories to meet workforce needs while adhering to strict caps on international arrivals. The premier and the chief ministers were insistent they wanted the quarantine to belong to them, in addition to their caps, he said. At present, some of these states don’t have enough capacity to take all of these workers. Therefore, some of these states have the capacity to take some of these workers.
Federal and industry officials have encouraged state governments to consider measures such as quarantine programs and on-farm worker programs when bringing in workers.
Mr Littleproud said they hoped state officials would show maturity and opportunity. “Without resources and agriculture, COVID-19 would have been a disaster for our economy. It was a quid they kept making for this nation, and we have to repay that now with courage and conviction.”
Australian announcement follows New Zealand’s expansion of its travel bubble to Tonga, Samoa, and Vanuatu, allowing season workers to travel without two weeks quarantine to address labour shortages in agriculture. As part of a plan to fill workforce gaps, state of Victoria and Tasmania struck a deal in January to allow seasonal workers to quarantine on the island before traveling to the mainland.