Agriculture Visa Australia Updates
The Government first announced it would introduce a dedicated Agriculture Visa in June to allow migrants from certain countries to come to Australia for agricultural work that cannot be filled locally. Since the announcement, farmers and skilled migrants have been eagerly waiting for further details to be released.
The Government has announced some further details, however the program will only be available for use via a phased approach – with only approved employers and a small number of workers permitted to use the program in Phase 1. According to the Government’s Fact Sheet, here are the details about the two phases:
- In Phase 1, a small number of agriculture worker arrivals can enter between December 2021 and March 2022, depending on border settings, country readiness and quarantine availability. This will be open only to a small number of existing Approved Employers who are already accredited and experienced with the existing Pacific Area Labour Mobility (PALM) Scheme. The number of people that can arrive under the visa in Phase 1 is still being considered.
- In Phase 2, from April 2022, the program will open more broadly to employers. There will also be an increase in the number of workers able to participate, and in addition, the number of countries participating will expand.
Here’s what Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud announced today on 1 October 2021 about the new Agriculture Visa:
- The visa will be available to the fisheries, forestry, meat processing and agricultural processing sectors and will target seasonal workers, skilled and semiskilled workers.
- The Government has amended the Migration Regulations 1994 with Migration Amendment (Australian Agriculture Workers) Regulations 2021 to allow for a new Agriculture Worker Stream in the Subclass (Temporary Work (International Relations) Visa. The new visa stream came into effect on 30 September 2021.
- The new Agriculture Visa stream will allow overseas workers from countries with a bilateral agreement in place to enter Australia and temporarily stay for work across the primary industries sectors.
- The visa will be operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is similar to the Pacific Labour Scheme, with operational support from the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
- The Government will undertake an independent review of the program after two years.
- Workers will be able to move between employers in the agriculture industry.
Agribusinesses have been facing a growing shortage of farm workers and it was hoped that the newly established Agriculture Visa would provide some much-needed and immediate relief.
The Government has stated that the first arrival of workers under the Agriculture Visa will occur from late 2021 – however this is subject to quarantine arrangements and the finalisation of bilateral agreements with partner countries. The final program design continues to be developed in consultation with industry.
The Government is also still finalising details such as how to participate as an employer or worker and we will keep you updated as more information is released.
Given that details will still need to be finalised, the Government intends for the Pacific Labour Program to remain the key pathway to access workers for this harvest and has doubled the number of Pacific workers in Australia by March 2022. This to assist with labour needs for this summer peak harvest season.
An extra 12,500 workers will be able to work in Australia under the Pacific Labour Program from August 2021 to March 2022.
What are the next steps for the Agriculture Visa? | Agriculture Visa Australia Updates 2021
Here’s a summary of the next steps and some of the hurdles that could impact the progress of the visa and other insights agribusinesses and migrants should know. The way in which the visa will operate will depend on negotiations with participating countries.
- The Government is finalising bilateral agreements with countries that may have access to the visa.
- Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud has previously suggested the UK and ASEAN nations as target regions for the visa. Grain growers with a need for workers that can operate specialist machinery are hopeful that North America and European countries will also be included.
Another factor impacting the visa program is the ability for overseas workers to access flights and quarantine.
- Under Australia’s current flight caps, only 3,000 people can enter the country each week until the next phase of the ‘Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response’ is reached.
- Quarantine arrangements will need to be agreed and implemented to safely allow for larger volumes of arrivals. Currently, trials for home quarantine trials are still underway and dedicated quarantine facilities are being built.
According to the Government’s media release in August 2021, logistical matters may take some time to resolve. It states that ‘full conditions [of the agriculture visa] will be developed and implemented over the next three years as the visa is operationalised’.
Agriculture Visa Australia Updates 2021
Many other factors are yet to be confirmed including:
- How closely the new visa could resemble existing Pacific Labour programs.
- How many workers can access the visa (the Government has claimed it would use a ‘demand-driven approach’).
- Whether the visa will provide a pathway to Permanent Residence (the Government has said this would be considered, but a decision is yet to be confirmed).
- What visa requirements will apply in relation to age, country of passport, length of stay and costs.
- Vaccinations as a condition of entry.
- What measures will be in place to protect visa holders from exploitation – read about current standards here.
What options are available for agribusinesses to engage overseas workers during the pandemic?
Apart from the soon-to-be-established Agriculture Visa, agribusinesses may have access to:
- Options to engage visa holders that are already in Australia
- Visa holders currently in Australia may be able to extend their stay for agricultural work through the 408 Pandemic Event Visa for a further stay of up to 12 months. Visa holders on a Working Holiday or Work and Holiday Visas may be able to apply for a further visa, and Student Visa holders can currently access a concession to allow them to work for more than 40 hours a fortnight for work in the agriculture sector. Other relaxed visa rules were also announced to provide support to agribusinesses during the pandemic.
- Visa sponsorship options may also be available through the TSS Visa and Regional 494 Visa. Visa processing may be prioritised for ‘critical work’.
- Engaging overseas workers that can secure a Travel Exemption and Visa to come to Australia for Critical Work. Currently, entry into Australia for work requires not only a visa, but also a Travel Exemption to be permitted to arrive in Australia.
- Travel Exemptions for Critical Work are available for agricultural work – therefore sponsoring skilled visa holders based overseas may be an option via the standard TSS Visa and 494 Visa pathways.
- Individuals based overseas may be able to independently apply for a Global Talent Visa and if approved, they will not need to apply for a Travel Exemption to enter Australia. Agri-food and AgTech are recognised as priority sectors for this program.
- Securing workers through the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) or Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) are available visa options during the pandemic. This program enables a pool of 24,000 Pacific and Timorese workers to undertake seasonal work in Australia. SWP and PLS visa holders are automatically exempt from travel restrictions to enter Australia and the Government is introducing several reforms to make these programs more flexible.
Figures obtained by Interstaff under a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Home Affairs indicate that:
- 1,641 requests for Critical Skills Inbound Travel Exemptions were made by overseas workers for the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector between 1 January 2021 and 30 June 2021.
- Only 680 Critical Skills Travel Exemption requests by the sector were approved between 1 January 2021 and 30 June 2021.
The process of applying for a Critical Skills Travel Exemption requires sufficient evidence – read more here.
Other things to note are that the availability of the above options will depend on the eligibility of the business and the applicant.
It is also important to consider that overseas workers coming to Australia are facing expensive flights and delays at this time as caps are in place to limit the number of people that can arrive in the country per State/Territory. A quarantine period of two weeks on arrival is also mandatory at this time.
Agriculture Visa Australia Updates | Industry labour shortages
The agriculture industry has been one of the hardest hit by international border restrictions. For many years, the industry has been reliant on migrant workers due to ongoing difficulties in sourcing local Australians for work under these positions.
Farmers have been calling for a dedicated agriculture visa since 2016 and unfortunately, border restrictions have only served to worsen labour shortages and increase pressure on agribusinesses.
We are hopeful that the Agriculture Visa will provide some relief for farmers. The success of the program will ultimately depend on how the visa will allow for the migration of overseas workers without compromising national health objectives.
Many other industries are also experiencing skill shortages and hopefully the new Agriculture Visa will pave the way for other industry-specific visas to be established during the pandemic.
Should you require advice on your business’ visa sponsorship options, we encourage you to contact Interstaff’s Registered Migration Agents to discuss your circumstances. Or simply get in touch to request to be notified as further information about the Agriculture Visa becomes available.