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Can Indians avail of Australia's relaxed visa rules for farmers?

A Punjabi farmer in his farm in New South Wales' Riverina region.

Australia’s agriculture sector has a huge shortfall of skilled workers which has led to the demand for a separate visa category.

Australian farmers have welcomed Federal Government changes to visa rules, designed to address chronic labour shortages within the sector, but say they don't go far enough.

Overseas workers with agricultural skills are now eligible for four-year visas instead of two, but the industry says it doesn't address the demand for lower-skilled employees.

Farmers across Australia say they're facing a labour shortage crisis.

John Fairley, who runs a dairy farm in Picton, south-west of Sydney, acknowledges there is an issue but says it's most acute in regional areas.

“We can find good enough labour around here because we're close to a big city but if you're (far) out west it would be a challenge finding skilled labour,” says Mr Fairley.

The Federal Government says its latest changes to visa rules will give rural farmers better access to skilled employees.

Foreign workers trained in areas listed on the Regional Occupation List are eligible for four-year visas.

Eighteen occupations have just been added and many relate to the agricultural sector, including livestock, dairy, sheep, and aquaculture roles.

Gracia Kusuma, from New South Wales Farmers, says it will entice more skilled overseas workers to come and work in Australia.

“Previously these roles were only in the short-term shortage list, which means that the visa was only available for two years. Yes, it's renewable, but for somebody who needs to uproot their entire family to a foreign country, it doesn't provide the certainty, to give them the motivation to want to move,” Ms Kusuma says.

While the industry welcomes the news, it says there are limitations, particularly in areas such as horticulture, where there is a demand for less-skilled workers.

Dr Joanna Howe, from the University of Adelaide, co-authored a three-year-study, released last week, into labour shortages in the horticultural sector.

“Today's announcement doesn't actually do anything to help those farmers because they need pickers, packers and graders,” Dr Howe says.

The study's findings revealed that 40 per cent of farmers have not been able to recruit enough workers at some point over the past five years.

Of those, Dr Howe says, 63 per cent reported leaving vegetables unpicked.

“On some farms, growers told us about leaving produce to rot, because they couldn't get the workers that they needed,” Dr Howe adds.

The industry has renewed calls for what they're calling an 'Agriculture visa'.

Farmers spokeswoman Gracia Kusuma says the idea is that the visas could be tailored to meet the employment needs of the entire sector.

“It can address different roles with different skills levels, whether it's semi-skilled, lower skilled.  And then the parameters and protections for workers can be built within that scheme with consultation with industry,” adds Ms Kusuma.

To listen to this feature in Punjabi, click on the player at the top of the page.


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