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Australia announces new pathway for permanent residency for migrant workers

Skills Migration Program for the 2021-22 financial year Source: SBS

In a bid to solve the farming sector’s enduring labour shortage, the federal government on 23 August announced the establishment of the Australian Agriculture visa for foreign workers from South-East Asian countries, who will be offered a pathway to permanent residency and settlement in regional areas.

Australia’s new agriculture visa, which will be in place by the end of September, will allow overseas workers to work on Australian farms and other agriculture sectors including meat processing, fishery and forestry.

Announcing the visa on 23 August, the government declared that it will be open to applicants from a range of countries negotiated through bilateral agreements.


Highlights:

  • Australia’s agriculture visa to offer permanent residency pathway, settlement in regional areas
  • Visa aims to fill critical labour shortages in farming, forestry, fishery
  • Details about participating countries yet to be announced

“Full conditions will be developed and implemented over the next three years as the visa is operationalised,” read a statement co-signed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

During this implementation period, we will work to achieve a demand-driven approach and consider permanent residency pathways and regional settlement

Elaborating on the ambitious program, the government said the program would expand on the existing schemes for Pacific workers such as the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme that were developed to address workforce shortages in rural and regional Australia. 

Charnamat Singh (left), at his farm at Kinglake, Victoria
Charnamat Singh (left), at his farm at Kinglake, Victoria.
Supplied by Charnamat Singh

Charnamat Singh, a farmer based in Kinglake, Victoria, owns 150 acres of farmland on which he grows broccoli, zucchini and raspberry.

Welcoming the news of a visa customised for the agricultural community, Mr Singh said the announcement is likely to address the existing labour shortage in the sector made worse by COVID restrictions that have blocked skilled and semi-skilled workers from entering the country.

“I believe a new visa for the agriculture sector would be hugely beneficial for the industry and especially farm owners operating in Australia’s remote regions who do not get access to skilled workers because their farms are often located miles away from the nearest town or city,” he said.

Mr Singh, who dealt with an acute farmer shortage during the harvest season last summer, said he is hopeful that a lucrative visa pathway could pave the way for more overseas workers to consider farming as a primary occupation and promote regional settlement.

“This has been a longstanding demand of the farming community. A special, more permanent pathway would also result in an increase in crop yield. For instance, last summer, we had to significantly cut down on our production due to labour shortage.

I hope this visa will address such persistent issues and go a long way in boosting economic recovery

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Shadow Minister for Home Affairs Kristina Keneally says the announcement of the new visa does nothing to address these serious concerns about the safety of the workers in Australia.
AAP

But not everyone is happy.

Slamming the new program, Labor’s home affairs spokesperson Kristina Keneally said in a media release on 23 August that such a visa has the potential to undermine the existing schemes for workers from the Pacific region and would exacerbate the already rampant exploitation of agriculture workers.

The Morrison-Joyce Government’s addiction to temporary visa holders has contributed to the exploitation of agriculture workers, not to mention wage suppression across the wider economy

She added the move was “too little, too late for farmers who need workers now.”

Agricultural truck offloads potatoes
Creating an agriculture visa is a very slippery slope, says former senior Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi.
Serena Scillieri

Weighing in on the new program, former senior Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi said the government would have to provide an added layer of protection for migrant workers entering on this visa to reduce the existing occupational health and safety risks in the farm sector.

“A tripartite industry, union and government body should be established to deal with [worker] complaints and given the power to prosecute employers and labour-hire companies in breach of labour laws.

“The tripartite body can provide regular reports to each ASEAN country to reassure them that their citizens are not being exploited,” he said.

Mr Rizvi added that employer accountability and minimal English language skills for successful applicants would also be important to improve the safety of overseas workers.

Will this visa be available to workers from other countries?

Adelaide-based migration agent Mark Glazbrook said the government is yet to reveal details on the design of the visa program and participating countries.

“It is yet to be seen if a bilateral agreement will be negotiated with other countries, including India, and we are yet to see any requirements regarding the visa eligibility criteria and the pathway to permanent residency. 

“It is likely that the specific details regarding the permanent residency pathway will not be announced for some time as it is likely that the pathway will not be available to visa holders unless they have been in Australia on a temporary visa for at least three to four years,” he said.

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