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Australia relaxes English requirement for migrant farm workers, offers pathway to permanent residency

Workers at a farm in South Australia. Source: Supplied

Australian horticulture farmers will be able to sponsor overseas workers to work in their farms from next year with the Australian government relaxing English language requirements and offering a pathway to permanent residency to skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers.

For Victorian farmer Charnamat Singh, one of the biggest challenges in keeping his farm running is to retain his regular employees.

“If fifty workers are to come for harvesting tomorrow morning and the tractors are not ready, they can’t do what we hire them for. My regular workers keep the machinery and other equipment in order for use,” Mr Singh says.

To keep them working for him, Mr Singh says he is paying his workers better wages than other places.

“But that alone isn’t the solution because some workers just don’t want to work in the farms. They would instead work in a low-skilled job for lesser money in the city because it’s not easy out in the farms.”

Farm workers

Every time an employee quits work at his farm, it’s a “significant” impost on Mr Singh’s expenses and time.

“We have to train the new people and it takes a lot of time and money and until they are fully trained, their mistakes also mean additional cost,” Mr Singh told SBS Punjabi.

Around Australia farmers grappling with difficulties in hiring and retaining farmworkers have been demanding a standalone Agriculture visa. While the Federal Government isn’t amenable to the idea, it has introduced a few measures, including allowing farmers to sponsor overseas workers.

The government, on Monday, announced special labour agreements with the horticulture industry that will allow farmers to hire skilled and low-skilled migrant workers where Australian workers aren’t available.

A file image of a seasonal worker harvesting grapes

The arrangement commencing on January 1, 2020 offers the workers concessions in the English language requirements and minimum salary that a sponsoring employer is required to pay them Farmers grappling with labour issues

“Our first priority is always to fill jobs with Australians, but the immigration system can play an important role in helping to address regional skills gaps and grow local economies,” Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said.

Horticulture employers will be able to apply to the Department of Home Affairs to sponsor migrant workers to come to Australia to work in one of the 31 approved occupations under the new arrangement.

Agriculture Minister Senator McKenzie said the arrangement will address the desperate need for workers in rural and regional Australia.

“This is about recognising that horticulture is a developed industry and requires a skilled workforce to continue to grow,” Ms McKenzie said.

Melbourne migration agent Ranbir Singh says it’s a win-win for both the employer and the employees.

“The government is offering English concessions which means the requirement is really low for these workers and salary concessions make it easier for employers to hire them. But the real motivating factor is that there is a pathway to permanent residency for all the 31 occupations, which I think is a huge draw for the employees to stick to their jobs in the farms,” Mr Singh said.

Overseas workers can be up to 50 years of age and must score at least 5 Bands on IELTS.

The approved occupations include truck drivers, forklift driver, machinery supervisor, mechanic, fitter and welder, nurseryperson, mechanical engineer, agriculture technician. You can access the full list here.

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