Restrictions lifted on backpacker visa welcomed by farmers

Welcome announcement: Orange orchardist Guy Gaeta said has praised the relaxing of the visa restrictions. Photo: Fairfax Media
Welcome announcement: Orange orchardist Guy Gaeta said has praised the relaxing of the visa restrictions. Photo: Fairfax Media

The Australian government’s announcement that they will be relaxing their restrictions on working holiday visas has been welcomed by a range of agricultural industries.

On Monday, November 5, it was announced that backpackers and other visitors on working holidays will be able to stay in Australia longer under a federal government plan to help farmers fill job shortages.

Backpackers will no longer need to leave jobs every six months and will be able to triple the length of their stay if they do extra agricultural work.

Orange orchardist and NSW Farmers’ Horticulture Committee chair Guy Gaeta said lifting the cap on working holiday maker places, and for the seasonal worker program, will give Australian farmers greater access to seasonal labour during harvest and other peak periods.

“Having access to a productive workforce is essential to our desire to grow the value of Australian agriculture to $100 billion by 2030,” he said.

“We acknowledge that the Government has listened to the concerns of industry and developed a response in line with industry demands.

“We will continue to lobby for an Agricultural Visa to manage the longer-term needs of the sector – for now, however, the changes announced today will help us manage the pressing labour challenges of the sector.”

Mr Gaeta said Australian farmers always prefer to engage local workers when they are available, however in the majority of times, locals don’t apply.

“We are not work for the dole providers – where the Government wants to see long-term unemployed engaged in farm work, they should support the grower to provide skilling and training opportunities to aid the productivity not just of the farm, but most importantly for the farm worker,” he said.

“There are many different jobs to be done on a farm, and some farms operate with a small staff for 90 per cent of the year.

“However, when the harvest is on, it is all hands on deck – while many hands make light work, it is equally important that we are focussed on productivity and getting the job done quickly and safely.”

Cotton Australia’s General Manager, Michael Murray said the reforms are sensible and very beneficial for Australian cotton growers looking to secure the workforce capacity they need.

“Our industry has long been supportive of employing Australians in farm jobs in the first instance, and then turning to overseas when those vacancies can’t be filled domestically,” Mr Murray said.

“Our growers are passionate about supporting workers on visas in their roles and providing them with beneficial experiences in Australian agriculture.”

Mr Murray said these latest visa changes will increase the attractiveness of working on a farm for overseas workers, which in turn will help cotton growers fill persistent gaps in their workforce.

“That is positive news for not only our industry, but for Australian agriculture more broadly and our regional communities and economies,” he said.