Dairy farmers, grains growers and livestock producers will now have greater access to an international workforce following changes to the Regional Occupation List.
On the weekend, the Federal Government added livestock, crop and dairy farmers to the list of occupations eligible for mid-skilled worker visas in regional Australia.
Previously these jobs were on the short-term shortage list and workers could only be employed on a two-year visa that was renewable once and gave no opportunity for permanent residency.
The change means foreign skilled workers can now access four-year visas that can be renewed.
The National Farmers’ Federation says agriculture suffers from a workforce crisis with many farmers unable to source the labour they need to get the job done.
The expansion of the Regional Occupation list is part of the Government’s response to help farmers access an adequate and sustainable workforce.
The NFF welcomed the change but said it was far from the complete solution to the problem.
“The Regional Occupations List certainty broadens the options for dairy farmers and broadacre producers,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar said.
“However agriculture’s labour problem is felt most acutely by the horticulture sector, where farmers need high volumes of low-skilled workers for concentrated periods of time.
“For many reasons these jobs aren’t attractive to local workers.”
The NFF continues to call for an Agricultural-specific Visa to match international workers with the jobs fruit and vegetable growers need filled.
A recent survey found 40 per cent of farmers surveyed indicated they had not been able to recruit sufficient pickers, packers and graders at some point in the past five years. Sixty-three per cent of them reported leaving vegetables unpicked.
The coinciding report revealed that some vegetable growers felt they had no choice but to employ workers without current visas and/or to rely on labour hire operators ‘word’ to ensure workers were compliant with immigration requirements.
“A tailored Ag Visa would ensure workers have entered Australia via legal and legitimate means; are working in accordance with visa conditions, and that their presence in the Australian workforce is transparent,” Mr Mahar said.
“Importantly, it would protect against exploitation.”