Current coronavirus border closures had left the agriculture sector with around a 30,000 worker shortage. On 23 August 2021 the federal government announced the establishment of the Australian Agriculture visa. The purpose of new visa is to help fill a COVID-induced labour shortage across the agriculture (including meat processing), fisheries and forestry sectors.
This visa re Regulations to enable the creation of the Australian Agriculture visa will be in place by the end of September 2021.However, full conditions will be developed over the next 3 years as the visa is operationalised. The government considers regional settlement and future permanent residency pathways for the holders of Agriculture visa.
The operation of the visa will depend on negotiations with partner countries. It is unclear at this stage which countries will sign up for the visa however, it is clear that the Australian Agriculture visa will be open to applicants from a range of Pacific and Southeast Asian family countries. The program will be operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Australian Agriculture visa comes in addition to the existing Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme. The government currently relaxes some rules for these programs. Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa holders can currently extend their stay in Australia to continue to work in agriculture. They can also work for more than one employer.
The holders of other temporary visas who are currently in Australia are encouraged to work in agricultural sector:
- International students are allowed to work for more than 40 hours per fortnight during their study period if working in agriculture.
- All Working Holiday Makers who are working in agriculture can work for longer than six months with any one employer.
- All temporary visa holders working in agriculture, or with an offer of work in agriculture, can apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa to extend their stay and work in agriculture for up to 12 months.
- There is no visa application charge to apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa.
- Those who currently hold a COVID-19 Pandemic event visa that is about to expire may be eligible for another COVID-19 Pandemic event visa to remain in Australia to continue working in a critical sector.
The Government will provide some relocation assistance to people who move to regional areas to take up agricultural work, including visa holders with the right to work in Australia. Visa holders relocating to take up short-term agricultural work, including harvest work, may be eligible to receive relocation assistance of up to $2,000. These workers are not restricted to an employer or a type of work.