It came after the Turnbull Government’s announced its plan to scrap the 457 skilled migration visa. It will be replaced with a new multi-stream temporary visa.
“If Australia’s skilled migration system is going to be changed, then we need to recognise the critical role that skilled foreign workers play in regional industries, including the vegetable and broader horticulture industries,” said AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside.
“In remote towns like Carnarvon in north-west Western Australia, our growers rely on overseas workers to fill jobs for which they are unable to attract workers from the domestic workforce. Modifying our skilled migration program without due consideration of rural industries runs the risk of having massive flow-on impacts to the productivity and profitability of these industries.”
The government’s latest proposal for the new visa category will condense the occupation lists used for skilled migration visas, and will be divided into two streams, with a new temporary skill shortage visa that only allows one visa renewal to be paired with a medium-term visa that allows for permanent residence. It will also allow workers currently in Australia under the 457 scheme to continue on their current visa.
“Following the unfortunate saga of the backpacker tax last year, which ultimately stemmed from inadequate industry consultation, we’re eager to sit down with the government and make sure that affected industries are kept front-of-mind during the process of any reforms to Australia’s worker migration system,” said Whiteside.
“If Australia’s regional industries are to be internationally competitive in an increasingly globalised market, it’s vital that they continue to have reliable access to skilled and unskilled labour throughout the year to cater for the peaks and troughs in seasonal workforce demand.”
The latest available data provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, covering the December 2016 quarter, showed there are currently over 1,800 skilled workers in the Australian agriculture industry because of the 457 visa scheme.
“Overseas workers play critical roles in our industry, from acting in skilled positions like agricultural scientists or agronomists to helping get crops onto the supermarket shelf through harvest work,” said Whiteside.
“The skilled roles performed by overseas workers are some of the lynchpins of our industry, and the workers coming to Australia under the current 457 program have helped to unlock huge productivity gains and support our growers through their expertise.”