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New Agriculture Visa yet to Deliver as Negotiations Continue

New Agriculture Visa yet to Deliver as Negotiations Continue


New Agriculture Visa yet to Deliver as Negotiations Continue

Article by: Hari Yellina

As the government continues to negotiate with nations to sign up, a new visa launched to encourage migrants to work in agriculture around Australia has yet to bring any additional employees into the country. The agricultural worker visa (AgVisa) was created in October as part of free trade talks with the United Kingdom, which abolished a requirement for British backpackers to work on farms in order to prolong their stay in Australia. “This will be the biggest structural shift to the agricultural workforce in our nation’s history,” Agriculture Minister David Littleproud stated at the time, allowing fisheries, forestry, and agricultural processors to “target seasonal employees, skilled and semi-skilled workers.”

He said the declaration fulfilled a Nationals vow to have the visa in place this year, but that negotiations with nations in Southeast Asia to join the scheme are still ongoing. According to an Australian newspaper, Nationals MPs have accused their Liberal coalition allies of blocking bilateral agreements to implement the visa. On Sky News on Wednesday, Mr Littleproud said Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne had given him and Prime Minister Scott Morrison “a clear assurance that she feels she would be able to accomplish a country signing up to the AgVisa in January next year.”

Mr Littleproud accused the union of “encourage[ing] ambassadors and embassies not to sign up for this visa” by visiting them. Last week, the union called on Karen Andrews, the Minister of Home Affairs, to reverse the visa decision, arguing that it would allow firms to hire short-term migrants without having to prove a skills gap or the option to hire locals first. “There is a clear purpose for short-term visas in the case of true skills shortages,” said Daniel Walton, the union’s national secretary. “How can the government claim there is a skills shortfall when they don’t want firms to even test the local market?”

In addition to employees from the existing Pacific nations and Timor-Leste on a special visa that the government has promised to triple by March, Mr Littleproud said there are “authorised labour-hire firms ready to actually bring in people” from countries once negotiations are reached. “While we have an agriculture visa in place,” Mr Littleproud continued, “it is up to those sovereign countries to make those judgments concerning their citizens.” The Australian Council of Trade Unions has also spoken out against the visa, claiming that it “placed businesses in charge of preventing their own exploitation of temporary visa employees.”