Factsheet: Australian Agriculture Visa
13 September, 2021
On 23 August 2021, the Australian Government announced the Australian agriculture visa to address workforce shortages in the agriculture sector.
• The visa delivers on the Government’s commitment to put in place a broad ranging visa to support Australia’s primary industries.
• The visa will be available to skilled, semi-skilled and low-skilled workers across the broad range of agricultural industries (including meat processing), and the fishery and forestry sectors.
• To test the arrangements, a small number of countries will initially be invited to participate in the program and send workers, through bilateral agreements. Additional countries will be added over time. Initial sending countries are yet to be confirmed.
• The arrival of workers is subject to negotiations with partner countries and access to appropriate quarantine arrangements. An initial cohort of workers is expected to arrive towards the end of 2021, with increasing numbers in 2022.
• The visa is being designed in close consultation with industry and will supplement the existing Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme. These Pacific programs will remain the primary schemes for meeting agricultural workforce shortages, especially this harvest season.
• Details on application eligibility requirements, will be established through the program design process in consultation with the Australian agriculture sector.
The Australian agriculture visa will build on the successful Pacific labour programs that have been invaluable to the agriculture sector, responding to industry needs for a flexible agriculture workforce, while maintaining high labour standards.
• The Australian agriculture visa will be available to skilled, semi-skilled and low-skilled workers across the broad range of agricultural industries, as well as the fishery and forestry sectors. Details on relevant sectors will be confirmed and iteratively brought on board.
• Standards will be in line with Australia’s successful Pacific worker programs, including requirements to protect workers from exploitation.
• The agriculture visa will be open to applicants from a range of countries negotiated through bilateral agreements by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Negotiations with a small number of countries are expected to commence late September/early October and will extend to other countries over time.
• The visa will be demand driven and assess options such as permanent residency pathways and regional settlement. However, this will involve significant further consultation and design work.
• Full conditions will be developed and implemented over the next three years.
The new agriculture visa and Pacific labour mobility
Existing Pacific labour mobility initiatives, including the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), will remain the mainstay for meeting workforce shortages in our primary industries sector.
• More than 14,000 Pacific and Timorese workers are in Australia at the moment, the largest number we have had in Australia at any one time, including more than 10,000 Pacific workers who have arrived in Australia since September 2020.
• There are an additional 27,000 pre-screened Pacific workers ready to deploy, subject to available quarantine arrangements.
• Between now and March 2022, the Government has committed to doubling the number of Pacific workers in Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) and the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), bringing in an extra 12,500 workers.
• Pacific and Timorese workers will continue to be able to access the existing SWP and PLS initiatives. Pacific and Timorese workers will not be eligible to access the Australian Agriculture visa.
• Existing temporary visa holders onshore, including those from the Pacific, will not eligible to apply for the Australia agriculture visa
• Pathways to permanent residency or regional settlement are not available through the SWP and PLS at this time.
• Immediate labour demands will continue to be met through current schemes while the Australian agriculture visa is developed and implemented.
Protections for Australian agricultural visa holders
• All workers in Australia have the same rights and protections at work, regardless of citizenship or visa status. Employers must pay wages as set by law and provide a safe workplace.
• These rights and protections will apply equally to workers coming to Australia under the Australian agriculture visa.
• Standards to protect workers from exploitation will be modelled on existing standards under Australia’s Pacific worker programs.
• The Australian Border Force and the Fair Work Ombudsman will have an important role in ensuring compliance with visa requirements and workplace laws respectively.
• The Government is also strengthening protections for all migrant workers.
• The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, has released an exposure draft of the Migration Amendment (Protecting Migrant Workers) Bill 2021.
• This Bill will strengthen penalties under the Migration Act 1958, create new offences and introduce new compliance tools aimed at preventing an employer from using migration laws to coerce migrant workers.
• Further, the Government remains committed to establishing a national approach to labour hire regulation and is working with state and territory governments to identify opportunities for harmonising state and territory labour hire schemes.
• The Australian agricultural visa program will be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, leveraging their experience managing the successful Pacific Labour Scheme.
• The Department of Home Affairs and Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will provide operational support to ensure visa integrity and that the needs of the agriculture and primary industry sectors are being met.
• It is intended that the regulations required to create this new visa are in place by the end of September 2021, and the first workers will arrive once negotiations with sending countries and quarantine arrangements are finalised.
• All incoming workers will be required to undertake quarantine, which will be arranged in close consultation with industry, as well as state and territory governments and their Chief Health Officers.
• Quarantine pathways will be established in line with the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response.
• The number of people arriving under the Australian agriculture visa is expected to be limited in 2021 due to quarantine constraints but will progressively increase in 2022.
More information will be made available on the DFAT website as details of the program are designed with industry (web page in development)