The Australian vegetable industry has responded to the Turnbull government’s plan to abolish the 457 skilled migration visa and replace it with a new multi-stream temporary visa, saying it is vital that regional Australia receives appropriate consideration under the replacement scheme.
The government has announced that the proposed 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.
AusVeg, the leading horticultural body representing Australia’s vegetable and potato growers, is calling on the government to ensure that rural and regional industries are not damaged by the reforms.
AusVeg chief executive officer James Whiteside said if Australia’s skilled migration system was 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”.
“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,” Mr Whiteside said.
“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.
“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.
“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, shows there are currently more than 1800 skilled workers in the Australian agriculture industry thanks to 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,” Mr Whiteside said.
“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.”