THE government has relaxed visa conditions to make it easier for the agriculture sector to attract skilled workers.
Eighteen occupations will be added to the Regional Occupation List, which will enable industry to sponsor foreign workers on a four-year visa.
The occupations include beef, dairy, sheep, deer and goat specialists, aquaculture and crop farmers.
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The visa can be renewed and could, potentially, lead to permanent residency.
The farm sector has had some difficulty importing specialised skill sets under the short-term skill shortage list, which offered a two year visa, extendable to four, with no potential for permanent residency.
“This update responds to calls from regional Australia for better access to skilled workers in key areas of need and will boost access to services required by our local communities,” said Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, David Coleman.
The visa changes will not increase labour availability to the horticulture sector, which lists worker shortages as its top concern.
Horticulture group, Growcom, welcomed the changes. with chief executive officer, David Thomson saying the government listened to the needs of industry which has been calling for better access to workers for some time now.
"Accessing the right labour at the right time is an ongoing issue for many horticultural growers," Mr Thomson said.
"Growcom welcomes the acknowledgement of the labour challenges facing the industry and is pleased to see government taking steps to address the issue.
"While these changes acknowledge the difficulty farmers face in filling regional jobs, they don't however address industry's need for casual, low-skilled workers at peak seasonal times."
However, it continued its call for the introduction of an Agricultural Visa to match international workers with low skilled jobs farmers need filled.
"We want to see Australians filling Australian farm jobs. However, lots of farm work is labour intensive, not available year-round and has proven difficult to fill with Australian job seekers," Mr Thomson said.
Berries Australia also applauded the skilled visa program extension, but says governments need to go further to address the underlying farm labour shortage.
The change involves moving most agricultural occupations from the short-term list to the regional occupations list which makes visa holders eligible for a four-year visa, double the current term.
The $1.4 billion berry category is now the single largest fresh produce category in Australia and consumption is increasing across the country.
To continue to grow, the berry industry needed access to reliable workers said Berries Australia, executive director, Rachel Mackenzie.
"However, the government decision only covers skilled occupations and not unskilled labour such as fruit-picking - access to the skills we need from overseas means berry businesses can be more profitable and employ more locals," she said.