DARWIN, AAP – Australia’s cotton industry has warned that changes to migration regulations to accommodate a new visa could lead to a shortage of overseas agricultural workers.
The new Australian Agriculture Worker Visa launched in September is supposed to boost primary industry worker numbers.
But Cotton Australia says it could result in fewer workers.
Rule changes are set to phase out the requirement for British backpackers to work for 88 days in regional areas to secure visa extensions.
“The aim was to provide a long-term, reliable workforce for critical industries including cotton,” chief executive Adam Kay said on Friday.
“(The changes) may result in large shortfalls in our seasonal workforce.”
The cotton industry is forecasting a crop in excess of 4.7 million bales in 2021-22.
“That equates to a million tonnes of fibre, enough to produce jeans, tee-shirts, socks and jocks for half a billion people,” Mr Kay said.
“Workforce shortages will really start to bite”.
Mr Kay said the new AgVisa ignores farm-skilled European backpackers who filled most seasonal roles before the COVID-19 pandemic led to Australia closing its border to international travellers.
Instead it targets workers from southeast Asian countries.
“Traditionally the industry does not attract workers from those countries,” Mr Kay said.
“We appreciate the government’s efforts in the Pacific but there are still short to medium term needs that must be addressed to assist farmers.”
The AgVisa will be available to the fisheries, forestry, meat processing and agricultural processing sectors and will target skilled and semiskilled workers.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will provide the visa with the first arrivals expected later in the year.
It is similar to the Pacific Labour Scheme, which will remain the primary scheme for meeting agricultural workforce shortages, such as harvests.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has said it will “bring the next generations of migrants to not just grow agriculture but regional Australia.”