CANBERRA, AAP – Migrant farm workers could soon be brought to Australia under a dedicated agriculture visa with the new category to be established next month.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the federal government would introduce regulations to create the farm labour visa by the end of September.
Mr Littleproud said it would apply to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers and exist alongside Pacific farm labour schemes.
“This is the biggest structural reform to Australian agricultural labour in our nation’s history,” he told the ABC on Monday.
“It’s also about bringing the next generation of migrants to rural Australia, to grow agriculture and grow regional Australia.”
The program will offer a path to permanent residency for migrant farm workers who enter on the visa.
The government will negotiate with countries to join the scheme.
Vietnam, Thailand, The Philippines, South Korea and other Asian nations expected to be among the first included.
“Ones that we have already got very close and long-lasting immigration arrangements with will be the easiest for us to sign up as quickly as we can,” Mr Littleproud said.
Reluctance to increase the number of people allowed into Australia during the coronavirus pandemic is likely to hamper efforts to bring in workers on the agriculture visa.
The deputy Nationals leader urged state governments to make more quarantine places available for farm employees.
“If it wasn’t for resources and agriculture, our economy would be buggered during COVID-19,” Mr Littleproud said.
“They were the ones that kept on going when everyone else was put under the doona, they kept on making a quid for this nation and we just need to repay that now with some courage and conviction.”
The new visa category has been the subject of wrangling within the coalition for years.
Liberals relented after Australia agreed to scrap the requirement for UK backpackers to do an 88-day work stint in regional areas to extend working holidays.