Farmers in the Riverina and Central West will get more help to resolve labour shortages with new changes to two visa programs thanks to the Nationals in Government.

Federal Nationals Leader, Member for Riverina, and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the changes meant farmers would receive immediate support to help them reap the returns of their hard work.

“Our considered and measured approach ensures we continue to back farm businesses and communities to continue producing and supplying the world’s best food and fibre,” Mr McCormack said. “We remain focused on addressing this issue by providing more workforce options and flexibility to help our farmers pick their fruit and harvest their crops.”

The Nationals in Government do not want fruit rotting on the vine or crops left in the field and it is vital that our farmers can maximise their hard work and economic returns. The Nationals in Government will make a number of changes to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa program to target genuine workforce shortages in regional Australia without displacing Australian workers. It will increase the number of visa holders and allow them to extend their time in Australia by undertaking agricultural work in new areas across the country. It will also make a number of changes to the Seasonal Worker Program, making it easier for farmers to access workers for a longer period with less administration costs. This work builds on the changes made last month to get more Australian job seekers into work by filling farm shortages through the National Harvest Labour Information Service.

Mr McCormack said agriculture was a critical industry which underpinned regional economies and empowering a flexible work-force to meet varied labour demands was critical to success. The WHM visa changes represent another pragmatic solution to address the problem of filling work-force shortages in the Australian farm sector. The Government wants Australians filling Australian jobs but when this isn’t possible action is needed to ensure farmers are not left high and dry.

Changes to Working Holiday Maker visas:

  • Work and Holiday makers (subclass 462) will be able to undertake regional plant and animal cultivation work
    in additional priority areas to become eligible for a second visa.
  • Extension of the period a WHM (subclass 417 and 462) may work with the same agricultural employer from
    six to 12 months.
  • Introduction of a third year visa option for WHM (subclasses 417 and 462), who from 1 July 2019 onwards
    complete six months of regional work in the second year.
  • Increase the number of places available for Work and Holiday Maker program (subclass 462) by lifting annual
    caps available to a number of countries participating in the subclass 462 visa program.

Changes to the Seasonal Worker Program:

  • Increase work period in Australia to nine months for all workers (currently six months for some countries).
  • Increase validity of labour market testing prior to recruiting workers from three to six months.
  • Reduce out-of-pocket expenses for employers (workers repay their full travel costs except for the first $300; a
    reduction from the previous $500).