23 October 2008

Australian guest worker scheme running close to the deadline

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The Pacific Islander guest worker scheme scheduled to begin later this year is looking like it may not be ready in time for the Government's deadline, reports ABC News.

The 416 visa pilot scheme allows thousands of Pacific Islanders to work in Australia temporarily as seasonal guest workers, in order to combat the massive labour shortage that is holding back the Australian horticultural industry from reaching its full potential.

Government-approved employers can now invite Pacific Islanders to work in a seasonal horticultural occupation.  Workers under the 416 scheme will be stationed only in those regional parts of Australia that are recognised as struggling from labour shortages, so that local Australian workers will not be displaced by overseas workers.

"The Rudd Government has responded to calls for assistance from the Australian horticulture industry, which says up to $700 million in fresh produce is left to rot because of a lack of reliable workers," Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship said.

The Government has invited four Pacific nations to take part in the pilot scheme (Vanuatu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Tonga), and will run for three years.  The Government is providing 2,500 visas for nationals from these countries, and each visa will allow guest workers to remain in Australia for up to seven months of a twelve-month period.  Holders of the 416 visa for Australia will be able to return each year.  The conditions of the visa also mean that all applicants must meet the health and security requirements as outlined by the Government. 

Employers taking part in the guest worker scheme will have to prove they have exhausted resources from the local workforce and committed to training programs for the development of Australians before using overseas workers.  They also must ensure all employees who are holders of the 416 visa are paid the same wages as Australians and are subject to the same employment conditions.

However, the Federal Opposition says it believes the Rudd Government will not have the scheme functioning fully by the end of the year as promised.  The Government reassured farmers they would have Pacific labourers in their employment under the scheme by Christmas, yet Opposition spokesperson Sharon Stone maintains the scheme is nowhere near ready. 

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with their Australian visa application.

Article by Jessica Bird, Australian Visa Bureau.

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