28 August 2012

Farmers hoping to lengthen working holiday visa program

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Official bodies within the agriculture industry are calling for the government to extend the working holiday visa and work and holiday visa programs to allow holders to stay in Australia for as long as five years.

Working holiday in Australia

AgriLabour Australia says the agriculture industry relies on working holiday visa holders.

AgriLabour Australia say farmers and other rural employers rely on the working holiday visa program to run their businesses and extending the program so holders could stay longer would allow the industry to overcome staffing shortages.

Under current rules, citizens under the age of 31 from 19 countries, including the UK and Ireland, can apply for a working holiday visa (subclass 417) while citizens from a further nine are eligible for a work and holiday visa (subclass 462).

Each visa allows the holder to live and work in Australia for 12 months; holders can stay for a further 12 months if they complete three months of 'seasonal' work, typically farm work in Australia. This allows the country's agriculture industry to benefit from the extremely popular visa program.

However, each holder is only allowed to work in one position for a maximum of six months before they are forced to find other work and this, says AgriLabour Australia business development manager Luke Brown, doesn't benefit anyone.

"Currently many farmers are using 416 working holiday visas and if you do your time and check your references there's a quality supply of labour to Australia, because of the financial crisis in Europe," said Mr Brown.

"But where we run into problems is the current working holiday visa ends at six months for any employer due to government restrictions.

"What's happening is farmers are getting good workers who want to stay but government restrictions mean they have to go."

Working holiday visa holders are permitted to remain in Australia if they are willing to change visas. However, Mr Brown claims this is difficult for most farmers.

"The only way to keep those workers is through a sponsorship program, which is difficult and expensive, as the rules outline you have to recruit someone from overseas with an agricultural degree or certificate."

Mr Brown says if the government was willing to allow working holiday and work and holiday visa holders to remain in one position for up to a year, many farmers' issues would be resolved but if the program were to be extended to five years, Mr Brown says 'we'd all be laughing'.

"If [the six month employment requirement] could be extended to 12 months or even two years, we'd be in a much better position.

"[But] if we could find these people in Ireland, Europe or wherever and offer them a five year package to work on farms or other businesses in regional Australia, without having to go down the legal path to deal with these sponsorship restrictions, it would be unreal for farmers and would certainly help overcome these huge labour shortages we're all dealing with."

The proposal of extending the working holiday program is not a new notion; allowing holders to stay a second year if they completed three months of regional work is only a recent addition but Mr Brown says the expansion of the thriving mining industry in Australia has lured Australian workers away from the farming industry, and lead to a need for further extension.

"There's a massive shortage of workers in the bush there are plenty of farm workers who have gone off to the mines and you won't get them back for now."

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