13 January 2012

New Australia visa opportunities for seasonal workers

The Australian government has seemingly judged its Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) to be a success as it announced plans to roll out an all new permanent programme. The Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), which will begin on July 1st 2012, will allow seasonal workers from nine new countries to apply for an Australian visa.

Australia visa

The Australian government hopes the announcement of its new programme will entice more Pacific workers to come to Australia.

Australia's PSWPS trial began in 2008 and was initially limited to workers from Papua New Guinea, Guinea, Kiribati and Vanuatu. However, as Papua New Guinea did not finalise its agreement with Australia until mid 2010 combined with lower than expected numbers from the other countries, political pressure finally forced an expansion to the scheme in 2011 when the programme was opened up to Nauru, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

More than 2,000 Australian visas were allocated over the pilot's course yet just 56 were taken up in the first year of the programme, and only 67 in the second. The pilot's third year finally began to see some progress as 783 visas were granted, with almost 80% of the visas granted going to Tonga alone.

The Australian Gillard government hopes that the pilot scheme will still prove fruitful before the permanent scheme begins and has already taken measures to entice more workers. A reduction in travel costs combined with an increase in the length of stay permitted on the Australia visa has already seen interest increased and the Australian immigration authorities hope that another 1,000 workers will arrive before the permanent scheme begins in July.

The new SWP scheme will further expand the programme, not just in the number of applicants, but also the scope of the programme.

Australian visa applications under the new scheme will also be open to Timor-Leste, who has lobbied since 2007 to be included on the pilot programme.

However, the main change to the new programme will be its attempts to widen the scheme to other employment sectors. Originally focussed almost entirely on the horticulture industry with migrants workers employed in orchards and vineyards, the Australian government intends to begin a new three year trial in the tourism and fishing industries.

The Australian programme is based on New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) programme which has been a huge success. Since the RSE began in 2007, over 25,000 Pacific workers have worked on vineyards, orchards and other farms across New Zealand.

Australia has long since benefitted from migrant workers emigrating to Australia on a variety of visas. In 2011 alone, over a quarter of a million overseas students were granted an Australian visa which allowed them work 20 hours a week while over 90,000 visas were granted for skilled workers.

The expansion of the programme has led some to voice concerns that the programme is ill equipped to maintain sufficient working standards which, although managed to fare reasonably well in its inception, will struggle to provide safe conditions with thousands of workers.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian High Commission.

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