By the end of September, Australia will have a new agriculture visa in place that will allow foreigners to work on Australian farms and other agriculture sectors such as meat processing, fishing, and forestry. 

The government announced the visa on August 23 and stated that it will be accessible to applicants from a variety of countries established through bilateral agreements.
“Full conditions will be developed and implemented over the next three years as the visa is operationalised,” said Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke in a statement.

"By the end of September 2021, regulations to enable the introduction of the Australian Agriculture visa will be in place," the statement read. The visa's operation will be dependent on talks with partner countries.

The government elaborated on the ambitious programme saying it will expand on current Pacific worker schemes such as the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme, which were created to address workforce shortages in rural and regional Australia.

Charnamat Singh, a farmer from Kinglake, Victoria told an international media outlet that the announcement is expected to address the present labour crisis in the agriculture sector which has been worsened by COVID restrictions that have prevented trained and semi-skilled employees from entering the country.

Mr Singh who has 150 acres of land where he grows broccoli, zucchini, and raspberries, faced a severe farmer shortage during the harvest season last summer. He expressed optimism that a lucrative visa pathway would encourage more overseas workers to adopt farming as a primary occupation, promoting regional settlement.

Labor's home affairs spokesman Kristina Keneally, on the other hand, slammed the new initiative saying that it has the potential to weaken existing schemes for Pacific workers and increase the already prevalent exploitation of agriculture workers.

She went on to say that the move was "too little, too late" for farmers in desperate need of help just now.

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Meanwhile, former top Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi, commenting on the new programme, said the government would have to offer an additional layer of protection for migrant workers entering on this visa in order to lessen the existing occupational health and safety concerns in the farm sector.

“A tripartite industry, union and government body should be established to deal with worker complaints and given the power to prosecute employers and labour-hire companies in breach of labour laws,” he suggested.

Mr Rizvi went on to say that improving the safety of overseas workers will require greater employer accountability and a minimum level of English language proficiency for successful applicants.

Will this visa be available to workers from India?

The government is yet to provide details about the visa program's design and participating countries.

“We have yet to see if other nations, including India, will negotiate a bilateral agreement and we have yet to see any requirements about visa qualifying criteria and the pathway to permanent residency,” said Mark Glazbrook, an Adelaide-based migration agent.

“It is likely that the particular details regarding the permanent residency pathway will not be announced for some time, as the pathway will not be offered to visa holders unless they have been in Australia for at least three to four years on a temporary visa,” he added.

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