Growers supported through visa extensions

By Country News

Temporary visa extensions will help Australian growers by allowing visa holders to work in agriculture until the coronavirus crisis passes.

The new amendment applies to the Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Program and working holiday makers.

Visa holders moving between regions for work are required to self-isolate for 14 days, or their visas will be cancelled.

Fruit Growers Victoria manager Michael Crisera said he welcomed the visa alteration.

“In regards to our apple, pear and stone fruit growers, we’re at the last four weeks of the season, so we should get through all right,” he said.

Mr Crisera said farmers would need to change the way they accommodate seasonal workers.

“Growers need to ensure backpackers do the 14-day isolation prior to leaving metropolitan areas for regional areas.

“A challenge will be accommodating backpackers who are normally in small spaces, they may need to be housed individually.”

Mr Crisera said the visa extensions would be useful for the end of April, as apple harvest comes to an end, pruning begins and workers move on to the Mildura region to pick citrus fruits.

Apple and Pear Australia chief executive officer Phil Turnbull said the decision reassured growers.

“This announcement provides needed certainty for our growers,” he said.

“They can now be confident they have the workforce to complete the harvest and to ensure quality fresh produce is available to consumers across Australia.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said it was vital for farmers to maximise economic returns.

“We are acting to enable seasonal workers to extend their stay and remain lawfully in Australia until they are able to return to their home countries,” Mr McCormack said.

“We can’t afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines and vegetables left unpicked.”

Those on working holiday visas who have been laid off due to coronavirus and are unable to support themselves over the next six months have been urged to return home.

The state, territory and federal agriculture ministers discussed the issue of agricultural visa workers at a ministerial meeting on Tuesday, April 14.

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he was grateful for the co-operation of each jurisdiction to put the measures into practice.

“While there will be variations between individual states and territories each accept their responsibility for implementing the National Cabinet decisions to ensure the health and safety of workers and regional communities,” he said.