Farming lobby proposes working visa program changes

THREE changes to Australia's working visa programs will form part of a wide-ranging proposal the National Farmers Federation will put to the Federal Government on Friday.

Among the changes the farming lobby will propose will be a dumping of Commonwealth increases to working holiday-maker visa charges and additions to the list of skilled occupations for 417 and 457 visas.

The changes, NFF president Jock Laurie said, could allow for more farming skills to be taken into account for seasonal workers and help farmers to train up willing overseas workers for longer term jobs in Australia.

While Mr Laurie said the existing immigration system worked well, there were improvements that should be made to help farmers deal with the nation-wide skills shortage.

A list that includes various skills which can help overseas workers get jobs in Australia did not include several skills that help on farm, such as tractor and machinery operation.

"A lot of the skills we need come harvest time aren't actually on the list, and in many industries that's proving to be a problem," Mr Laurie said.

"And a real problem is being clear about what is actually required on farm - so we need to figure out exactly what we need and then convince the government.

"Coming out of the back of a drought, when there was little demand for skills, we know have a huge demand, so we need to identify what's needed and then make the changes."

One problem to be overcome was when an overseas worker gets a working holiday visa or seasonal worker visas; they can do largely unskilled work, such as fruit-picking.

But to work on harvests in the broad acre industry, or mustering cattle, require many more skills such as horsemanship and heavy machinery operation.

Mr Laurie said NFF members were well aware of the money and time spent training up workers.

He said he hoped changes could be made to add agricultural skills to the skilled occupation list, to allow workers trained up who want to stay longer, can be transferred to the 457 visa.

A third change Mr Laurie was hoping for was a dumping of a planned $80 increase to the working holiday visa charge, which he said could deter those people, such as backpackers, from coming to Australia.

The NFF will make the specific proposals in a submission to the National Workforce Productivity Agency, which is reviewing the skilled occupation list.

Topics:  farming federal government national farmers' federation visa

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