Farmers Express Concerns Over Backpacker Visa Changes
Farmers in Australia have voiced their concerns over recent changes to the country’s visa programs, warning that these modifications could lead to increased food prices. Set to take effect from July 1, the changes include a 25% increase in visa charges for working holiday makers. The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has argued that these changes will make Australia up to five times more expensive for working holiday makers compared to countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Germany. Consequently, they fear that this increased financial burden will deter potential farm workers from choosing Australia as a destination.
Fiona Simson, a representative from the NFF, highlighted the potential impact of these changes on the spending power of working holiday makers. She stated, “Any increased charges, anything that makes them have less money to spend…they will take that into account.” Simson’s concerns were further highlighted as the changes would also affect British backpackers. Currently, British citizens must complete a specified period of regional work to extend their stay in Australia. However, as of July 1, 2024, this requirement will be removed. The NFF estimates that regional Australia stands to lose tens of thousands of backpackers as a result of this change.
Another significant modification to the visa program is the introduction of a new wage threshold for temporary skilled migration. Under the new policy, workers in this category must be paid a minimum of $70,000 (US$46,000), compared to the previous threshold of $53,900 (US$35,760). The NFF argues that this increase will exclude 84% of agricultural workers from the temporary skilled migration program. Industry representatives, such as Bill Bulmer from AusVeg, which represents 3600 Australian producers, are concerned about the implications of these changes on the availability of workers. Bulmer stated, “The backpacker doesn’t have to come and work on the farm anymore…It becomes a problem for a lot of regions across Australia.”
The agriculture industry in Australia is already grappling with labor shortages, particularly during harvest time when the industry heavily relies on working holiday makers. Farmers warn that any further labor shortfalls will inevitably lead to a decrease in produce. Bulmer articulated the consequences, saying, “If you haven’t got a workforce, you either cut back on the amount of product you’re growing, or in some cases, you go out of business. We’re already thousands of workers short across the industry now.”
In response to the concerns raised by farmers, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles emphasized that the government is committed to improving wages and conditions for all workers. Giles highlighted that raising the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) is a crucial step in delivering better pay for people working in the agricultural sector. While the government’s intention to support workers is commendable, farmers remain apprehensive about the potential negative effects on their industry.
The impending changes to the visa program have undoubtedly stirred up debates and concerns amongst farmers in Australia. As the struggle for workers continues, the agricultural industry remains wary of the potential consequences, including increased food prices and decreased production.