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Govt eases working holiday visa restrictions

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Backpackers and other visitors on working holidays will be able to stay in Australia longer under a federal government plan to help farmers fill job shortages.

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Pacific islanders taking up seasonal work will be able to stay three months more and the age limit for working holiday visas for some countries will be lifted to 35.

Backpackers will no longer need to leave jobs every six months and will be able to triple the length of their stay if they do extra agricultural work.

The changes come after the Nationals failed to deliver a promised agricultural visa and an attempt to force jobless Australians to pick fruit and tend to animals was dismissed by the industry.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is visiting a strawberry farm in southeast Queensland to outline the changes.

“Australians filling Australian jobs is my No.1 priority, but when this isn’t possible we need to ensure our farmers aren’t left high and dry with rotting crops, especially in the strawberry industry,” he told The Courier-Mail.

Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh was sceptical about what he described as a “short-sighted” announcement.

A report published last week found backpackers in Australia, about a third of whom are paid less than $12 an hour, are owed billion dollars in unpaid wages.

“The government needs to be very clear about how it’s going to deal with those abuses and how it’s going to create more opportunities for Australians to work in agricultural work,” Leigh told Sky News.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack denied the changes were an admission his party’s push for an agricultural visa was dead in the water.

“It was always going to be difficult to get a specific ag visa in time for this harvest but we are working towards making sure there are more permanent arrangements in place,” McCormack said.

“At the end of the day, what needed to happen was we needed to have the workers on the ground to pick the fruit and pick the crops.

“We will make sure good workers can come again. That’s all farmers want.”

A rule that forced some backpackers to work in northern Australia is also being dumped. They will instead be allowed to work in a far wider range of regions throughout the country.

Australia’s agricultural sector has almost doubled in value into a $63.4 billion industry over the past decade.

Some 419,000 backpackers visited Australia last year, spending 1.4 million nights in regional areas where they spent $920 million.

“Every dollar they earn here, they spend here, that’s the whole point,” Morrison said.

WHAT ARE THE CHANGES TO WORKING HOLIDAY VISAS?

PEOPLE with working holiday visas (also known as 417 or 462 visas) will be able to stay in Australia for a maximum of three years from mid-2019, rather than two, if they complete six months of regional work during their second year in the country.

VISA-HOLDERS who want a second year in Australia will still need to work in regional Australia for three months during their first year, but there will be more areas in which 462 visa-holders can do so.

CURRENTLY they are only able to do the work in northern Australia, but soon they’ll be able to choose from key regional areas in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, along with all of the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania.

PEOPLE taking advantage of the new regional areas will have to perform agricultural work, while those opting to work in northern Australia will still have the choice of working in tourism and hospitality.

THE highest age able to get working holiday visas will be raised from 30 to 35 for some countries.

THOSE with working holiday visas will be able to stay with the same employer for a year, rather than the current cap of six months.

MORE spots will be available for 462 working holiday visas for people from a number of countries each year.

WHAT ABOUT THE SEASONAL WORKERS PROGRAM?

A VISA enabling people from Pacific island countries to complete seasonal work in some industries, when the employer can’t get local workers (also known as a 416 visa), will allow people to stay for nine months. At the moment, the visa’s cap is six month for some countries.

VISA-HOLDERS will also have to pay fewer out-of-pocket expenses.

WHAT IMPACT WILL THE CHANGES HAVE?

The changes are aimed at addressing labour shortages on farms in regional and rural Australia.

Regional economies are also expected to get a boost from visa holders splashing their cash locally.

HOW MANY PEOPLE COME?

In 2017-18, there were 185,450 first and second year 417 visas granted and 25,006 first and second year 462 visas granted.

The top countries of origin for 417 visas were the United Kingdom, Germany and France. The top countries for 462 visa were the USA, China or Chile.

Just over 6000 people from the Pacific Islands take part in the seasonal worker program each year

– AAP

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