Backpacker Visa Changes 'Won't Help' Agriculture: Farmers

Backpackers and other visitors on working holiday visa will be able to stay in Australia longer under a new government plan to help farmers fill jobs.

The federal government will relax the visa rules so Pacific Islanders taking up seasonal work can extend either stay for three months. Backpackers will no longer be required to leave a job after six months and will be able to triple their stay if they engage in farm work.

The age limit for working holiday visas will also be lifted to from 30 years to 35 for select countries.

Under current laws, backpackers can stay in Australia for 12 months on a working holiday visa. If they wish to extend their stay for an additional 12 months, they must complete three months or a minimum of 88 days 'specified work' during their first year in Australia.

The government plans to increase the time travellers on a working holiday visa can stay in Australia. Image: Getty Images.

But beef/cattle and grain farmer Luke Arbuckle doesn't think the government's plan addresses real issues farmers have with keeping staff on their farms.

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"I don’t think it’s going to make any difference from what the current rules are. We need flexibility around bringing in skilled employees," Arbuckle told 10 daily.

This change fails to address any actual problems the farmers have.

As the vice president of Agforce Grain Queensland and a board member of Grain Producers Australia, Arbuckle understands these problems stem from visa rules and have affects industry wide.

"It is difficult to get employees but we still need them, they are highly sort after," Arbuckle said.

"If they do get someone who who wants to be out here and they get trained up and the learn the skills and they really love it out here, with the visa rules, they have to be kicked out after two years anyway after they have become a part of the community."

Backpacker farm workers are highly sort after. Image: Getty Images.

Vegetable grower Anthony Staatz agreed the visa changes were a positive step.

The Southern Queensland producer told the ABC the changes did not address the critical issue he faced around the lack of skilled workers in leadership positions.

"The trouble that we're having is that if we've got all backpackers in those [harvest] teams, some of them might show potential leadership but we can't hang onto them long enough to start to invest in them," he told the national broadcaster.

Nathalie Meier's partner, Lars Top, is from the Netherlands. He moved to Australia in March 2017 to live in Sydney with her on a working holiday visa.

Top stayed just a year in Australia before returning to Europe because he was deterred from farm work as he'd only gain an additional year by working regionally. Meier said the proposed changes could make a difference.

"I think the deterring thing for him about farm work was that it was so remote and isolated him from a lot of the friends and connections he made in his base of Sydney. Also, the farm work is incredibly gruelling ...but I think the prospect of a longer stay could have encouraged him to complete it," Meier told 10 daily.

Meier also said the six month employment limit made it difficult for Top to get a job, as employers were hesitant to take on a foreigner for a sort period of time.

"Six month contracts are extremely rare. I think it would have been easier for Lars to find work in his field of social work if the six month limit was increased to one year," she said.

"I think this increase in limit would have also encouraged him to complete farm work."

Additional time in Australia would have encouraged Top to do the farm work. Image: Getty Images.

Meier echoed Arbuckle's call for flexibility around the rules of the visa so skilled workers can come to Australia and stay for a more extended period.

Arbuckle said most of the backpackers he's employed approached farm work with a positive attitude and would stay working on the land longer, if the visa allowed it.

"The majority love it and they are happy to stay out here for longer," Arbuckle said.

"Most are really positive and they love it here because they don't get this experience at home. It’s what they want to do when they come out. When they think of Australia they think of the 80 percent that is outback and farms and the excitement and the adventure."

The Australian Tourism Export Council said the changes will help to reinstate Australia as a favoured destination for backpackers.

Featured Image: Getty Images. 

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au