Farm groups have condemned the government's changes to the structure of the working holiday maker (WHM) visa, claiming it endangers Australia's food production and adds to labor shortage problems. Visa holders working in the tourism and hospitality sectors in northern, remote and very remote areas of Australia will be able to count this towards eligibility for a second or third year extension, without completing farm work.
The government said the option would be available to those applying from March 2022, but it would take into account work already being done in those areas from June 22.
Lobbyist Growcom labelled the changes as "divorced from farming reality", and Growcom policy manager Richard Shannon said not a single agricultural body, including the National Farmers' Federation, had been advised of the changes to immigration regulations. "A change with such a huge impact on the availability of backpacker labor, that the industry shouldn't be consulted is beyond belief."
In Queensland, where the majority of the nation's winter fruit and vegetables are grown, the state government estimates a 4,000 to 9,000 shortfall in harvest workers. Fewer than 40,000 working holiday makers remain in Australia, down from a usual 150,000.
With about three-quarters of the usual workforce in horticulture made up of backpackers, Shannon said this ruling would worsen the pain. "We're already going to be short and permitting backpackers to do 88 days in tourism or hospitality is only going to further exacerbate this problem," he said.
Abc.net.au reports on the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) criticizing the move as likely to reduce the workforce available, particularly to northern and remote farmers.
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