The federal government’s plan to scrap the 457 visa stream for skilled workers and replace it with two new temporary visas has been met with political scepticism over its perceived merits in protecting Australian jobs.
While the plan will no doubt be welcomed in some nationalistic quarters, the agriculture industry must look at any changes to visa classes with caution. Farmers know all too well the struggle of trying to match the right skills to the right job.
At first glance, questions should be asked about what the 457 changes might mean for an industry that already has problems calling on local labour to fill some critical skills gaps.
What we do know from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s statements on Tuesday is that the new visa streams will make it essential for workers to have two years’ prior experience and a higher standard of English language skills. A police history check will also be mandatory.
It’s hard to disagree with the validity of these broad policy statements.
But it is vital that the federal government keeps the door open for consultation with industry before it locks in a firm overhaul of the visa system.
Any discussion over visa changes presents new opportunities to discuss a tailored working visa program to assist agriculture’s workforce needs – and the industry needs a seat at the table.
Everyone is still licking their wounds over the messy negotiations around the backpacker tax last year.
No-one wants to see that scenario played out a second time.
Realistically, scrapping the 457 visa is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on the agriculture industry.
Our workers often learn on-the-job, and practical experience is valued more highly than a university degree.
But the government can’t overlook the role that overseas workers play in filling skills shortages.
Industry needs to take a pragmatic approach by holding itself out to government as open to discussion over the planned changes.
For the time being, we’ll have to keep a keen eye open for developments in any changes to the visa system.
But it is unclear from what Mr Turnbull has said if the new proposal will seriously affect the farm sector.
David Jochinke, VFF president