Relaxation of student visa relief for farmers
The temporary relaxation of student visa working hours by the Morrison government in January 2021 provided vital relief to many farmers.
When numerous Australian industries were dealing with reduced worker availability, the agricultural sector arguably has been one of the hardest hit. A workforce study conducted by Ernst & Young had predicted a labour gap in horticulture of up to 26,000 workers for the six months leading to March 2021.
To adapt to the unprecedented labour shortages, farmers have had to modify their standard recruitment methods and promptly look towards alternative labour sources. Despite this, many farmers have struggled to source sufficient people to meet their labour requirements, resulting in unprecedented reports of good crops being turned back into the ground.
Traditionally student visa holders have had a limited work capacity of 40 hours per fortnight. However, this is no longer the case and will be for the foreseeable future for several industries, one of which is the agricultural industry. The temporary relaxation of the 40-hour rule will aid in addressing workforce shortages in the agricultural sector where adequate labour is currently in critical supply.
David Littleproud, the Minister for Agriculture, stated, “Many regions are expecting bumper crops this year, but with COVID-19 travel restrictions international movement, there still aren’t enough workers available.
“This complements a range of other workforce measures we are delivering to support farmers this harvest season,”
These changes mean student visa holders will be permitted to work more than the usual 40 hours per fortnight limit during semesters, provided they meet the following requirements;
• maintain their course enrolment
• ensure satisfactory course attendance
• ensure satisfactory course progress
If the student fails to meet these requirements, they could breach their visa conditions. There will remain a continued onus to ensure all visa holders are employed in line with their visa conditions.
Additionally, the Government has implemented the same relaxation of working hours for secondary visa holders, provided the primary visa holder has commenced their course and meets all other visa requirements.
“Australians will always get priority for jobs under this Government, but we’re listening to farmers who have been clear that they need many more workers, and they need them now,” Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said
“These temporary visa holders are already in Australia, many do not want to or cannot go home and they will be greatly valued in the agriculture sector.”
While this is excellent news for the agricultural industry, all employers must be prudent to recognise, overseas workers, including international students, have the same rights under Australian workplace law as all other employees.
For more information on the temporary relaxation of working hours for student visa holders, visit https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/student-500/temporary-relaxation-of-working-hours-for-student-visa-holders
Anyone looking for agriculture work should visit Harvest Trail: https://jobsearch.gov.au
This article is intended to provide access to information and resources to promote an understanding of work and travel restrictions in response to COVID-19.
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