Immigrants improving productivity in Australian Agriculture industry

More than 900,000 immigrants on permanent and temporary visas enter Australia each year. Most live and work in Australian capital cities; immigrants are more urbanised than the average Australian today.

However, in the last decade or so, new visa pathways have opened up to attract new immigrant workers and their families to the Australian bush. Increased chances of selection attracts permanent skilled immigrants to accept employment in regional and rural towns.

At the same time, increasing numbers of temporary migrants on working holiday, student and skilled 457 visas are attracted to the bush. A new program for Pacific Seasonal Workers has also been introduced.

Growth and benefits

For policymakers, the attraction of getting migrants to rural areas is that it helps reduce labour shortages – particularly during seasonal harvesting peaks – and counteracts the trend of population movement away from the bush to the metropolis.

Immigrants, including refugees, play a critical role in the Australian agricultural industry. Some of these immigrants become entrepreneurs, opening up a business. Skilled immigrants in the agricultural sector were also much more likely to have set up their own business (15%) than those in other industries (9.6%).

457 visa skilled workers find employers in the bush eager to sponsor their immigration application, particularly in professional and technical occupations. Working holiday makers fill critical jobs during harvesting and picking seasons.

Seasonal workers from the Pacific are eager to supplement the income of their families back home via remittances. They also get to learn new skills.

Australia takes in about half of all working holiday makers who enter OECD countries. They can work and travel around Australia from job to job. The carrot is a 12-month extension to their visa if they work more than 88 days in the bush. The agriculture, forestry and fishing industries receive the greatest benefit from this arrangement.

Working holiday markers come from more than 20 countries.Most reported that the best thing about their experience was that they had good relations with the non-Koreans they worked with in Australia, learned new skills, had to opportunity to improve their English, and received good wages.

The Pacific seasonal workers program allows workers from East Timor, Nauru, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to work in low-skilled jobs for up to seven months in a 12-month period. Most work in the horticultural industry.

The annual intake has grown from around 400 in 2010-11. It is now an uncapped, demand-driven immigration stream that has expanded to jobs in the broader agriculture industry – including the accommodation sector.

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