Visa changes hurting farmers

By Rick Bayne

DAIRY FARMERS struggling to find locals willing to work for them are now struggling to find visa holders to fill the gaps.

Federal Government changes to visa regulations have left some farmers campaigning for longer placement opportunities and pathways for permanent residency.

Finley, NSW farmer Ruth Kydd, who backed Dairy Connect’s concerns last year about the sudden cancellation of the skilled 457 Visa foreign worker program, says she’s still having trouble with the system, although there are some positive developments.

The Kydds had been using 408 training visas, including IAEA and CAEP programs, that allowed them to bring mostly agriculture students into Australia for up to 12 months. In reciprocation, Australians can do practical work overseas.

However, the Government has changed the rules and now they can only come to Australia for six months on a backpacker visa.

“We like them to come for 12 months because we’re a seasonal herd,” Mrs Kidd said. “In the first six months they’re just trying to get their head around the work — they learn a lot in the last six months and it gives them opportunities to get better jobs at home.”

The shorter period is impacting on interest.

“I’ve been trying this year to get an extra person to come on a training visa but CAEP couldn’t get anyone because they’d only be here for a short period of time,” Mrs Kydd said.

“It’s not worth paying the fee.”

Another problem is that the Kydds were hiring people from places that don’t have backpacker visa allowances, like the Philippines.

“That rules out a lot of people we could have previously accessed,” Mrs Kydd said.

“We want more permanent staff who want to stay.”

The Kydds have recently employed had two people through the 457 Visa dairy labour agreement.

This gives them four years in Australia, as opposed to two years on a straight 457 visa.

“The next step is a pathway to permanency so after their four years they can stay,” Mrs Kydd added. “We know they are good. They have qualifications in agriculture and animal science, they have experience and the right attitude and they’re keen to stay and work on the farm.

“It’s definitely better value if they are here longer.”

One of the visas took 11 months to get approved, the other two months and the system for paying tax has also presented problems.

Mrs Kydd said the farm relied on skilled visa workers for roles that can’t be filled locally.

“People locally aren’t that interested. It’s hard to get people who want to do the work.”

Along with Mrs Kydd, her husband Neville and sons Daniel and Steven, the farm has four full-time staff and five part-timers. Six of the staff are on visas.