The Riverina will be able to keep more skilled backpackers available for harvests under the federal government’s visa changes, according to apple and cherry growers.
Riverina MP and deputy prime minister Michael McCormack announced on Monday that there would be more visa issued and holiday workers would have the option of spending more time in Australia.
Among the changes will be opening up 462-type visas to become eligible for a second visa through partaking in regional plant and animal cultivation work.
Working Holiday Maker visa subclasses 417 and 462 will have their stay lengths extended from six to 12 months for the same employer in areas of northern Australia and gain an option for a third year.
Though many of the changes were aimed at specific areas of the Northern Territory, Queensland and WA, Riverina growers hope to have access to the workers outside tropical harvests.
Batlow apple and cherry farmer Greg Mouat said being able to have backpackers returning to work over a longer period would reduce training time and increase productivity.
“The longer we have got them, the better off we are,” Mr Mouat said.
“We have found, in many cases, that backpackers spend five or six weeks working here and then return next year.
“That’s really good, because in their second year they hit the ground running.”
He said the wider community would also benefit from having the backpackers stay and spend money in the region for longer.
Ralph Wilson, whose Wilgro apple and cherry farm also produces cider and vinegar at Batlow, said backpackers were keen to work but often lacked experience in farming and working in the Riverina’s conditions.
Mr McCormack said the policy changes would help farmers in the Riverina and Central West.
“Our considered and measured approach ensures we continue to back farm businesses and communities to continue producing and supplying the world’s best food and fibre,” he said.
“We remain focused on addressing this issue by providing more workforce options and flexibility to help our farmers pick their fruit and harvest their crops.”
Delays in increasing farmers’ access to foreign labour have caused Mr McCormack to suffer criticism from within his own party and the National Farmers Federation.
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