Migrant farm workers could soon be brought to Australia on a dedicated farm visa, with the new category due to be established next month.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the federal government would introduce regulations to create the farm work visa by the end of September.
Mr Littleproud said this would apply to skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers and would coexist with Pacific agricultural labor programs.
“This is the biggest structural reform of Australian agricultural labor in our country’s history,” he told the ABC on Monday.
“It’s also about bringing the next generation of migrants to rural Australia, to develop agriculture and develop regional Australia.”
The program will provide a route to permanent residence for migrant farm workers who enter on visa.
The government will negotiate with countries to join the program.
Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and other Asian countries should be among the first to be included.
“Those with whom we already have very close and durable immigration agreements will be the easiest for us to sign as quickly as possible,” said Littleproud.
Reluctance to increase the number of people allowed to enter Australia during the coronavirus pandemic is likely to hamper efforts to bring in workers on farm visas.
The deputy head of nationals urged state governments to make more quarantine facilities available to agricultural workers.
“If it weren’t for resources and agriculture, our economy would be hampered during COVID-19,” Mr. Littleproud said.
“They are the ones who kept going when everyone was put on doona, they kept giving back for this nation and we just have to pay this back now with a little courage and conviction.”
The new visa category has been the subject of wrangling within the coalition for years.
The Liberals gave in after Australia agreed to remove the requirement for UK backpackers to work 88 days in regional areas to extend working holidays.
Associated Australian Press