Australia turns to Vietnam for agricultural workers as first agricultural visa memorandum of understanding is signed

Vietnamese workers will be the first to be employed on Australian farms under its agriculture-specific visa scheme.

Federal Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) under Australia’s Agriculture Visa Program was signed today with Vietnam.

“Australia and Vietnam share a strong and optimistic agenda in our relationship,” Ms Payne said in a statement.

But it’s unclear when the first workers would arrive or how many workers were likely to be employed under the visa program.

It is also not clear whether the Vietnamese workers would be qualified or not.

Foreign Secretary Marise Payne announced the deal on Monday.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

A “success” of the Nationals

The farm visa has been a source of contention between Liberal and National MPs for several years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison first backed an agriculture-specific visa in October 2018, but it wasn’t until a trade deal with the UK last year that nationals were granted a firm commitment for the new visa.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud hailed the Vietnam MoU and said the visa was “one of the Nationals’ biggest achievements this quarter”.

“While [I] recognized some of [my] Coalition colleagues had struggled to understand the importance of an agricultural visa, the tenacity of nationals to finalize the visa will lead to the biggest structural change in the agricultural workforce in the history of our country. »

Call for support from the opposition

Mr Littleproud, who had previously criticized Ms Payne for delaying the visa process, called on the opposition to declare their support for the agricultural visa, should they win the next election.

Labor has not yet said whether they will commit to maintaining the new visa and it is possible they are looking to make some changes.

Green Senator Nick McKim today introduced a notice of disallowance motion on the visa legislation, but with the federal election likely to be called in days, the debate may go unheard.

a man wearing glasses and a red tie stands in front of a mural
Mr Littleproud said Vietnamese workers were already highly valued in Australia.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Long before Australia closed its borders to deal with COVID-19, Australian farmers had been calling for a new visa to recruit farm workers, both skilled and unskilled.

The horticulture sector was estimated to need 26,000 additional workers at the height of the pandemic, but industry sources said on Monday the figure was currently closer to 10,000.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility scheme, which recruits unskilled and semi-skilled workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste, has approved an additional 55,000 workers for Australia-based jobs in agriculture, food processing meat, care for the elderly, hotels and tourism.

A recent Senate investigation, however, learned that workers in the Pacific are left with as little as $100 in take-home pay each week.

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