Australia expands backpacker visas to boost agriculture industry

CANBERRA, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — Backpackers working in Australia will be able to stay in the country longer under a government plan to fill job shortages in the agriculture industry.

The proposed visa changes, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Monday, would allow backpackers who take on extra agricultural work in their second year in Australia to stay for a third year.

Under the current system, workers in Australia on a subclass 462 working holiday visa can only remain in the country for a second year if they complete three months of agriculture work.

If the proposed changes go ahead, backpackers would be able to stay in Australia for a third year if they complete six months of agriculture work in their second year.

“Australians filling Australian jobs is my number one priority, but when this isn’t possible we need to ensure our farmers aren’t left high and dry with rotting crops, especially in the strawberry industry,” Morrison told News Corp Australia.

The age limit for working holiday visas would also be lifted from 31 to 35 for some countries and the work period for seasonal workers in Australia will be increased from six to nine months.

The sweeping changes were announced after Morrison’s proposal to force unemployed welfare recipients to work picking fruit was shot down by the agriculture industry.

“We don’t want fruit rotting on the vine or crops left in the field and it’s vital our farmers maximize their hard work and economic returns,” McCormack said in a media release.

“Our action today means our farmers will get immediate support, helping them reap the economic returns of their hard work.”

“We also know the vast majority of holiday makers spend big in our regions, delivering a return to small businesses and jobs.”

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