Category Archives: WHV

Migrant workers call for coronavirus support amid fears of ‘crisis situation’

They pay tax and help prop up the economy, but many of the 2 million international students and migrant workers in Australia are now without financial support, and facing a dire situation.

Because of coronavirus many have no way to earn an income to pay rent, buy food or support their families, and they are often ineligible for the Government’s JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.

Anna Boucher, global migration expert and associate professor at Sydney University, tells ABC RN’s Life Matters that people on temporary visas make up “about 10 to 12 per cent of the workforce”.

The Government has advised them to return home, arguing we’ve got enough to worry about with our own citizens, but experts say we need to support migrant workers both for moral and economic reasons.

So who deserves what support? And how does Australia measure its ethical obligation to these workers?

‘So much more in tune’ with Australia

Temporary visa holders represent many different kinds of migrants with varying working permissions. Some see the process as a pathway to permanent residency in Australia.

Camille was born in France and came to Australia in 2009 to study her master’s. She is a university lecturer and tutor, moving from casual contract to casual contract.

A smiling woman stands on a deck in front of a lush, green garden
For Camille, going home to France isn’t an option, personally or professionally.

“I moved here when I was 21. And I’m going to be 33. Most of my adult life has been in Australia,” she says.

“My professional life, my personal life, I’m so much more in tune with what’s happening in Australia.”

Eva Su is on a working holiday visa from Taiwan. She lost her hospitality job after coronavirus forced restaurants and cafes to close and has been relying on help and food from the local community.

A woman in a red jumper stands in front of a natural vista featuring a river and mountains.
Eva had been employed in hospitality on a working holiday visa until coronavirus restrictions took place.

“I have been contacting different charities, and I’m glad that one of the charities called St Vincent de Paul. Once I contacted them they showed up in front of my door the next day,” Eva says.

“I was quite surprised. They offered me some vouchers to Woolworths and were really kind.”

She says many temporary visa holders are trying to get out to “explore the world”, and that the Government’s response to people in her situation could discourage young people like her from taking this chance in the future.

People facing ‘a crisis situation’

Dr Boucher says because of this attitude, Australia’s reputation as a study destination could be in danger.

“There is a risk that we will be seen as a country that is not ideal,” she explains.

“We know from a recent study that Canada is now a more popular destination for international students. That may in part reflect a perceived greater humanitarian outlook towards temporary migrants in that country.”

Camille says Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s message to “go home” was an unreasonable request that made her feel like “a bit of a second class citizen”.

“I think I could take a flight back home. But that would mean being separated from my partner, [and] I don’t have any work prospects there,” she explains.

“In France my parents would be happy to see me, but that’s about it.”

Although as an academic, her hours are uncertain into the future, Camille is confident her work ethic and connections will hold her in good stead in Australia.

Who deserves what?

So far, temporary visa holders have been excluded from accessing the same level of support as Australian students and workers. But if temporary workers are employees who pay tax, should they be entitled to help from the Government?

While it’s fair to recognise that citizens’ rights come first, that doesn’t have to be the Government’s only responsibility, says Joo-Cheong Tham, deputy chair of the Migrant Worker Centre in Melbourne and professor at the Melbourne University Law School.

Professor Joo-Cheong Tham says Australia should help both citizens and migrant workers. Professor Tham says this level of help should be “a floor, rather than a ceiling”.

“Our moral principles are not just restricted to citizens,” he says.

“We have temporary visa holders, some of whom would have lived here for a significant period of time, who have contributed to our society … they should be accorded the same rights and entitlements as other members of Australian society.

“This week the New South Wales state government joined Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT in announcing relief packages for temporary visa holders.

After federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revised the JobKeeper cost down from $130 billion to $70 billion, he made it clear that the Government didn’t plan on making major changes to who was included under the scheme.

Professor Tham says it’s not enough for various states and territories to manage migrants’ welfare on their own.

“We have a crisis that’s so broad and deep that really it’s only the Commonwealth Government that has adequate resources to actually effectively address the dire situation that many temporary visa holders are in,” he says.

And when it comes to framing the discussion around help for temporary visa holders, Professor Tham says politicians from both sides using the rhetoric of “putting Australians first” is “terribly unhelpful”.

“It casts these two groups [Australian citizens and migrants] as hostile groups. I think it is wrong to treat temporary visa holders, or any human being for that matter, as simply a means to a policy goal,” he explains.

“We need to have … principles that recognise the status of these temporary visa holders as human beings, as workers, and importantly as members of the community.”

While Camille recognises that Government has a limit on how much money it can spend to support people during the crisis, even a token amount — “something just as small as $1,000” — wouldn’t go astray.

In fact, she says it would be like the Government sending a message about how it values their work: “We were there for you when you came into the country helping your industry. Whenever there’s a problem, we’re there as well.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

COVID-19 quickens push for local workers at country’s largest blueberry co-op

Australia’s largest grower-owned blueberry cooperative has upped its determination to employ local workers, using labour-hire firms and moving away from using backpackers as COVID-19 forces the sector to rethink safety.

Key points:

  • Changing work conditions due to social distancing is likely to push up the price of blueberries
  • Finding pickers made more difficult by COVID-19 guidelines surrounding backpackers
  • Increased push for local workers at the country’s largest blueberry co-op

The move was prompted by the industry’s representative body, the Australian Blueberry Growers Association (ABGA).

Government guidelines require visa holders leaving a metropolitan area to have filled out a disclosure form.

“We back that up with very clear recommendations to our members that they have worker disclosure forms and run through a daily checklist,” ABGA Chief Executive, Rachel Mackenzie, said.

Rachel Mackenzie holding up a small tub of blueberries.
Executive Director of Berries Australia, Rachel Mackenzie, worked closely with blueberry growers as the harvest kicks in(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

“They need to know who their workers are, where they are staying and who they are interacting with.

“We are also really advocating to our growers put their job advertisements on the National Harvest Labour Information Service rather than just have workers turning up.”

Moving from backpackers to local hire

The workforce at the plant increases at harvest time to process the fruit.

For the first time OzGroup, in concert with a labour-hire firm, has implemented a strategy to source as many local employees as possible and operate shifts differently.

CEO Adam Bianchi believed it would go a long way to mitigate potential COVID-19 problems, although he conceded it would result in added costs.

“This year we are looking at doing a bit more in terms of segregating to a day and a night shift, so we will have four separate crews,” Mr Bianchi said.

“We think it’s a necessary cost.”

OzGroup hoped a greater emphasis on local employees would develop their skills, which could then be utilised over the years instead of having to spend time training backpackers.

Harvested blueberries
Harvested blueberries could be a bit more expensive for consumers as measures to ensure COVID-19 guidelines are adhered are likely to increase processing costs(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Harvest puts pressure on supply of workers

Many of the farms are family owned and reliant on backpackers to complement the handful of fulltime workers.

At Corindi, north of Coffs Harbour, Harvey Singh‘s picking is starting later than last year which he puts down to drought.

With 22,000 blueberry plants to be harvested, the job of finding pickers was made harder because travellers had to isolate for 14 days after coming into the area.

Harvey Singh said he asked all his workers where they have come from.

“Most of them have been saying they have been in the region for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

Fellow grower, Aman Lehl, at Corindi Beach, said he “fully supports” the COVID-19 regulations as a “public safety health initiative” which led to changes.

Raspberries are nearing the end of harvest but are not as hardy as blueberries and much of the packing is done in the paddocks.

“We have already had to make changes with social distancing with our packing stations … but so far it has been manageable,” Mr Lehl said.

Rows of plants in fields under nets on a blueberry farm.
Demand for pickers on mid-north coast blueberry farms increases as the harvest kicks in.(Supplied: Phillip Wilk)

Despite the effort to employ locals he is doubtful that many locals will sign up.

“They have been with us for years.”

While growers, processors and industry work to ensure COVID-19 guidelines are adhered to, the ABGA has also tried to reassure the community that all possible steps have been taken.

The ABGA admitted the challenge also is to try and ensure workers behave when not on-farm, so they are meeting councils to talk about accommodation and clear messages for backpackers.

Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program

​Latest news

Bushfire recovery efforts to count as ‘specified work’

On 17 February 2020, th​e Government announced changes to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa program to assist communities to recover from recent bushfires.

WHMs can now count paid or volunteer bushfire recovery work in a declared disaster area, carried out after 31 July 2019, as ‘specified work’ towards eligibility for a second or third WHM visa.

Bushfire recovery work for up to 12 months with one employer

From 17 February 2020, Working Holiday Makers (subclass 417 and subclass 462 visa holders) assisting bushfire recovery efforts can now do paid or unpaid work for up to 12 months (instead of 6 months) with the same employer or organisation without requesting permission from us.

Cap increase for Thailand

The annual cap for the Work and Holiday visa has been increased to 2,000 for Thailand.

Cap increase for Poland

From 1 October 2019, the annual cap on Work and Holiday visas has been increased to 1,500 for Poland.

Commencement of reciprocal Work and Holiday arrangements with Ecuador and Greece

From 1 July 2019, eligible young people from Ecuador and Greece can apply for a Work and Holiday visa to visit Australia.  The annual visa caps of 100 for Ecuador and 500 for Greece also apply to Australian citizens who want to work and holiday in those countries.

Cap increases for Argentina, Portugal and Singapore

From 1 July 2019, the annual cap on Work and Holiday visas has been increased to 2,450 for Argentina, 500 for Portugal and 2,500 for Singapore.

Mandatory online lodgement for Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa

From 1 July 2019, all applicants (except from the People’s Republic of China) for a Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa must lodge online through ImmiAccount. Paper applications are no longer accepted.

Third Working Holiday or Work and Holiday visa

Visa holders who carry out 6 months of specified work while on their second Working Holiday (subclass 417) visa or Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visa, or on a bridging visa in certain circumstances, may be eligible to apply for a third visa. The 6 months of specified work must all be carried out on or after 1 July 2019, so a successful application cannot be lodged before January 2020.

https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/what-we-do/whm-program/overview

Source: Department of Immigration and Home Affairs

Sourced by Mike Barrow

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector

 Agriculture is a critical sector that supplies essential goods to all Australians.

 To support our agriculture sector, the Government has announced temporary visa measures to help with the continuity of essential goods and services in response to COVID-19. 

 Flexible arrangements are in place to allow critical workers, including Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme participants and Working Holiday Makers, to extend their stay in Australia. 

 These temporary arrangements allow critical workers to remain in Australia, continue to support the agriculture sector, and stabilise the workforce in this critical sector. 

 Visa conditions for Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme workers have been temporarily relaxed and options are available to extend their stay in Australia for up to 12 months to support the agriculture sector. 

o Seasonal Worker Programme workers with visas due to expire can apply for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. 

o Pacific Labour Scheme workers with visas due to expire can apply for a new Temporary Work (International Relations) (subclass 403) Pacific Labour scheme stream visa. 

o Workers currently in Australia under these programs are exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer and are able to move between approved employers, allowing flexibility and continued support for the agriculture sector in meeting seasonal workforce demands. 

o Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme arrangements, including those relating to employers, have been carried over to the new visa arrangements, continuing the link with the agricultural sector. 

 In addition, Working Holiday Makers who are working in critical sectors (eg agriculture and food processing, health, aged and disability care, and childcare) are now exempt from the six month work limitation with one employer and are eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. 

Meeting public health requirements 

 State and Territory governments are responsible for implementing, enforcing and monitoring the health and safety requirements to minimise the spread of COVID-19. 

o State and Territory government must have clear mechanisms in place to enforce self-isolation, impose sanctions where this has not occurred. 

o The Government is working closely with State and Territory governments to ensure these mechanisms are put in place as quickly as possible. 

 At the same time, it is critical that this labour force of temporary visa holders is managed to support the ongoing health of regional communities. 

o Visa holders must adhere to all COVID-19 health measures, including social distancing and self-isolation. 

 If visa holders do not follow self-isolation arrangements, their visa may be cancelled on the basis that they present a risk to public health and the Australian community. 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

o State and Territory border restrictions and quarantine requirements continue to manage the public health risks associated with people moving from cities into agricultural areas. 

o State and Territory governments are responsible for arrangements for safe accommodation of temporary visa holders working in agriculture to manage the spread of COVID-19, including quarantine and self-isolation requirements. 

 The Department of Home Affairs will accept referrals from State and Territory governments so that visa holders who do not follow public health and quarantine laws can be appropriately considered for visa cancellation, where they pose an unacceptable health risk. All visa holders must comply with the relevant State or Territory government’s public health and quarantine laws, according to where the visa holder is located. Information on the laws for each State and Territory can be found at the following links: 

o Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – https://www.health.act.gov.au/ 

o New South Wales (NSW) – https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Pages/default.aspx 

o Victoria (VIC) – https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/ 

o Queensland (QLD) – https://www.health.qld.gov.au/ 

o Western Australia (WA) – https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/ 

o South Australia (SA) – https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/ 

o Northern Territory (NT) – https://health.nt.gov.au/ 

o Tasmania (TAS) – https://dhhs.tas.gov.au/ 

1. Time frame, how long are we doing this for? 

 These are temporary measures that will be reviewed regularly by Government during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 These measures will continue only as long as deemed necessary by Government in consultation with the agriculture industry. 

2. When does this come into effect? 

 These temporary measures came into effect on 4 April 2020. 

3. What industries does this apply to? 

 These temporary measures ensure the continuity of workers to deliver critical services in the agriculture sector, most importantly the delivery of food supplies to all Australians. 

 The Government will continue to consult with business as the COVID-19 situation develops to determine whether similar measures are needed for other critical sectors. 

4. How do I access these temporary measures? 

 The Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa is being utilised to manage the extraordinary circumstances that have arisen due to COVID-19. 

o This visa does not have a visa application charge (VAC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 Employer arrangements similar to the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Stream also apply to the subclass 408 visa. The arrangement is designed to offer an option to those individuals with visas expiring in the near future, to apply for another visa to extend their stay, where no other visa option is available. 

 A waiver of certain visa conditions allows temporary visa holders to work more in key sectors affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

 Not all temporary visas are expiring now – valid visas remain in force and are not affected by the closure of borders. 

 More information is available on the Department of Home of Affairs website at: https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/. 

5. What conditions or changes have been made to the Seasonal Worker Programme or Pacific Labour Scheme to enable those workers to move more readily to where they are needed? 

 The Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme visas have a condition that requires visa holders to work for one approved / endorsed employer, unless otherwise approved. 

 During the COVID-19 period, workers currently in Australia under these programs are exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer and are able to move between approved employers. This allows flexibility and continued support for the agriculture sector in meeting seasonal workforce demands. 

 Existing arrangements continue for seasonal workers employed by approved employers in the pilot regions of Sunraysia, Goulburn/Murray, Riverina and Wimmera-Mallee, which commenced on 1 January 2020. 

6. How will self-isolation be enforced? 

 State and Territory governments are responsible for implementing, enforcing and monitoring the health and safety requirements to minimise the spread of COVID-19. 

 It is essential that State and Territory governments have in place clear mechanisms to enforce self-isolation, impose sanctions where this has not occurred and support farmers to source suitable accommodation where necessary. 

 The Government is working closely with State and Territory governments to ensure that enforcement and sanction mechanisms are put in place as quickly as possible. 

Seasonal Worker Programme 

Visa Holders 

7. I am unable to return to my home country due to COVID-19 border restrictions. Can I extend my current visa to stay in Australia? 

 It is not possible to extend your visa or apply for a new Temporary Work (International Relations) (subclass 403) Seasonal Worker Programme stream visa in Australia. 

 You must apply for a new visa before your current visa expires. You may be eligible to be granted a bridging visa that will allow you to remain lawfully in Australia until a decision is made on your visa application. 

 The Australian Government has announced temporary visa measures to assist temporary visa holders currently in Australia working in the agricultural sector, who are currently unable to return to their home country, to extend their stay in Australia. 

 You can apply for the Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa. 

o This visa does not have a visa application charge (VAC) during the COVID-19 pandemic event. 

o Employer arrangements similar to the Seasonal Worker Programme also apply to the subclass 408 visa. 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

o This visa allows you to remain lawfully in Australia, and continue working, should you wish to do so, until it is safe and practicable for you to return to your home country. 

 Further information is available on the Department of Home Affairs website at: https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/ and https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/temporary-activity-408/australian-government-endorsed-events. 

8. I am unable to return to my home country due to COVID-19 border restrictions. Can I work for another employer while I wait to return home? 

 In ordinary circumstances, a condition of your visa is to remain working for your sponsoring employer for the duration of your visa, unless written approval is obtained from the Department of Home Affairs. 

 Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme visas have a condition that requires visa holders to work for one approved / endorsed employer, unless otherwise approved. 

o During the COVID-19 period, workers currently in Australia under these programs are exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer and are able to move between approved employers. This allows flexibility and continued support for the agriculture sector in meeting seasonal workforce demands. 

o Workers and employers are required to advise the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Education, Skills and Employment regarding any change in approved employer, as per existing arrangements. 

 If your visa has ceased, the Australian Government has announced temporary visa measures to assist temporary visa holders currently in Australia, who are unable to currently return to their home country, to extend their stay in Australia. 

 You can apply for the Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa. 

o This visa does not have a visa application charge (VAC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

o Employer sponsorship arrangements similar to the Seasonal Worker Programme also apply to the subclass 408 visa. 

o This visa allows you to remain lawfully in Australia, and continue working, should you wish to do so, until it is safe and practicable for you to return to your home country. 

 Further information is available on the Department of Home Affairs website at: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/temporary-activity-408/australian-government-endorsed-events. 

9. Do I need to meet quarantine requirements? I have only travelled between states/territories? 

 Yes – all visa holders must adhere to all COVID-19 health measures, including social distancing and self-isolation. 

 State and Territory governments are responsible for arrangements for safe accommodation of temporary visa holders working in agriculture to manage the spread of COVID-19. This includes quarantine and self-isolation requirements. 

o Visa holders must follow all instructions provided by the State or Territory in which they are working. 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

Employers 

10. Due to the COVID-19 border restrictions, seasonal workers are unable to travel to Australia at present. What other options are available to access workers to address labour needs? 

 In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has announced temporary measures to assist temporary visa holders currently in Australia, including Seasonal Worker Programme participants, who are unable to currently return to their home country, to extend their stay in Australia, and enable flexibility in changing approved employers where required. 

o Under these temporary measures, current approved employers may wish to employ Seasonal Worker Programme participants who have finished employment with their current approved employer, but who are unable to return to their home country. 

o Approved employers, like any employer, may also wish to employ Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa holders. 

 This visa has a nil visa application charge (VAC) for the COVID-19 pandemic event. 

 Employer sponsorship arrangements similar to the Seasonal Worker Programme also apply to the subclass 408 visa. 

o These temporary measures are not intended to prevent the recruitment of Australians to undertake this work. 

o Before seeking access to seasonal workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme, approved employers must first try to recruit Australians. 

 Where Australian workers are unavailable, employers can also seek seasonal labour through the Working Holiday Maker program. 

o Working Holiday Makers who are working in critical sectors (eg agriculture, aged or health care) are now exempt from the six month work limitation with one employer and eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. 

 Employers are still required to first try to recruit Australians and abide by all relevant Australian workplace laws. Overseas workers have the same rights under Australian workplace law as all other employees. 

 These temporary measures will be in place for a timeframe that allows relevant critical industries to bridge the gap between their immediate needs and the time to recruit, train and on-board Australians. 

o The Department of Home Affairs is working with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to ensure Australians are prioritised for future job opportunities. 

11. I am not an approved employer under the Seasonal Worker Programme. Can I employ seasonal workers during this COVID-19 period? 

 Currently, only organisations approved by the Australian Government can recruit seasonal workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme. 

o Information about the Seasonal Worker Programme is available at: https://www.employment.gov.au/seasonal-worker-programme. 

 Where Australian workers are unavailable, employers can seek seasonal labour through the Working Holiday Maker program. 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

o Working Holiday Makers who are working in critical sectors (eg agriculture, aged or health care) are now exempt from the six month work limitation with one employer and eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. 

Pacific Labour Scheme 

12. My work contract has ended, my visa is about to expire and I am unable to return to my home country due to COVID-19 border restrictions. Can I extend my current visa to stay in Australia? 

 It is possible to apply for a new Temporary Work (International Relations) (subclass 403) visa in the Pacific Labour stream in Australia, where you and your employer are endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to participate in the scheme. 

 The application can be made online via the Department of Home Affairs online lodgement portal, ImmiAccount. 

13. I am unable to return to my home country due to COVID-19 border restrictions. Can I work for another employer while I wait to return home? 

 In ordinary circumstances, a condition of your visa is to remain working for your sponsoring employer for the duration of your visa, unless written approval is obtained from the Department of Home Affairs. 

o During the COVID-19 period, workers currently in Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme are exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer and are able to move between approved employers. This allows flexibility and continued support for the agriculture sector in meeting seasonal workforce demands. 

o Workers and employers are required to advise the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding any change in approved employer, as per existing arrangements. 

 It is possible to apply for a new Temporary Work (International Relations) (subclass 403) visa in the Pacific Labour stream in Australia, where you and your new employer are endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to participate in the scheme. 

 The application can be made online via the Department of Home Affairs online lodgement portal, ImmiAccount. 

Employers 

14. I am an approved employer under the Pacific Labour Scheme. Due to the COVID-19 border restrictions, Pacific workers are unable to travel to Australia at present. What other options are available to access workers to address labour needs? 

 In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has announced temporary measures to assist Pacific Labour Scheme participants, who are unable to currently return to their home country, to extend their stay in Australia, and enable flexibility in changing approved employers where required. 

o Under these temporary measures, current approved employers may wish to employ Pacific Labour Scheme participants who have finished employment with their current approved employer, but who are unable to return to their home country. 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

o Approved employers, like any employer, may also wish to employ Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa holders (from 4 April 2020). 

o These temporary measures are not intended to prevent the recruitment of Australians to undertake this work. 

o Before seeking access to workers under the Pacific Labour Scheme, approved employers must first try to recruit Australians. 

 Where Australian workers are unavailable, employers can seek seasonal labour through the Working Holiday Maker program. 

o Working Holiday Makers who are working in critical sectors (eg agriculture, aged or health care) are now exempt from the six month work limitation with one employer and eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. 

 Employers are still required to first try to recruit Australians and to abide by all relevant Australian workplace laws. Overseas workers have the same rights under Australian workplace law as all other employees. 

 These temporary measures will be in place for a timeframe that allows relevant critical industries to bridge the gap between their immediate needs and the time to recruit, train and on-board Australians. 

o The Department of Home Affairs is working with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to ensure Australians are prioritised for future job opportunities. 

15. I am not an approved employer under the Pacific Labour Scheme. Can I employ Pacific Labour Scheme participants during this COVID-19 period? 

 Currently, only organisations approved by the Australian Government can recruit Pacific Labour Scheme participants. Information about the Pacific Labour Scheme is available at: http://dfat.gov.au/labourmobility. 

 Where Australian workers are unavailable, employers can address temporary workforce needs through the Working Holiday Maker program. 

o Working Holiday Makers who are working in critical sectors (eg agriculture, aged or health care) are now exempt from the six month work limitation with one employer and eligible for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. 

Working Holiday Maker program 

Visa Holders 

16. I am unable to return to my home country due to COVID-19 border restrictions. Can I extend my current visa to stay in Australia? 

 You can apply for a further WHM visa if you have undertaken specified work for three months on your first WHM visa or six months on your second WHM visa. 

 The following industries and areas are approved as specified work for subclass 417 (Working Holiday) visa holders: 

o plant and animal cultivation in regional Australia; 

o fishing and pearling in regional Australia; 

o tree farming and felling in regional Australia; 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

o mining in regional Australia; 

o construction in regional Australia; and 

o bushfire recovery work in declared bushfire affected areas only, carried out after 31 July 2019. 

 The following industries and areas are approved as specified work for subclass 462 (Work and Holiday) visa holders: 

o plant and animal cultivation in northern Australia and other specified areas of regional Australia; 

o fishing and pearling in northern Australia only; 

o tree farming and felling in northern Australia only; 

o tourism and hospitality in northern Australia only; 

o construction in northern Australia and other specified areas of regional Australia; and 

o bushfire recovery work in declared bushfire affected areas only, carried out after 31 July 2019. 

 You must apply for a new visa before your current visa expires. You may be eligible to be granted a bridging visa that will keep you lawful until a decision is made on your visa application. 

17. Can I count work in critical sectors in response to COVID-19 as ‘specified work’ for the purpose of applying for a second or third WHM visa? 

 Existing arrangements for specified work will remain in place. 

 However, the Australian Government has announced temporary measures to assist WHMs working in the agricultural sector who are not eligible to apply for a further WHM visa. 

 WHMs working in the agricultural sector, who are unable to return to their home country can apply for the Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa. This also applies to those working in other critical sectors such as health, aged and disability care and childcare. 

o This visa allows you to remain lawfully in Australia, and continue working, should you wish to do so, until it is safe and practicable for you to return to your home country. 

 Further information is available on the Department of Home Affairs website at: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/temporary-activity-408/australian-government-endorsed-events. 

18. As a WHM working in the agricultural sector, can I keep working for the same employer for longer than six months? 

 Yes, WHMs working in the agricultural sector are already taken to have permission from the Department to work for longer than six months with the same employer. 

 Further information is available at: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/already-have-a-visa/check-visa-details-and-conditions/waivers-and-permissions/work-longer-than-6-months 

19. I have applied for my second or third WHM visa. Can I keep working while I am waiting for a decision on my application? 

 While your new application is being processed, a bridging visa will come into effect which generally carries the same conditions as your previous visa, including in relation to work 

COVID-19 FAQs – Temporary visa measures supporting the agriculture sector – 17 April 2020 

rights. You and your employer can check Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) at any time to confirm your work rights. 

20. Due to COVID-19, I couldn’t complete the specified work I need to apply for my second or third WHM visa. Can I extend my visa to give me more time to look for work? 

 If you have not completed the three or six months of specified work required to apply for a second or third WHM visa, you should apply for another visa to remain lawfully in Australia until you are able to depart. 

 If you are working in the agricultural sector and are unable to return to your home country, you can apply for the Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa. This also applies to those working in other critical sectors such as health, aged and disability care and childcare. 

o This visa allows you to remain lawfully in Australia, and continue working, should you wish to do so, until it is safe and practicable for you to return to your home country. 

Employers 

21. Due to the COVID-19 border restrictions, WHMs are unable to travel to Australia at present. What other options are available to access workers to address labour needs? 

 In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government has announced temporary measures to assist temporary visa holders currently in Australia, including WHMs, who are currently unable to return to their home country, to extend their stay in Australia. 

o WHMs are already able to work for the same employer in the agricultural sector for up to 12 months, rather than the usual six month limitation for other sectors; 

o If a WHM working in the agricultural sector is not eligible for a further WHM visa and is unable to return to their home country, they can apply Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream visa holders to continue working in the agricultural sector. This also applies to those working in other critical sectors such as health, aged and disability care and childcare. 

 Employers are still required to first try to recruit Australians and abide by all relevant Australian workplace laws. Overseas workers have the same rights under Australian workplace law as all other employees. 

Source: Australian Government, Department of Home Affairs

Sourced by Mike Barrow

BlazeAid needs more volunteers to help bushfire recovery, sees solution in paying backpackers

Grey nomads cannot do all the heavy lifting when it comes to rebuilding fences in bushfire-affected country; it is young backpackers who are needed to bolster the workforce.

Key points:

  • BlazeAid is calling for the Federal Government to offer backpackers incentive payments if they join the volunteers rebuilding infrastructure
  • Grey nomads make up the bulk of BlazeAid’s workforce rebuilding fences that were destroyed by bushfires in NSW, Victoria and South Australia
  • It has up to 1,000 volunteers working across 33 camps but says it needs at least 2,500 people on the ground

That’s the call from Tumbarumba BlazeAid camp coordinators Garry Wilson and Rob Golgini, who are desperate for more people to join their camp in the NSW Riverina Highlands.

“We have been flat out, we have already reached over 100 properties that have been damaged by fire,” Mr Wilson said.

“We would have replaced over 1,000 kilometres of fencing already, but there is so much more to do.”

BlazeAid is a volunteer-based organisation that works with communities in rural Australia after natural disasters to rebuild fences and other structures that have been damaged or destroyed.

There are between 700 and 1,000 volunteers working across 33 camps in NSW, Victoria and South Australia that were impacted by bushfire, but the organisation would ideally have 2,500 people on the ground each day.

Winter is coming

Mr Wilson said he was concerned that once the cold weather hits the NSW High Country, Tumbarumba’s BlazeAid workforce would be diminished.

“Winter is coming and all of our volunteers are caravanners, and as soon as it gets cold they are going to head north,” he said.

In a bid to get more people on the team, they have been advertising on noticeboards and shop windows in highlands towns and larger centres such Wagga Wagga.

“Truly, we could have 200 fit people for 12 months and we probably won’t get through what we have got to do,” Mr Wilson said.

“The thing is, farmers need fences now — not in six months’ time.”

A white piece of paper with advertising on it asking people to join BlazeAid's Tumbarumba camp
BlazeAid has posted flyers in many towns to recruit more volunteers. (ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)

‘Backpackers need to be paid’

Mr Wilson said while grey nomads made up the bulk of the BlazeAid workforce, he believed backpackers were needed to get the huge recovery task completed across the fire-affected states.

Earlier this month the Federal Government announced temporary changes to working holiday visas to allow backpackers to stay in Australia longer and help rebuild fire-ravaged communities.

Under the changes, regional employers are able to hire backpackers for a year — up from six months.

Volunteer work helping rebuild fire-ravaged properties and businesses will also be counted in the visa scheme, in which they must complete 88 days of work in regional Australia.

“The Government has done a really good job in extending the visas for backpackers,” Mr Wilson said.

“But backpackers need money; they come to Australia to do some work and get enough money to move to the next place and just keep moving around Australia.

“To extend their visa means they are going to need some money to live.”

He called for the Commonwealth to offer a paid incentive for backpackers, similar to Newstart allowance.

“The State Government has introduced a payment for NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers, so I think we need an initiative like that,” he said.

“It’s not rocket science; politicians have just got to pick up the phone and talk to each other, just get it done, don’t put it off.

“We have the fencing material, but we can’t deliver it because we simply don’t have the labour.”

Mr Golgini agreed that a change in tack was needed.

“What we are doing now due to the size [of the disaster] is not working,” he said.

“We need young people on board, as we are working in some hard mountainous country and it’s going to get cold very soon and we need to get this done.”

A woman driving a post hole digger into the ground as two men assist in holding the post.
The team in Tumbarumba would like at least another 100 volunteers. (Supplied)

He said the Tumbarumba camp had a fantastic team of about 20 volunteers but more were urgently needed.

“We will feed and water people three times a day. It is a great camp.”

Paid incentive for Australian job seekers

The ABC asked Employment Minister Michaelia Cash if the Commonwealth could provide financial support to backpackers working with volunteer organisations like BlazeAid to increase its labour force.

In a statement, Senator Cash said the Government had provided recovery grants of up to $50,000 to fire-affected businesses and loans of up to $500,000 as stimulus to keep and encourage jobs growth in devastated areas.

She added that the Commonwealth was working closely with the states to ensure the funds were dispersed as quickly as possible.

A basketball stadium with table and chairs set up
The camp has set up base inside the basketball stadium at the Tumbarumba showgrounds. (ABC Rural: Cara Jeffery)

“The recovery will be driven locally by local workers and communities, but this will be a massive recovery effort and we want businesses and charitable organisations to have as many boots on the ground as they need,” the statement said.

“The Federal Government already has incentives in place to encourage job seekers to move to areas with labour shortages, with up to $9,000 available to Australian jobseekers willing to move for work.

“Working holiday makers/backpackers inject around $3 billion into the economy each year, most of which is spent in regional areas. On average, they spend over $10,000 per visit.

“They spend every dollar they earn while in Australia, and in addition to the savings they bring here, they create more jobs for Australians in our tourism and hospitality industry.”

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and David Littleproud, the Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, both declined to comment.

ED: Should the government encourage paid work for backpackers to help BlazeAid? Comments most welcome.

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow