Ag labour crisis to ease as backpackers return and Pacific scheme changes

Jamieson Murphy
By Jamieson Murphy
Updated November 23 2021 - 7:57pm, first published 5:00am
Backpackers return and Pacific scheme changes to ease ag labour shortage

AGRICULTURE'S labour shortage will begin to ease over the coming months, with vaccinated backpackers allowed into the country and changes to streamline the Pacific seasonal labour scheme.

International borders will reopen to eligible visa holders from December 1, including skilled migrants and working holiday makers. However, they will only be able to enter via states that have reopened to international visitors.



Agriculture Minister David Littleproud with the rest of the world opening up, Australia would be a sought after destination for working holiday makers.

"We're down to just 25,000 working holiday makers - we were at 140,000 before the pandemic, so we won't get to those busy highs straight away, but this will help," Mr Littleproud said.

The news comes as the government announces the Seasonal Worker Programme and the Pacific Labour Scheme will be consolidated and operated under a single scheme.

The new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme will commence in April next year will streamline the process and extend work periods from three years to up to four years.

Seasonal workers will also be able to move between employers more easily, to better meet workforce needs and maximise their earnings.

Mr Littleproud said a range of measures were coming into effect shortly that would continue to ease the industry's labour shortage.

"It's not just about the short-term seasonal workers, that's why we've brought in the ag visa for the bigger long-term structural change," Mr Littleproud said.

"That will give skilled and semi-skilled visa holders a pathway to permanent residency.

"That way if in the future, we find ourselves in another pandemic in 30 years, agriculture has had time to adjust."

National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar welcomed the news and said the past two years of labour shortages had been incredibly tough on the industry.

"Overseas workers, including working holiday makers and skilled visa holders, are critical to the entire sector," Mr Mahar said.

"Overseas workers not only milk our cows, strip the crops and care for livestock; they are vital to regional economies and communities, and their contribution has been sorely missed.

"Migrant workers play a substantial role in boosting other regional businesses and economies beyond agriculture. They eat at the local cafe, they shop from the family-owned stores."

Start the day with all the big news in agriculture! Sign up below to receive our daily Farmonline newsletter.

Jamieson Murphy

Jamieson Murphy

National Rural Affairs reporter

National Rural Affairs reporter, focusing on rural politics and issues. Whisper g'day mate to me at

Get the latest Australia news in your inbox

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.

We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.