Overseas Farmworkers: What Visas Can Be Used During COVID-19?

Wednesday January 27, 2021

With over 80% of farmworkers coming from overseas and no ‘ag-specific visa’ in sight, how do overseas worker visas operate for farmers? Have any changes been made to help with COVID-19 worker shortages?

Visas for farmworkers

When the 457 Visa was abolished in 2018, the government replaced it with a new visa called the Temporary Skill Shortage Visa (482/TSS).

Farmworkers can be hired if they hold a 482/TSS or Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) or Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462). In addition, employers are able to nominate a farmworker on the 494 Skilled Employer-Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa or the 407 Trainee Visa.

Approval as a Business Sponsor is the first step

Before you can sponsor an overseas worker on any of these visas, you need to register to be an Approved Business Sponsor. Sponsorship lasts for five years. If you were a business sponsor prior to the 457 Visa being abolished, you can use your approval status to nominate a worker on a 482/TSS or Working Holiday/Work and Holiday visa. However, there are provisos:

  • Farmworkers must meet eligibility requirements
  • Employers must have time remaining on their sponsorship approval

Who can be nominated for a 482/TSS visa?

Farmworkers listed on the Short Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) can be sponsored on a 482/TSS visa as long as:

  • You, as the sponsor, can prove you have been unable to find an Australian worker after advertising the position for a minimum of 28 consecutive days at least twice in the last four months
  • The applicant has worked in a relevant full-time position for at least five years or holds a Bachelor degree plus two years full-time and paid relevant work
  • The applicant has a high English test score (of at least 4.5 or 5.0 on the IELTS) or is exempt

Hiring Legal Workers

It is your responsibility to ensure you hire workers that have permission to work in Australia; this includes harvest workers. To be compliant, you can register with the Department of Home Affairs’ free Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service to:

  • verify if workers have the right to work in Australia
  • ensure their visa type is eligible
  • make regular checks for any changes to your employee’s visa

Meeting your employer obligations

Make sure you are aware of what your employer obligations entail for each visa class you are sponsoring. For example, working holiday visa holders are eligible for superannuation and must be taxed at a special rate (called the ‘backpacker tax’).

Changes to farm work visas during COVID-19

In a bid to support farmers during the pandemic, the Federal Government has made some provisional changes to temporary visa conditions, including:

  • Permitting student visa holders to work more than 40 hours per fortnight during semesters if they are working in agriculture
  • Allowing workers in the agriculture industry to apply for the COVID-19 Pandemic Event visa
  • Permitting temporary visa holders up to 90 days before their existing visa runs out without the need to demonstrate their attempts to leave Australia

Help when you need it

Working in agriculture brings a myriad of challenges, never mind the intricacies of hiring and managing overseas workers. Let the experts do this for you. The HR Dept is here to support you with all your HR needs – on either an ad hoc basis or on a more regular basis. So give us a call to help you navigate the challenges of employing and managing your workforce.

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