Regional Development Australia Central Coast welcomes easing of working visa restrictions

HARVEST: Central Coast farmers have struggled to get their crops off the vine because of labour shortages. An easing of working visa rules is expected to boost the backpacker workforce in the region. Picture: Supplied
HARVEST: Central Coast farmers have struggled to get their crops off the vine because of labour shortages. An easing of working visa rules is expected to boost the backpacker workforce in the region. Picture: Supplied

CHANGES to working holiday visa restrictions will help to ease a critical labour shortage facing Central Coast farmers, but more needs to be done to sort out a postcode anomaly.

That’s the view of Regional Development Australia Central Coast (RDACC) who today applauded the decision by the Australian Government to address working holiday visa restrictions.

Among the changes, backpackers will be able to stay longer on a visa, be older, return more often, and work in more areas of Australia.

RDACC chief executive officer and regional development director, John Mouland, said the changes would help to address labour issues impacting the local agricultural industry.

“These changes will be critical in helping to address labour shortages within the Central Coast agricultural industry, by allowing increased access for seasonal workers from overseas to pick and process local crops,” Mr Mouland said.

“Like many parts of Australia, our regional agricultural industry has struggled to get crops off the vine due to a severe labour shortage of seasonal workers. Our local farmers and producers will benefit greatly from increased access to a steady supply of overseas workers required to fill these casual, seasonal roles across the Central Coast.”

Some 419,000 backpackers visited Australia last year, spending 1.4 million nights in regional areas, where they spent $920 million.

“These statistics highlight that not only are the changes beneficial for our agricultural industry, but will also have a positive impact on our broader local economy.”

Mr Mouland said he hoped the government would now address a postcode issue impacting local farms.

“Local industry leaders have constantly lobbied government to correct an anomaly over postcodes which stops some Central Coast farmers from attracting desperately needed backpacker labour to pick their produce,” Mr Mouland said.

“Under the anomaly most of the Central Coast plateau is covered by the same postcode as Gosford and therefore deemed to be part of a regional city rather than a rural area. This currently means backpackers who come to our region to pick fruit are ineligible for the much sought after one-year holiday visa extension for fruit pickers and agricultural workers.

“We strongly encourage both our industry and government leaders to continue their discussions to reach a sustainable solution that ensures a reliable supply of seasonal workers are consistently available to support our important agricultural industry both now and in the future.”

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