457 Visa void – a recipe for uncertainty and concern

The federal government’s sudden cancellation of the skilled 457 Visa foreign worker program this week has spread uncertainty and concern among dairy industry players nationally.

Bigger feedlot dairies are particularly vulnerable to changes that may double the cost and the time taken to recruit skilled managers and dairy technicians from overseas, according to Dairy Connect CEO Shaughn Morgan.

As part of the changes ushered in by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday, new applicants will be required to show they have at least two year’s work experience in their field to be eligible for temporary work visas.

“The changes lack detail and dairy families are being left to speculate on how they will address professional staffing challenges heading into winter,” Shaughn said.

Ruth Kydd and her family, including two sons, milk 1200 crossbreed cows on irrigated country at Finlay in southern NSW. The enterprise employs eight people and relies heavily on skilled Visa workers for roles that simply can’t be filled locally.

Ruth bemoans the lack of detail in Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement at a critical time as the business heads towards calving in June and July. “It’s obviously going to make it get harder to get people,” she said.

“We have one 457 worker whose been with us for four years.

“He has two years to run on his visa but after that we have no idea what will happen to him
and we’re all very concerned.”

Ruth says the enterprise also employs Masters degree graduates who sign up for a year on training visas for hands-on dairy experience before they head home with valuable work experience under their belts.

“Some of them are really excellent and we’d like to employ some full time to run our dairy.

“There’s obviously going to be a lot more paperwork and everything is just up in the dairy.

“Foreign workers get involved locally and contribute to our community.”

The Finlay High School a decade ago had around 600 enrolments and this number has shrunk to around half that this year.

“There really is no pool of local labour, particularly not skilled labour” Ruth said.

Graham Forbes, who is chair of Dairy Connect’s Farmers’ Group, and his family milk 800 cows on a pasture-based dairying enterprise at Gloucester in northern NSW and he has employed 457 Visa workers in the past.

“Locally there’s a very limited skill base out there,” he said.

“Feedlot dairies are undergoing rapid change with new technology and the industry needs access to skilled people in a workplace where we can exchange knowledge.

“I’m confident in saying that dairy producers are not abusing the system.

“There are serious benefits in the system and now all we have is uncertainty.”