Australia: Northern Territory farmers left out of latest migrant worker scheme

Northern Territory melon farmer David Cormack will hold out for one final growing season. If there are no clear improvements to the general situation, he will lock the farm gate for the final time and give up on his life's work.

His main problem is the inability to attract and retain staff in the Top End. Every year, Cormack's situation has worsened, he said, as he found himself hiring "from the bottom of the barrel": workers who were unskilled, inexperienced, or suspected drug addicts.

He laid the blame at the feet of Australia's visa system. The Northern Territory Government says the dwindling population and widespread skills shortage would be improved by a new, second five-year migration program, the Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA II).

The program, and agreement between the NT and Federal governments, came into effect on January 1, and means that now an additional 36 occupations are available to overseas nationals in the jurisdiction. That brings to 117 the number of shortage occupations where employers can recruit skilled migrants if they are unable to fill positions locally, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said in a statement on Wednesday. describes the program, under which employers will have to first conduct labour market testing in a bid to hire Australian workers before any overseas workers can be recruited.

While the new scheme was largely a win for employers, migrants and the NT, its biggest downfall was in the agriculture sector, said Manuela Seiberth, director of private migration agency Northern Immigration: "In general, the DAMA program focuses on the tourism and hospitality industry, and now DAMA II has a broader list to include workers who are less skilled. So far on the DAMA list, there are farm occupations such as fruit and vegetable grower, which sounds like a low-skilled occupation but actually requires people to have a university degree. But farmers mainly need low-skilled workers."

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