Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Australia’s new ASEAN farm worker visa hits snags

By Murray Hunter - posted Thursday, 14 October 2021

The necessary amendments to immigration legislation to enable ASEAN skilled, semi-skilled, and un-skilled farm workers to be employed on Australian farms was ratified by the Governor General last week. Now workers from participating ASEAN countries are able to enter into employment agreements with Australian farmers.

Although the legislation is enacted, there are still many unsettled details about precisely how the new visa will work. Obtaining labour is critical to much of Australia’s farm industry, which is suffering severe shortages, particularly around harvest times. Seasonal workers from the United Kingdom have dried up due to border closures during the pandemic, and local urban unemployed cannot be attracted to farms for this seasonal work.

There has been a lot of criticism of this new visa, primarily over the potential avenues of exploitation that may occur to workers. The union movement is also concerned that Asian farm workers would depress wage levels, while state health authorities have been concerned about the logistics of quarantine.


The ASEAN farm worker scheme is only intended as a supplement to the Pacific Australian Labour Mobility Scheme (PALM Scheme), which has brough 15,600 Pacific Island and Timor Leste workers to Australia. Of this number, 12,000 have arrived in Australia since September last year. Over the next year, this figure will be doubled.

However, there are an additional 55,000 screened workers in the Pacific able to come to Australia for work. Pacific Island governments are also critical of the ASEAN scheme as they see the scheme taking potential jobs of the existing Pacific Islands labour pool waiting to come.

The first cohort of workers is expected to arrive in Australia during December 2021 and March 2022. This will be subject to international borders and the settling of quarantine issues. This is still a logistical problem unsolved, where farmers have suggested on farm-site quarantine arrangements. Although quarantine is a federal responsibility, states have been operating the logistics since the beginning of the pandemic.

Visa hits snags in Malaysia and Cambodia

The new ASEAN farm worker visa is an employer sponsored arrangement, which is subject to an employment contract meeting specified standards and obligations. However, the Malaysia government for the first time has decided to ban Malaysian citizens from working in Australian under this visa.

Malaysian deputy human resources minister Awang Hashim told the senate last week that Malaysia would not participate in the scheme. Senator Awang declared that the Australian visa is a pathway to permanent residence, and thus not acceptable to the Malaysian government.


In addition, the Australian scheme would compete against the new Malaysian government program of replacing foreign plantation workers with Malaysian workers. Under the Malaysianization program, local workers would be eligible to receive an incentive of RM500 or 20 per cent per month of their wage, based on an RM1,500 minimum wage per month.

Malaysians have long travelled to Australia to work, often illegally on Australian farms, earning approximately RM 12,000 per month, the majority being Chinese and Indian. With accommodation, often provided by farmers, most are able to return home with savings, which appears more lucrative to working on a palm oil plantation for RM2,000, under hard living conditions.

In addition to claiming the Australian farm worker visa would lead to permanent residence, Senator Awang claimed that both Australian and Malaysian work is dirty, dangerous, and difficult. However, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian farm jobs must meet existing occupational health and safety standards, and this visa doesn’t have any path to regional settlement or permanent residence.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Murray Hunter

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Murray Hunter
Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy