French shearer facing deportation amid worker shortage says visa regulations need to change

French shearer facing deportation amid worker shortage says visa regulations need to change

The wool industry says a visa regulation requiring foreign wool shearers to work with the same business for three years could mean experienced workers are deported during a national shortage.

Key points:

  • A French shearer facing deportation says his case highlights gaps in Australia’s visa system
  • The NSW Farmers Association says visa regulations for farm workers “could be done better”
  • But the Shearing Contractors’ Association says allowing foreign shearers to stay longer could make life harder for local workers

The issue has been highlighted by the case of French national Nicolas Hardy, who has been shearing in Australia for three years, but says he may be forced to leave when his visa runs out in February.

Mr Hardy said he had been asked to prove that he had worked for the same employer full-time for that period, but that was unreasonable, as shearers tended to switch between contractors to chase seasonal work.

“Traditionally, shearers travel everywhere to get experience shearing different sheep,” he said.

“[Foreign shearers] came into the industry at a distressed time at the peak of the shearer shortage [during COVID].

“We learned how to shear, we went to the sheds to back up the shearing industry — but three years later when we’re fully experienced, we’re running out of visa options.”

NSW Farmers Association wool committee chair David Young said requiring shearers to work for the same employer for three years to qualify for a skilled visa was making it harder to attract foreign workers.

Nicolas Hardy learnt to shear in Australia.(ABC News: Cara Jeffery)

“It’s not a particularly flexible visa system, there’s shortages of workers in all skill levels across agriculture and that one requirement to work for the same employer for that period of time does somewhat limit us,” he said.

“A lot of those people are looking to travel a bit while they’re working and the way the visa system is organised, particularly in relation to agriculture, could be done better.”

‘He should be able to stay’

Mr Hardy initially came to Australia on a backpacker visa to train horses for polo.

But once the pandemic shut down polo clubs, he moved into shearing.

Riverina shearing contractor Lachlan Robertson is sponsoring Mr Hardy’s skilled worker visa application, but is unsure it will be successful.

Shearing contractor Lachlan Robertson wants to keep employing Nicolas Hardy.(ABC Riverina: Lucas Forbes)

He said he did not want to lose one of his workers amid an industry shortage.

“I just think someone like Nico, who comes into the country, who has a background in a number of careers and is a highly skilled person, they should have a way for him to stay in the country,” he said.

“He’s contributing to the economy, he’s a good person to have in the community, he should be able to stay.”

But not everyone in the industry agrees.

The NSW Farmers Association says Australia’s visa system for workers in agriculture needs changing.(ABC Riverina: Lucas Forbes)

Shearing Contractors’ Association of Australia president Jason Letchford said allowing foreign shearers to stay in Australia long term could make it harder for local shearers to make a living year-round.

“We need immigration settings where we employ [Australian shearers] somewhere between 42 and 45 weeks of the year and that really needs continuity of work,” he said.

“What we can’t have is settings where shearers don’t have that continuity of work.”‘

Mr Letchford said making it too easy for foreign shearers to stay long-term could make it harder for Australian shearers to find work in quieter times.

Department declines to comment on case

However, Mr Young said foreign shearers could not realistically impact Australian shearers’ livelihoods.

“I would take umbrage with the [Shearing Contractors’ Association] on that one … there’s not a massive pool of shearers worldwide that are going to come to Australia,” he said.

“They add to our industry, they don’t detract from it.”

The Department of Home Affairs declined to comment on Mr Hardy’s case, and in a written statement said skilled worker visas required holders to have full-time, ongoing work.

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