Subclass 403 – Pacific Labour Scheme Stream to commence on 1 July 2018; Seasonal Worker Programme amendments

The Subclass 403 – Temporary Work (International Relations) visa currently has five streams for a variety of different activities in Australia:

  • Government Agreement
  • Foreign Government Agency
  • Domestic Worker (Diplomatic or Consular)
  • Privileges and Immunities
  • Seasonal Worker Program (SWP)

On 1 July 2018, there will be a new stream: the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) to facilitate non-seasonal work in rural and regional Australia for up to three years. This is in additional to the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP), which is designed to contribute to the economies of the participating Pacific island nations through skill transfers and repatriating income in agricultural and accommodation industries. The lead agency for the PLS will be the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), while the lead agency of the SWP is the Department of Employment.

The SWP has been controversial at times with allegations of worker exploitation. Compliance with workplace laws and the programme, however, sees mutual benefits to employers (by filling a labour shortage), visa holders (pocketing an average of $9,000 after expenses over six months), and governments (diplomatic advancement in participation).

The new regulations are expected to bolster compliance with Australian laws by allowing SWP and PLS visa holders to change employers with the written approval of the Department. If this is due to worker exploitation, no doubt the Fair Work Ombudsman’s interests will be piqued.

Other features and amendments to both streams include:

  • Allowing multi-year and multiple entry visas that will commence on the date the holder first arrives in Australia. Currently, policy only allows a maximum stay of 7 to 10 months, meaning workers will not be required to apply for a visa every year, and will give newly approved applicants adequate time to organise their travel arrangements to Australia;
  • Balancing the above point will be a new visa conditions 8575 and 8576, which restricts visa holders to only be allowed to stay in Australia for a maximum of 7 and 10 months respectively in any 12-month period;
  • Adding a new visa condition 8577, which requires holders to not cease working for their sponsor unless the Secretary has given written approval, among other things. This will operate similar to the current condition 8107, which unlike its application to Subclass 457 – Temporary Work (Skilled) visas does not allows transfers between employers.

The PLS will begin with three Pacific Island countries: Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu. Given that interest and dealings in the Pacific has escalated in recent months, these regulations are an obvious attempt to strengthening Australia’s international standing among its eastern island neighbours.