Dairy farmer Chris Vogels reckons the federal government’s abolition of 457 temporary stay visas for foreign workers shows how out of touch politicians are.
Mr Vogels, of Cooriemungle, south of Timboon, relies heavily on foreign workers to run his 1500-cow dairy farm after his efforts to employ Australians mainly proved fruitless. He said the federal government’s moves to tighten access to visas for skilled migrants showed it was not aware of how difficult it was for dairies in remote locations to secure local labour.
He and his wife Julie have tried to employ local people but found those they did, did not stay long.
Mr Vogels said the farm’s comparatively remote location appeared to be one of the reasons that discouraged local workers from staying.
The farm started employing foreign workers in 2008 and had found it a great success, he said.
It currently employs 15 foreign workers full-time, plus some of the foreign workers’ partners on a part-time basis. and one local.
Two thirds of the workers come from the Philippines while others come from the Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
They have mainly been employed on 416 trainee visas and 402 training visas that allow them to stay for periods of between 12 months and three years.
Many have gone on to become permanent Australian residents and some have continued working for the Vogels.
“They have married and have children in kindergarten,” Mr Vogels said.
Their families had added a much needed population boost to the Timboon and Cooriemungle areas, he said.
The foreign workers and their families live in about six houses on the 800 hectare farm.
The houses were built as part of the post-Second World War Heytesbury soldier settlement scheme and acquired by the Vogels as they bought up the 70 hectare soldier settlement blocks around them.
Mr Vogels said he had been in the process of employing workers on 457 visas and was disheartened the government was making it harder to do so. He was also concerned the government had made it harder for his foreign workers to become permanent Australian residents, making the English test to get residency tougher.
Mr Vogels said he could understand the need for metropolitan applicants for permanent residency to have good English skills to help them integrate better into the wider community.
But he said his foreign workers were already well integrated into the community in activities such as sport.
“They are no problem at all,” Mr Vogels said.