Australia is weighing up new quarantine arrangements for Pacific farm workers coming from countries with low coronavirus cases and high vaccination rates.
Pacific Minister Zed Seselja wants state and territory governments to consider on-farm or home isolation, as well as shortened quarantine periods.
“Tonga has had zero COVID cases. It is the definition of low risk and there are a number of Pacific nations that are very low risk,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.
“We’re seeing either very low rates of COVID in those countries or we’re seeing high rates of vaccination.”
There are 27,000 Pacific workers ready to be deployed in Australia with about 7000 of those fully vaccinated.
Senator Seselja said Fiji had experienced higher coronavirus cases but had now reached 96 per cent single-dose vaccination coverage and 50 per cent for two shots.
“Our arrangements for workers coming from overseas, as it will be for Australians coming home, will have to change over time,” he said.
“We’ll look for flexible options to keep the community safe but to recognise the relative risk factors.”
The Morrison Government is aiming to bring in an extra 12,500 agriculture, accommodation, hospitality and aged care workers by March next year.
The Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) and Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) will now include accommodation businesses in all parts of rural and regional Australia.
Employers with good records will have SWP recruitment caps doubled, while the age limit of 45 will be scrapped across both programs.
Workers will be allowed to complete training certificates while in Australia.
Labour market testing will now be valid for 12 months instead of six and postcode restrictions on some workers scrapped.
Businesses will be able to access both programs through a single application on a new website.
Pacific workers who have spent three years in Australia will be able to apply for another 12-month stay while coronavirus travel restrictions are in place.
More than 10,600 Pacific and Timorese workers have arrived in Australia since the two schemes resumed last month.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Employment Minister Stuart Robert and Pacific Minister Zed Seselja announced the changes on Tuesday.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific and Timorese workers have been the lifeblood of many regional businesses, ensuring meat could be processed and crops could be harvested,” Seselja said.