An international agricultural student exchange and training scheme that has been running for 31 years in Australia says it will no longer be able to run because of visa changes.

The International Rural Exchange (IRE) is a specialist organisation that brings hundreds of trainees into Australia every year on a 408 temporary activity visas with the aim of broadening their knowledge, expand current skills and gain an unforgettable cultural experience without the hassle of worrying about where they are staying or working.


(Goodluz/Bigstock.com)​

It does not provide working holidays, but placements that are related to students' skills, education needs and background, with placements lasting from three to 12 months as part of a training programme that is supported by IRE staff.
It was started in the 1980s by farmers in Western Australia to provide an opportunity for Australian farming families across the country to host agricultural trainees from European farms for 12 months but now welcomes students from around the globe.

It is organised by Narelle Vaughan and provides placements for up to 250 students who are studying at agricultural colleges from Europe, South America, South Africa, South East Asia and Eastern Europe on Australian farms.

In April, she received a letter from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) explaining that the special programme under the 408 visa will close and all students will have to now apply for a 417 working holiday visa, the one used by backpackers.

But she believes that the change could mean no longer being able to operate the programme and said that the DIBP did not consult with the agriculture sector consider the impact the shift to working holiday visas will have on the agricultural sector.

The main problem is that many of the countries from where students apply are not on the working holiday country list. It will affect our horticulture greatly, and our cropping agriculture, there's a lot of countries that just aren't on that list,' she said.

She also explained that the students already have experience in the agricultural industry and there have the skills to operate intricate machinery and other knowledge that a backpacker would not necessarily have.

Indeed, she believes that it would be dangerous for a backpacker to carry out some of the work undertaken by the students on these placements as they would not have the training needed.

Discussions are now underway to see if the visa situation can be resolves. It comes at a time when a major overhaul is underway with the popular 457 visa being replaced in March 2018.