CANBERRA, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of workers from the Pacific are set to be allowed to enter Australia to help farmers harvest crops despite border closures.
Under a pilot program to be given by the federal government, up to 200 workers from Vanuatu will be allowed to enter the Northern Territory (NT) to help harvest mangoes.
It comes after farmers around Australia voiced concerns that their crops would rot without foreign workers on farms.
Paul Kirby, the NT's Primary Industries Minister, said the plan has been "agreed upon and confirmed" by the government.
There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vanuatu.
"The federal government has committed to processing visas for seasonal workers from Vanuatu and allow them entry to Australia," Kirby told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Friday.
"The exact number of workers entering the NT during the first intake is expected to be between 120 and 200, and we would hope for more after the initial pilot program,"
However, Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said there were still issues that remain "unresolved" and would need to be addressed before the pilot program can begin.
Under the agreement, the workers will be required to quarantine for two weeks on arrival in Australia. The cost of the quarantine period will be covered by mango growers.
The mango industry wants the workers to arrive in Australia by August 20, meaning that they would be on farms by early September.
"We're hoping to bring in the first planeload early, so the workers can quarantine and be available for the earliest possible crop," said Leo Skliros, president of the Northern Territory Mango Industry Association.
"But then the plan is to get every two weeks, possibly two planes at once, so we're quarantining 300 workers.
"So it's not just that one pilot program, we hope this all goes well and it opens up the avenue to bring more workers in. We hope it could be a shortfall of 1,000 people we could bring in if required." Enditem