CITRUS PICKING: Back packers hit the trees when the fruit is at its best.
CITRUS PICKING: Back packers hit the trees when the fruit is at its best. Photo Noel Thompson / Central & North Burnett Times

Is this the plan to save SA’s dying country towns?

PARTS of regional South Australia could be declared priority rural migration areas under a plan to boost shrinking agricultural communities.

The Regional Australia Institute will today propose a "matchmaking" scheme to connect foreign workers with rural employers who need more staff in a bid to pump up to 3000 more migrants into the bush each year.

It comes as it's reveal hundreds of foreigners willing to work in low paid, regional jobs that SA businesses are struggling to fill are likely being shunned from the state as the effects of the Turnbull Government's clampdown on foreign workers sets in.

In a landmark report, the Regional Australia Institute has warned that action was needed to ensure that the population of 75 of the Australia's 166 agriculture, forestry and fishing "heartlands" did not decline.

It recommends a new approach to migration policy, which identifies areas outside the major cities with worker shortages.

Migrant workers would be offered incentives to move, including the prospect of relatives being able to join them from overseas through family reunion programs.

Regional Australia Institute chief executive Jack Archer said between 2000 and 3000 extra migrants could be sent to the bush each year, which would halt the population decline in most regional areas.

"A new national policy facilitating the establishment of a network of priority rural migration areas could enable many rural communities to meet their local labour market needs and provide support for local growth and community renewal," Mr Archer said.

The institute points to Mount Gambier as a city which has successfully integrated migrant workers to fill job vacancies and boost the local economy.

About 2800, or 11 per cent, of Mount Gambier residents were born overseas, including many families from Myanmar and the Congo, who were settled under humanitarian programs.

However, figures released under Freedom of Information laws reveal about half of the foreign workers in SA handed a visa using the regional sponsored migration scheme each year would not meet new requirements.

In the past five years 3000 visas have been approved in SA under the scheme but 1641 - 54 per cent - of those migrants were earning under the new $53,900 wage threshold introduced in March.

If those same workers applied now they would be knocked back.

Migration Solutions chief executive Mark Glazbrook said it appeared the new policy was designed to reduce migration applications rather than having a program that enables employers to address labour shortages.

The Government appears to be aware of these issues and The Advertiser revealed last week that measures were being considered to require new migrants to settle in areas other than overcrowded cities on the eastern seaboard.

Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge said last week that some of the regions were "absolutely desperate" for workers, but cities faced more congestion than was planned for.

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