Backpackers from 13 countries are being targeted by Immigration Minister David Coleman as he seeks to find workers wanted by regional businesses, a move which seems to have garnered in-principle support from the National Farmers’ Federation, even if it is still demanding a full-fledged agricultural visa.
Australia is in discussions about expanding the work and holiday visa to people from countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Andorra, Monaco, Mongolia, and the Philippines. Greece and Ecuador were added to the program in July, places were increased for some countries, and the option to stay in Australia for a third year was made available to workers.
While countries in the uncapped 417 visa scheme are typical backpacker nations, such as Germany and Sweden, the 462 visa (known as “work and holiday”) scheme includes more developing countries.
Mr Coleman countered suggestions that the scheme was becoming a channel for low-skill migrant workers.
Any places made available to backpackers from these nations would be in addition to the existing caps for other nations.
Around 150,000 people were in Australia on a working holiday visa in March, but the program has shrunk over the past five years. The plans are the latest attempt by the Government to tweak part of Australia’s migration program.
The Government has also released a series of video advertisements into international markets calling Australia “the best workplace in the world”.
Mr Coleman said the changes were designed to resolve labour shortages in regional areas, in particular on farms. “We know that working holiday-makers travel further into regional areas than most other international visitors. They also spend substantial amounts, helping to boost regional economies,” he said.
“Work and holiday applicants must meet minimum requirements before a visa can be granted, including having a functional level of English and they must hold or be studying towards tertiary qualifications,” he said.
Manager of workplace relations at the National Farmers’ Federation, Ben Rogers, said his organisation welcomed any measures “which address the serious issue of farm labour shortages”. However, he maintained that both changes made so far and the mooted expansion was “far from a perfect solution”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year said his Government had not ruled out an agricultural visa.
Shanthi Robertson, a senior research fellow at Western Sydney University, said the extension of the scheme to a third year and the tweak to allow workers to stay at the same employer for 12 months, up from six months were concerning.
“The fundamental issue is with tying a particular work situation to obtaining a visa and obtaining more time in Australia, which opens things up to huge amount of exploitation.”