Australia relaxing working holiday visas for backpackers to ease farm workers shortage

By @chelean on
Backpacking
A Belgian tourist sits on top of a pile of backpacks in Prague July 29, 2002 Reuters/Petr David Josek

The Morrison Government has apparently found another way to fulfil farming workhand shortages with a new visa change. The administration will allow backpackers and other visitors on working holidays to stay in Australia longer to help with farming work.

At present, backpackers need to leave jobs every six months. Under the changes, however, they will be allowed to keep their jobs with one employer for up to one year and may even triple the length of their stay if they do extra agricultural work. The Government will make it easier for them to renew their visas for a second year, and sometimes a third, SBS reports. Backpackers who are forced to work in northern Australia will be allowed to work in a wider range or regions as well.

The age limit for working holiday visas will be raised to 35 for those coming from some countries, while Pacific Islanders will be allowed to stay for three months longer if they take up seasonal work. The total number of working backpackers allowed in the country each year will rise, with the annual caps lifted by an unspecified number for the 462 visa for working backpackers from a select group of countries.

The changes come after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attempt to force jobseekers to accept farm work or lose welfare. The idea was dismissed by the industry, with the National Farmers’ Federation calling it a “shallow approach to a deep problem.”

On Monday, Morrison claimed the idea was not dead yet but just stalled.

“We need to ensure we get as many Australians into these jobs as we possibly can,” he told reporters in a southeast Queensland strawberry farm. “But we’ve also got to make sure that we actually get the job done.”

And when asked if he was considering eliminating the 15 percent tax on working holiday-makers, he replied no.

“When people come and they work, they pay tax,” he said. “We all pay tax when we work. If other people come here and they work, they pay tax too. And they pay it at a concessional rate, and I think it’s a pretty fair deal.”

The change in working holiday visa rules was received with criticisms, however. Deputy director of the Development Policy Centre Matthew Dornan said it was a “quick fix” that would push agricultural visa through the back door. He said the Government could have implemented other changes that would help employers and Pacific Islander workers, such as reducing red tape and shortening application processes, as well as allowing the sharing of workers between employers.

Fijian politician Bitman Prasad called it a “very damaging decision for the Pacific Islands and the SWP.

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