WORK-hungry backpackers are flocking Down Under to work in record numbers, and competing for jobs with local school-leavers.
Three times as many young backpackers from China, Italy and Taiwan were granted visas during 2012/13 than at the start of the global financial crisis in 2008/09.
The Immigration Department issued a record 249,231 backpacker visas during 2012/13, latest official data shows.
Backpacker numbers have jumped 52 per cent from France, 29 per cent from Germany and 15 per cent from the UK.
The visas are popular with employers in regional areas, who rely on foreign backpackers to pick fruit, work on farms, clean hotels, pour beers and wait tables.
But a university study claims the working holiday-makers, aged 18 to 30, are taking entry-level jobs that could go to Australian school leavers.
The Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University has found that Australia now has one foreign backpacker for every Year 12 school leaver, all competing for entry-level jobs in retailing, construction and hospitality.
“(Backpackers) coming from these countries are not the traditional holiday and work seekers, but rather job-hungry migrants anxious to maximise their income from work here,” the report says.
“In effect, the Australian economy is acting as a safety valve for the youth unemployment problems of other countries, at the expense of its own young people’s employment prospects.”
Australia now hosts nearly half a million working-age migrants who have arrived since 2011 on permanent or temporary visas.
“Recently arrived migrants â?¦. are dominating the growth in the number of employed persons in Australia,” the report says.
“Young people have to compete for less skilled entry-level work with an increasing number of job-hungry temporary migrants looking for the same work.”
The report says the number of recently-arrived migrants of working age jumped by 168,700 during the 12 months to May this year – and 108,200 were working.
New migrants accounted for 85 per cent of the 126,900 total increase in the number of workers in Australia during the year.
“This means that almost all of the recent net growth in employment is attributable to recently-arrived migrants,” the report says.
The report says 14.5 per cent of 15-to-19-year-old jobseekers, and 9.4 per cent of those aged 20-24 were unemployed in May, compared to 5.6 per cent in the general population.
Backpackers from 29 nations can work in Australia for up to a year, so long as they do not spend more than six months with each employer.
Those who spend at least three months working in a remote area can apply to stay for a second year.
Australian backpackers can also work overseas in the same countries, under reciprocal agreements.
Argentina and Uruguay were added to the working holiday program this year, and the federal government is negotiating with 13 more countries including Greece, Spain, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Israel and Vietnam.