Since Australia reopened its borders to Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) in December 2021, a third of the usual number of WHMS are currently in Australia. What’s more, there is a backlog of over 13,000 visas still to be processed, causing delays to young people entering the country and a critical shortage of seasonal staff.
Ahead of the Australia Jobs & Skills Summit, the Backpacker & Youth Tourism Advisory Panel (BYTAP) wrote to the Minister for Trade & Tourism to express its views on the crucial role that WHMs play in filling seasonal jobs and contributing to the country’s GDP. In the letter, Wendi Aylward, Chairperson of BYTAP, suggests that the government should be further supporting the youth and student travel industry, highlighting the benefits that WHMs bring and how to maximise the potential of an important visa route.
Read the full letter below.
Ref: Backpacker & Youth Tourism Advisory Panel (BYTAP) – input re Jobs & Skills Summit
I write to you on behalf of the Backpacker & Youth Tourism Advisory Panel (BYTAP) regarding the forthcoming Jobs & Skills Summit.
Having reviewed the Jobs & Skills Summit Issues Paper, we note that there is a lack of consideration of the role played by temporary migration programs such as the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) scheme. Under the theme of ‘Delivering a high-quality labour force through skills, training and migration’ it is noted in the Issues Paper that there are now over 70 unique visa programs in Australia, each with their own criteria and subcategories. You would be aware that the reciprocal WHM cultural exchange program now extends to 47 countries, under two separate visa categories (subclasses 417 and 462).
The Issues Paper also notes that our workforce needs to be adaptable and dynamic, and poses a question around what the long-term opportunities and challenges are for Australia’s migration system? As the peak industry body representing the youth tourism sector, BYTAP advocates that WHMs are part of the solution to short-term, casual labour shortages in both urban and regional areas. These young, mobile visitors disperse widely across Australia as both travellers and workers and are vital in filling temporary roles in sectors such as tourism & hospitality and agriculture. Specifically, with regards to WHMs, we note the following:
1. Caps on 462 sub-class visas
The program has scope to extend to many more countries, and for caps to be permanently increased on countries under the 462 visa. We note that WHMs have already begun arriving from the latest countries to join the program on 1 July 2022 – Mongolia and Brazil – see recent ABC news coverage of the arrival of the first Mongolian WHMs: www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-13/qld-mongolians-foreign-working-holiday-visa-job-vacancies/101325424
However, we also note that the intake each year is capped at 100 and 500 respectively for these two countries whereas there is much higher demand than that. Therefore, we encourage government to continuously review the visa caps for all countries under the 462 visa.
2. Incentives to encourage WHMs to enter Australia
The number of WHMs currently in Australia is still drastically below pre-pandemic levels. Since the international borders opened to WHMs in December 2021, 49,000 have arrived here. For context, pre-pandemic there would be around 150,000 WHMs in Australia at any one time. Of great concern is reports that 13,700 WHM visas are currently pending, awaiting processing by the Department of Home Affairs – see recent ABC coverage of this – www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-26/australia-tourism-post-covidvisa-delays/101361636
It is also noted that there are 70,060 backpackers with valid visas currently outside of Australia who could travel and work here but have not yet arrived. That equates to nearly 84,000 visitors and potential casual workers who aren’t here, at a time when Australia needs both. Backpacker & Youth Tourism Advisory Panel – BYTAP www.bytap.org ABN: 97 621 917 175 BYTAP is currently working closely with Tourism Australia and industry representatives on developing effective marketing and communications campaigns to rebuild this segment, which was a $3.2bn contributor to the visitor economy in 2019. However, more can be done on a policy level to support this. Specifically, we request that government urgently considers introducing incentive schemes to encourage WHM visa holders who are offshore, and other potential ones, to come to Australia. This could include initiatives such as the following:
a) Additional year visa for former WHMs: We request that government considers offering former Working Holiday Makers, who have since returned home from their initial trips to Australia, the ability to apply for a second visa.
b) Fast-tracking Free Trade Agreement (FTA) visa changes with the UK: We support expediting the Free Trade Agreement with the UK, which will incorporate positive changes to WHM visas. This includes an increase in the age limit to 35, and the offering of an initial three-year visa (with no requirements for any specified work in any particular area to be undertaken to obtain this duration).
c) Visa Application Charge Waiver: We note that from 19 January to 19 April 2022, Australia offered a Visa Application Charge (VAC) waiver to WHMs, to incentivise them to come here, and we would like this reinstated to stimulate arrivals – see www.homeaffairs.gov.au/covid19/visa-information/refunds-and-waivers
3. Thrive 2030 Strategy
More broadly, the Summit should have reference to the Thrive 2030 Strategy – The Re-Imagined Visitor Economy in this regard – www.austrade.gov.au/news/publications/thrive-2030-strategy
We particularly note that in the Thrive 2030 Strategy Action Plan – Phase 1: Recovery 2022-2024 under Priority 3 – Grow a secure and resilient workforce there are several action items listed that can stimulate demand from WHMs.
4. Reimagining the Visitor Economy – Expert Panel Report
We also refer the Summit to consider the Reimagining the Visitor Economy – Expert Panel Report. Specifically, in the table of recommendations, under ‘A Modern Workforce’ there is the recommendation to reform the WHM scheme to increase the pool of workers for the visitor economy.
• This should include increasing age limits to 35 for all participating countries (on a non-reciprocal basis if need be)
• Fast-tracking agreements with new countries.
In summary, we therefore request that the topic of Working Holiday Makers be included in discussions at the Jobs & Skills Summit. I would also be happy to elaborate further on the issues at an appropriate forum.