Backpacker visas Australia: Will the working holiday age limit be raised?

Ellen Holm first fell in love with Australia while participating in a university student exchange program from Sweden when she was 23 years old several years ago.
“I always felt I wanted to come back. But then I started working in Sweden, and I started to create a career.”
“I was still in contact with old friends in Australia asking when I would come back.”
In 2020, at the age of 30, Ms. Holm decided she needed a career break. “It was then that I realized that I had reached this age limit, I better do it now or I would lose my chance,” she said.

But shortly after submitting her application, the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elaine Holm (right) plans to work, study and explore Australia for next year. credit: supplied

Australia’s border closures and visa processing backlog meant it had to wait around 18 months to learn its working holiday visa application had been approved, with a year to receive it if desired.

Last month, at the age of 33, Ms Holm finally returned to Australia, and now plans to spend the year exploring the country, working and following a teenager’s dream of becoming a life coach after being accepted into an online course.

But she’s only been allowed to do so for one year, and she’s older than most of the others in the scheme.

Pay to change the age limit

Working holiday visas - often referred to as “backpacker visas” - are currently restricted to nationals of eligible countries between the ages of 18 and 30, and up to the age of 35 for a small handful including Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Italy and soon . The age limit for Swedish citizens is 30.
the It was established in 1975 to allow young people to take an extended vacation and support themselves by working temporary jobs. The program is reciprocal in nature, with similar arrangements for Australian nationals wishing to work and holiday abroad in partner countries.

But as industries including tourism and hospitality grapple with worker shortages as they struggle to recover from the pandemic, the Tourism and Transport Forum Australia (TTFA) is leading calls for an expansion of working holiday visas, suggesting a raise to the minimum age.

“One solution to help address the skills shortage in tourism is to increase the minimum age for working vacationers to 50,” said Margie Osmond, CEO of TTFA.
“This will open up a whole new market of workers from abroad with a wide range of skills and experience that can benefit our industry.”

At 33, and having just qualified, Holm thinks it’s a great idea.

Eileen arrived in Australia on a working holiday visa in December, having applied before she reached the age deadline. credit: supplied

“People my age…we have different values, I think, than previous generations,” she said.

“We might start with something and then if we realize that, no, this company, or this role, or this life that I’m leading now, it’s not in accordance with what I want out of life, we might not realize that when we’re at 20, we might realize that when we’re in Twenty-eight or thirty-five, and then we still have a chance to go and explore something else, another country and maybe explore a different kind of job.”

“I also know that Australia is short on workers right now. So to open up to more people who want to make a change, or just take a break and come and help, I think that would be a great opportunity.”

Why backpacker visas are important

There are now 47 countries participating in the Australia programme, and applicants can apply at a cost of $510. The program includes the visa And They are allowed to work and holiday in Australia for a year, with opportunities to return for a second and third year if certain requirements are met.
said Associate Professor Pierre Benckendorff, a tourism expert from the University of Queensland.

“It combines the right to do certain types of work with the right to be on holiday, but the visa timescales are very generous…so generally, people can get more time in Australia than they could if they were just on a tourist visa.”

Associate Professor Benckendorff said the program has “really worked in Australia” where visa holders typically undertake work in seasonal industries such as hospitality and farming.
“We can’t always provide this kind of work to the local people and the local people don’t have much interest in this seasonal work. So it was really good.”

“You see that a lot in places like the Gold Coast or Cairns, where you often get served by someone from France or Germany or from Asia. And of course, they’re into farming too, picking fruit.”

Why it matters to older workers

“Many Australians who had been working in tourism have since found jobs in other sectors, while international students and working holidaymakers who left Australia during COVID have been slow to return,” said Ms Osmond.
In addition, “even in tourist areas with high customer demand,” she notes, the lack of affordable housing in regional areas makes it more difficult to attract staff.

“There are vacancies… from airports to attractions, accommodation providers, cruises, destination management, hospitality, tour operators and travel agencies, ranging from unskilled to senior management positions.”

Ms Osmond said raising the minimum age for work visas “may give us access to a more skilled group of visa holders for more senior positions”.
“While staff serving coffee or helping with valet parking is incredibly vital, we are still missing a whole host of professional and managerial skills from the industry as well,”
Associate Professor Benckendorff said raising the minimum age for working holiday visas could also help alleviate the “massive labor shortage” in the hospitality industry with its “fairly cheap workforce”.

“Minimum wage is very attractive for the industry, for vacationers, etc. [businesses] You have a bigger pool of work to dive into.”

A path to permanent immigration?

Sheila Woods is a Registered Migration Agent with Perth-based Interstaff who has assisted Overseas Working Holiday Visa applicants. She said people who had passed the age limit before using it to its fullest extent - including taking the option to do a regional job in order to return for a second or third working holiday - were disappointed.
“We’ve had a handful of clients over recent years who wanted an extension for one reason or another and are eligible for their second year apart from their age.”
“In general, they are often already employed or have some useful things to do in the economy and they want to stay and finish it.”
She said the age restriction could lead people in those situations to look for another, more expensive path such as persuading an employer to sponsor them or to leave the country and return with another visa flow.
“People who come like engineers, geologists, nurses or people on the immigration list, who come on the Work Holiday programme, can easily find work here and then have chances of being sponsored for a temporary visa or moving to permanent, and then citizenship.” .
But this is not always possible.
If the age limit for the Working Holiday Program is lifted, Ms Woods said people in their mid-to-late 30s and 40s could “take advantage of a visa like that for a sabbatical or professional holiday”.

She said she did not know how popular it would be with people in their 30s and 40s compared to those in their 20s, and noted that if it were raised to 50, the government would need to specify that people in the upper extremities had limited restrictions. Options for pursuing permanent migration. The minimum age to apply for skilled work visas in Australia is currently 45 years old.

The immigration system is under review

From 2021-2222, 95,901 visa applications were submitted for the Australian Government’s Working Holiday Maker programme. Watch. As of 16 December 2022, approximately 129,300 furloughed workers have arrived in Australia since borders reopened for them the previous year.
The federal government is currently conducting a review of Australia’s immigration system in light of the current labor shortage, with an interim report due next month.

Ms Osmond said that “any worthwhile recommendations that could increase the workforce in tourism must be acted upon quickly to help our sector”.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson told SBS News that working holidaymakers make an “important cultural and economic contribution to Australia, including through their contribution to skills and employment gaps and job creation in associated industries and businesses”.
“The Government also recognizes the importance of WHMs to Australia’s economic recovery during and after the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said.
The Albanian government is working to address a She inherited upon winning the federal election in May that the average processing time for working holiday visas is now estimated to be less than a day.
It also announced an extension of the six-month work cap suspension for work visa holders, allowing them to work for a single employer for their entire journey until June 30, 2023.
“This measure is designed to provide immediate assistance to Australian businesses currently facing an acute shortage of manpower and to enable them to continue to provide goods and services to the Australian community,” the spokesperson said.
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