25 October 2012

Employers continue to fret over working holiday visa fee increase

Agricultural employers who depend on backpackers in rural Australia have continued to voice concern over the increase in working holiday visa increase, despite reassurances.

Australia visa

Employers are concerned an increase in working holiday visa fees will deter backpackers from choosing Australia.

As part of the government’s efforts to return the country's budget to surplus in the current financial year, Treasurer Wayne Swan announced this week that Australia visa costs would be going up as of 1, January, 2013.

Most Australia visa streams are affected including partner visas, graduate visas and skilled worker visas but it is the change to the working holiday visa - despite it being the smallest change - that has caused the most panic.

The cost of a working holiday visa will rise from AU$280 (£180) to AU$360 (£232) and some employers and industry bodies are worried the change offers enough of a deterrent to send backpackers elsewhere.

"The banana industry in north Queensland will be in dire straits if we don't have international backpackers because there are not enough locals," said Rob Watkin, general manager at Mt Uncle Farming.

AUSVEG, a national body representing 9,000 Australian vegetable and potato growers, says deterring backpackers can only hinder the industry and lead to an eventual price increase.

"The high Australian dollar is already a deterrent to backpackers, who have to come here with a minimum of AU$5,000 [£3,200] and return flights," said AUSVEG's marketing manager, Simon Coburn.

"Every dollar counts, and we're concerned this visa increase may make all the difference in dissuading them from coming here. It's already very difficult to get Australians to do a lot of this seasonal work, so backpackers are a vital source of labour for a lot of producers.

"If we're deterring backpackers, that's likely to result in increased labour costs and/or the abandonment of crops, both of which are ultimately going to lead to higher prices for consumers."

The government took the opportunity yesterday to defend the price hikes, an opinion shared by some employers.

Grant Fenton, president of the Northern Territory Farmers Association, said while adding any further obstacles to bringing backpackers to work would never be welcome, 'ultimately my gut feeling is that an AU$80 [£50] increase isn't going to stop people travelling'.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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