Coming into our Australia summer, it is important now more than ever to look at changes in the Working Holiday Visa.
Helping Our Farmers
Without Working Holiday Visa holders, many farmers would undoubtedly notice the difference in their productivity at harvest time. In 2013-14, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection issued over 240,000 twelve month visas under Subclass 417 (Working Holiday) and Subclass 462 (Work and Holiday). 45,000 of those were granted to British citizens; with passport holders from Taiwan the next largest group at 29,000.
Many people on their first Working Holiday visa have the opportunity to gain a second year visa as long as they participate in at least 88 days of specified work, in particular regional areas, during their first year. Fruit picking and farm work are high on the eligibility list, giving a much needed boost to worker numbers in hard to fill regional areas. A popular choice has been Willing Workers on Organic Farms (“WWOOF”), an international network of organisations offering accommodation, food and opportunities to people wanting to experience an organic lifestyle, in return for 4-6 hours a day of work. Many backpackers have been quite willing to spend three months in a regional area in exchange for lodgings and food.
The lucrative second visa “carrot” offered by the Department of Immigration has spurred the growth of labour hire companies, claiming to specialise in the recruitment and placement of working visa holiday makers anxious not to lose the opportunity of a second blissful year in Australia. As is often the case though, the actions of a few opportunistic and unethical people overshadows the many legitimate companies and employers.
A recent documentary by ABC’s Four Corners shocked the nation with a report into widespread exploitation of working visa holiday makers. Claims of extreme labour exploitation, slave-like conditions, sexual harassment and gross underpayment of wages have been reported.
In my practice as a Migration Agent, I have heard stories from clients of over-priced, cockroach-infested backpacker accommodation, and payments required upfront in order to secure non-existent regional work – all leading to disappointment and mistrust, and sometimes resulting in a visa holder not being able to qualify for their second visa.
Further, the business impact on ethical and law abiding farmers and suppliers, who do the right thing by workers, has been that they have been undercut by cheaper suppliers, who take advantage of the exploited migrant workers, resulting in a threat to their own business sustainability.
The Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, acted quickly and announced changes to address the concerns.
“The current arrangements can provide a perverse incentive for visa holders to agree to less than acceptable conditions in order to secure another visa,” Minister Cash said.
“This Government is resolutely focused on upholding visa integrity and preventing exploitation – these changes will remove the incentive for visa holders to accept substandard conditions”.
In coming months, volunteer work will no longer count towards second working holiday visa eligibility. Applicants for the second visa will, in future, have to produce payslips showing that they have been legitimately paid for qualifying regional work at the correct rates.