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Protecting the job market as working holiday visas soar

Protecting the job market as working holiday visas soar
by Joe Garavente

Earlier this year, as you might recall, the Federal government cut its skilled migration program by 14% in response to worsening economic conditions. Many people worried about Australia’s unemployment supported the decision - but they may not realise the number of working holiday visas is rising rapidly instead.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) reports a 70% increase in working holiday visa grants over the past five years, with 93,844 in 2003-04 versus 157,574 in 2007-08. Continuing this trend is irresponsible in a shrinking economy and Australia must consider regulating working holiday visas to protect the labour market.

Currently an unlimited number of people from the 25 participating countries aged 18-30 may apply. Many take unskilled jobs like leafleting or fruit picking, but they can work in any position up to six months.

The Australian Visa Bureau (AVB), a consulting agency for United Kingdom citizens, reports growing interest in working holidays with a 20% rise of grants the first quarter of 2009 over the first quarter of 2008. The UK provided the largest influx in 2007-08 with 34,145, according to DIAC data.

“As the recession is starting to bite, more young skilled workers and graduates are looking to take their gap year now while they are failing to get the job opportunities they had hoped for,” AVB said in a press release.

Australia has long been a popular choice but it is a particularly attractive destination now given better economic conditions and the Australian dollar’s favourable exchange rate, AVB adds.

Higher job prospects attracted Paul Knowles from the UK to Australia last year over another destination for his working holiday.

“I thought it would be good to come to Australia and improve my resume. With the economic crisis in the UK and elsewhere, I would not have had that opportunity,” says Knowles, a computer support technician at ING Direct.

“Compared to how it was last year, it has become a lot harder to find work. Most of the people I knew then had jobs. Now most of the people I know do not.”

Unemployment is increasing and recession is “inevitable”, says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. We need to maximise job openings for current Australian residents and avoid financial struggles for working holidaymakers as opportunities decrease.

One solution is to limit the number of working holiday visas granted. Or set more restrictions on visa approval. Ireland requires candidates to prove sufficient funds to live if they cannot find employment. In Germany they are directed away from places with high unemployment such as Berlin.

So, placing limits on working holiday visas could benefit Australians as well as working holidaymakers. It is a logical step to safeguarding Australia’s job market during economic slowdown.


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What about Aussies overseas?

Joe, I can see the point you are trying to make, but I don't know if it's fair to suggest that the increasing number of working holidays visas will impact the rising unemployment levels. I have to agree with Pat in that I've never heard of anyone losing a job to a working holiday visa holder. I was looking for part-time, "unskilled" work a couple of months ago and I encountered many advertisements stating that they were looking for permanent residents only. I'm a permanent resident, and I struggled to find a job, so I can't imagine how difficult it would be for a non-permanent resident, especially one that speaks less than perfect English.  

I think if we were going to limit the number of Australian working holiday visas, it would only be fair for other countries to do the same for us. Do you have any figures on the number of Australians in other countries with working visas? My guess would be that there are far more of us out there draining other nations' economies, compared to the 150,000+ we have here. 

I travelled to the UK a few years ago on a working holiday visa, and found the  English people to be very accepting of me as a visitor, and employment easy to come by. Employers understood that I was only working to make money to travel, and didn't mind that often I gave little leaving notice. Considering that I didn't stay in any job longer than three months, I think they were incredibly accommodating. I've noticed that Australian attitudes to visitors seeking temporary employment definitely pale in comparison. I've witnessed, first hand, employers simply throwing out CVs because the person was a traveller or their English language skills weren't up to scratch.

Furthermore, a lot of these visa holders have family and friends that end up visiting Australia, bringing more tourism, and therefore a boost to the economy.

We need the work

Cutting back holiday visas and skilled employment visas probably is not the answer to cutting the unemployment rate in Australia. As Julia said, the restrictions already placed on working holiday visas help to curb their job prospects.

In relation to what Pat said, "Anyone know anyone who actually lost a job to a fraulein from Bavaria?", yes, it is uncommon to hear of anyone who has actually lost a job to someone on a working holiday visa. Although the jobs they are employed in are usually within the hospitality or retail industries and are essentially unskilled, there are Australians who may miss out, such as university students working to support themselves while they study.

Skilled employment through 417 - access denied

Are working holiday makers really a threat to the health of the Australian economy? Can the working holiday program be compared to the skilled migration program at all?

The working holiday program's main purpose, as stated by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, is to "encourage cultural exchange and closer ties between arrangement countries". Hence its main purpose is to give young people the opportunity to explore Australia and its culture; and because this continent is so vast, they are allowed to travel for a full year. Because living costs are relatively high and flights to Australia - from a European perspective being located at the other end of the world - are pricey, working holiday makers can supplement their travels by "short-term employment". Most of them take on unskilled jobs in cafés and bars, on construction sites or do fruit picking to fund their travels. Their main goal is to see the country, not to start a career.

In Germany, which is one of the countries with a reciprocal working holiday agreement, the majority of young people who come to Australia on a 417 visa are recent high-school graduates aged 19 or 20 who want to see the world before enrolling in a university course in Germany. They are curious, young and healthy, and willing to take on any kind of work during their time off between school and uni, no matter how mentally unchallenging or physically exhausting. Do they limit the Australians' job opportunities? Or is it rather the case that they fill the gaps in jobs that Australians are either unwilling to take on or that the Australian workforce cannot fill due to a lack of unskilled labour? I believe that the latter is the case. 

Working holiday makers do certainly not pose a threat to Australia's skilled workforce. It is true that working holiday makers are allowed to work in any field of employment they wish - there are no restrictions as of what industry they are allowed to seek work in. However, their chances of finding skilled employment are extremely limited through the fact that working holiday visa holders are only allowed to stay with one employer for up to six months. And what employer would want to hire someone - no matter how skilled or smart they are - to train them and lose them after six months? I am on a working holiday visa myself and I have been looking for skilled employment for months. Judging from my experience, the answer is pretty simple. Hence a restriction of the industries that working holiday makers can be employed in, as Megan suggested, is fairly unnecessary. The government's six month regulation on working holiday visas already is an extremely effective and successful tool in keeping skilled employment in Australia accessible for Australians only. Whether this helps to establish the intended "closer ties" between Australia and its arrangement countries - is worth thinking about. 

Richard:  Good to see someone from the Class of '08 still around, Julia!

The working holiday visa

The working holiday visa allows the cream of the crop, young who are unafraid to give up their own career to come here and see what Oz is about. They often then come back as permanent migrants.

This is a continent, with a need for more people. Poor policies can make disruption to employment worse, but by creaming off the world's brightest and bravest we get by far the better part of the deal! No schooling cost and they pay taxes as soon as they earn and earn they do. They often bring families.

This program has been extended to two years from one. This may be unnecessary and I would like to know what justification exists for it. It seems to be a back door unskilled migrant extension and may not be justified. It might even delay permanent migration for a year. Anyone know if it is working well? Anyone know anyone who actually lost a job to a fraulein from Bavaria?  Or are we a nation of whingers about migrants?

Stimulating the economy?

Joe, are there any statistics to support that working holiday visa holders are taking jobs from citizens and permanent residents?

Fruit picking is a job one of those jobs that some people don't want to do for various reasons. If you have visitors who are willing to do the jobs, I don't really see the problem.

But you do have a good argument, maybe restricting the industries that working holiday visa holders can work in could be one solution.

Another factor that needs to be considered is that these workers are helping to stimulate the economy: the income they earn often goes to the hospitality and tourist industries, which is generating income. From experience (I've been a working holiday visa holder in the UK) and also from the visitors I have met over the years, they come to have a good time and enjoy the experience while doing things. I think that very few would be saving the money they earn (although this is just my opinion).  So I wonder if there was a restriction, what kind of impact it would have on the economy?

An each-way

Well, of course, this was the genesis for much of the fear and loathing with asylum seekers back in a period of high unemployment  at the beginning of the century.

As it happens, both refugees and local workers were kept out of work (and in the former case, the country) as employers instead imported cheap offshore labor by other means, exploiting visa categories and the like.

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