Recently, the Australian government initiated plans to include India in its working holiday maker programme. The country plans to include more countries to its Working Holiday Maker programme and India has been chosen as one of the favoured countries.
According to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, David Coleman, Australia’s Immigration Minister, stated that the basic reason for the expansion of the working holiday maker programme is to recruit workers to regional areas in Australia to solve the present labour shortages going on in the countries, especially on farms.
Coleman also added that the present programme in the country that enables backpackers to work while they reside in the country is seeing a decline and as a result, there is a shortage of workers in some regional parts of the country. Hence, Australia is considering expanding its Working Holiday Maker programme to include thirteen more countries, including India for more and cheap labour source.
Currently, less than 150,000 people are on the Working Holiday Maker programme in Australia as the programme has diminished over the past five years.
Coleman said: “We are aware that holiday-makers travel into regional areas a lot more than all other international visitors. They also expend large amounts, which helps to boost local economies.”
This move has brought a sort of relief and happiness to the Australian farmers who stated that the move would help them greatly to ease off the on-going labour supply issue, which is presently crippling the agriculture sector of the country.
The Australia Working Holiday Maker Programme includes the “Work and Holiday visa” and the “Working Holiday visa“. The programme is a cultural exchange programme in Australia, which allows young travellers to have an extended holiday and also earn money by accepting short-term employment.
Apart from India, other countries being considered for the expansion of the Working Holiday Maker Programme are Mongolia, Monaco, Andorra, Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Switzerland, the Philippines, Mexico, and Brazil.
During Australia’s uncapped 417 visa scheme, countries considered as backpacker nations for the programme included Sweden, Germany, Canada, and the UK. During the 462 visa scheme, also called “work and holiday visa scheme,” the backpacker nations included more developing countries like Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, Thailand, and Singapore. Indian passport holders were not eligible for both schemes.
In a recent video advertisement, Australia portrayed itself to international markets as “the best workplace in the world.” However, when it was rumoured that the visa scheme is gradually becoming an avenue of admitting low-skill migrant workers, Coleman countered the idea and stated that: “Holiday and work applicants must have minimum requirements prior to a visa could be granted. These include having English skill of a functional level, and they must be studying or hold towards tertiary qualifications.”
Australia Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, stated last year that his government had not overruled the agricultural visa in a bid to get more backpackers to work on farms. Though the idea of expanding the backpacker visa has been favourably welcomed by farmers, it raised concerns among some academic scholars.
Opinions from some Australian farmers about the expansion were sampled. Jaswinder Singh Mavi, a Griffith farmer, stated that sourcing labour for his 300-acre orange farm during the winter picking season is a perpetual worry for him. He said: “Many times it occurred that we couldn’t finish picking because of labour shortage and the unpicked fruits just had to rot.”
The Australian farmers, through their association, Australia’s Farmers’ Federation, have asked the government to develop a stand-alone visa for the agriculture sector to deal with this perennial labour-shortage problem. Though the Australian government initially signalled its willingness, it eventually ditched the proposal. However, recently, the government have considered the problem of the labour crunch in the farming sector and have decided to ameliorate it by expanding the work and holiday visa to include thirteen more nations.
Singh added that if the idea eventually becomes a reality, his farm business will greatly benefit from it. He said: “We have quite a number of people from Panuab asking us ‘how can we get employed in Australian farms.’ We were unable to hire them despite their work ethic and hardworking nature because they came here on a visitor visa. However this [expansion move] would be a great opportunity for us.”
Another strawberry farmer, Amandeep Singh Sidhu, stated that the problem of labour shortage is ‘very severe’ in Australia. He added that the backpacking job is a labour intensive job, and as a result, immigrants from developed nations would not like to do backpacking job and if they do, they won’t for a long time.
Amandeep Singh, a blueberry farmer from New South Wales’ Coffs Harbour Area says the labour shortage problem is ‘very severe’.
He also added: “We provide training to workers for three weeks and if they leave just after a month or month and a half, this would be a big loss on our resources. However, the inclusion of rising countries can solve this problem to some extent since they are prone to be more familiar with the work environment of farming.”
Another problem spotted by Singh was the issue of communication. Although backpackers from most developing countries might need reskilling before they could effectively work in Australian farms, what matters is the language barrier. He said: “We have had backpackers work for us, but communication with them was a huge challenge and that affects the productivity at work.”
However, Charnamat Singh, a vegetable farmer in Victoria’s Kinglake, said that English proficiency should not be considered, and inability to speak fluently in English shouldn’t be an impediment to getting this visa. He said:“Throughout the peak season, we employ 50 to 100 workers and I do not look for English skills, but their ability working in farms and acquiring the skills which are needed to carry out their duty.”
He added: “If we employ the right people, for example from countries like India, it will be beneficial for us and the farmers since they will learn new skills here and once they return, they will help the industry in India.”
In a general view, the expansion plan, if implemented, would not only be beneficial to the Australian farmers, who will get sufficient labours to work on their farms, but also to the immigrant backpackers and farmers, who will see settling in Australia as a greener pasture.