Archive for » November, 2012 «

Migrant health workers exploited in Australia

A new report published has found that many female immigrants working in the healthcare sector in Australia are being exploited. The report says that the Australian government’s decision to grant more temporary work visas has made this problem worse. The report calls on the Australian government to ‘support permanent migration’.

The report, Quality Health Care and Workers on The Move – Australia National Report, was written by Dr Jane Pillinger for Public Services International, an international public services union, with 20 million members in 150 countries. The report focuses on the experience of women who travelled to Australia to work in healthcare. 90% of immigrants who travel to Australia to work in healthcare are female.

Dr Pillinger analysed the responses of 478 female immigrants working in Australian healthcare in Queensland and New South Wales. The migrants came from 51 countries. The ‘top country of origin was the Philippines. Next came China, India, the UK and Zimbabwe. Most decided to move to Australia for better pay and working conditions. Over three quarters said they intended to stay in Australia.

Dr Pillinger says that Australia has introduced new restrictions on immigration and has begun to rely more heavily on temporary migration. She says that this policy creates a risk that temporary workers will be ‘treated as second-class workers and are employed in insecure conditions with uncertain futures for themselves and their families.’

Dr Pillinger says that failures in Australian policy have led to a situation where there are shortages of trained health professionals, particularly in the ‘aged care sector’. It is in this sector where most exploitation of migrant workers occurs.

About one third of the respondents were found work by recruitment agencies. Of these, about a quarter said that the agencies were ‘unethical’ in that they charged excessive fees, failed to provide accommodation as agreed or misled the respondent about the level of pay.

About half of those surveyed travelled to Australia on temporary business (long stay) (457) visas. Of those, about three quarters later acquired permanent resident status or citizenship. They reported that they were exploited when on 457 visas because they were, effectively, tied to one employer. They ‘often tolerate[d] lower pay, longer working hours, poorer working conditions, limitations on applying for promotional positions and career development and insecurity at work because they feared complaining.’ They also had lesser healthcare provision than native Australian workers.

They also found that their qualifications and experience gained overseas were often not given full value. They were often placed on the lowest pay scale when they arrived, even if they were very experienced. They received little assistance with integration from either the Australian government or the trades unions.

However, the respondents reported that they had had ‘largely positive experiences with integration in a new country, the workplace, housing and acceptance by the host society’. ‘A sizeable minority’ had less positive experiences of integration.

The report makes two main recommendations to the Australian government. Firstly, it says that the government should provide practical assistance to the workers when they arrive in Australia such as helping them with English language tests. Secondly, the government should reduce the number of 457 visas that it issues and, ‘support permanent migration rather than temporary migration.’ But it also recommends that action should be taken to prevent exploitation by recruitment agencies

The report also advises Australian unions to ‘actively lobby the government to protect the rights of migrant workers and to end practices that lead to exploitation and vulnerability’.

NSW expands skilled occupations list

The mining and oil and gas booms in Australia are driving wage inflation for welders and other construction workers across the globe.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data show that metal welders saw their pay rise by 22.2% in the last six years in the UK, reflecting strong demand for skilled construction workers, despite the recession.

Other big pay rise winners include health and social services managers whose salaries have soared by 21.1% and teaching professionals whose pay has risen by an average of 11.6%, compared to the average UK salary increase of 11.4% over the last six years

These categories of workers are also in demand in Australia, and where employers are having to offer competitive salaries in order to attract skilled workers.

New South Wales in Australia has recently announced an expansion of its skilled occupation list, which means that people with skills in certain trades and professions may now be nominated by the New South Wales government for an Australian visa.

Categories of worker on the list include metal workers (including welders), construction workers, teachers, engineers, medical staff, scientists, IT workers, lawyers and accountants.

This means that the above trades can now apply for permanent visas to New South Wales and state sponsorship means that their permanent resident applications will be processed faster.

Edwina Shanahan, director at VisaFirst said, “There are great opportunities in Australia but applicants need to move fast, because once these quotas are filled, they could be removed from the New South Wales list.

“Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is regularly cited as one of the best places to live, with its sunny weather, proximity to world class beaches and strong cultural and entertainment attractions.”

Australian union lobbying to have Australian Jobs clause inserted in EMA’s

An Australian Union is seeking to create legally binding agreements that would require employers to advertise jobs to try and find Australian workers and Australian residents before being allowed to recruit international workers to come to Australia on temporary work visas.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is lobbying to have an ‘Australian Jobs’ clause inserted into Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs). EMAs were introduced by the Australian federal government in 2011. They are intended to prevent infrastructure projects from being delayed by skills shortages. They allow project managers on infrastructure projects worth AUS$2bn and which employ 1,500 people or more to apply for sufficient 457 temporary work visas to complete a project.

There are currently 14 Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs) under consideration by the Australian government. Negotiations between interested parties; employers, the Australian government and unions, are due to begin within three months. If the EMAs are made, then employers will be able to apply for thousands of Temporary Business (Long Stay) visas, better known as 457 visas. These visas allow their holders to stay in Australia for up to four years. They are entitled to bring family members with them.

The union says that the ‘Australian jobs’ clause would enable the union to seek redress from a court where a company fails to make efforts to find Australian workers before offering positions to overseas workers. It is already a requirement that companies should take steps to find Australian workers before applying for an EMA. This requirement was negotiated by unions.

Now, the MUA’s general secretary in Western Australia, Chris Cain is seeking to reinforce the requirement for employers to try to find Australian workers. He says that employers should sign a memorandum of understanding before the EMA could be granted which would allow the unions to sue the employer in court where the required checks had not been made.

Mr Cain says that the Australian jobs clause would also allow the union and Australian workers to seek redress from Fair Work Australia, which is Australia’s independent workplace relations tribunal. Mr Cain told the West Australian newspaper ‘What it means is that people in Australia who have qualifications to do a job will get the job over foreign workers.’

The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) says that the union’s proposal would not help protect jobs and might create tension in relationships between employers and unions. AMMA’s chief executive Steve Knott said employers did not use migrant labour unless they had to because it was an expensive option. A recent AMMA report suggested that applications for 457 visas cost employers between AUS$7,000 and AUS$65,000. Mr Knott said that employers needed the security of EMAs to help reassure financial backers that labour shortages would never interfere with projects.

Mr Knott said that he had seen research which predicted that there would be a shortage of 90,000 skilled workers in Australia by 2015.

Free Moving to Australia Web Seminar

Our sister site – Poms in Oz is hosting a live webchat session with leading experts in banking, currency exchange, financial/pensions advice, international removals, pet transportation and vehicle importation. The chat event will take place on Tuesday 27th August 2012 from 20:00-22:00 (UK Time). National Australia Bank, Moneycorp, PSS International Removals, PetAirUK, Vista Financial Services and IronLady Imports will be on hand to answer any questions you may have about your move.

If you have an account on Pomsinoz, to participate, head over to www.pomsinoz.com, login, then click on the ‘chat’ menu option at the top of the page. Clicking on chat will launch the chat software. There will different ‘rooms’ for each of the different companies.

If you don’t have an account of Pomsinoz, you can still participate by by following this link – Chat with Industry Experts, then, once the chat software has loaded, tick the ‘Guest’ option at the top of the chat window, then choose a username and click ‘Login’ and enter the ‘Moneycorp, NAB, PSS, PetAirUK, Vista Financial Services or IronLady Imports’ chat rooms.

 
National Australia Bank

Rebecca Joils will talk about the Australian Banking system providing you with some insights as to what is different between the UK and Australia. She will also talk about how straight forward it is to open an Australian Bank account before you leave home and some of the services you should consider.

 
Moneycorp

Whether you are moving to Australia, or living there already, John Kinghorn will bring you the latest updates on the Aussie dollar and provide insight into the key factors influencing market movements. Exchange rates are constantly fluctuating and transferring your funds at the right time, via the right channel, can make a big difference to the amount of money you actually end up with.

 
PSS International Removals

One of the key ingredients when you are moving overseas is the planning of your removal. Liam Witham will be on hand to offer advice and answer any questions you may have regarding the packing and shipping of your household effects, including what items you can ship to Australia, Australian Customs procedures and AQIS.

 
PetAir UK

Bob Ghandour, Veterinary Consultant and Director of PetAir UK will be on hand to discuss any aspects of shipping your pets to Australia. PetAir UK is a unique pet travel service run by specialised vets for ultimate peace of mind. We will transport your pets safely and comfortably – worldwide. No matter what the journey, we will remove the stress of complicated pet travel arrangements and ensure the best possible service to our clients and their much-loved companions is one of our highest priorities. We operate a ‘one of the family’ policy, where all animals are treated with the same respect and care as our own pets. We know how much it means to you that your beloved pet arrives safely and by using PetAir UK you can assure yourself you are providing the very best care for your pet. We offer truly comprehensive packages which provide absolute continuity from start to finish. Every client is allocated one of our personal veterinary consultants who will oversee every step of the process. From complex documentation and import permit applications through to last minute flight changes, nothing is a problem for our competent and dedicated team.

 
Vista Financial Services

Andrew Williams is both a UK qualified and Australian practicing Financial Adviser and Mortgage Consultant specialising in advising UK expats in Australia on the transition and development of their financial affairs. From assisting clients with securing their first Australian mortgage through to working with them to understand whether transferring their UK Pensions is in their interests, Andrew is able to help answer your questions and concerns on a wide range of financial planning matters.

 
Iron Lady Imports
Iron Lady Imports is a small, Australian-based business that specialises in arranging transportation of vehicles from anywhere in the world to any port in Australia. For a fixed brokerage fee, we can help arrange your vehicle’s import approval paperwork, shipping, customs clearance and registration in Australia. Aside from our fee, all other costs are invoiced to you directly – no hidden markups! We’re also happy to advise you if it’s worth bringing your car over before you start (that part’s free!).

Consulation on abolishment of upper age limit for skilled migrants

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is currently holding a consultation on whether to recommend raising the maximum age limit for skilled migrants who can apply for visas.

The current age limit for applicants for skilled migrants under the SkillSelect scheme, formerly known as the General Skilled Migrant program, is 50 years. Fears have been raised that the current age restriction may be illegal because it clashes with Australia’s Age Discrimination Act.

However, there are also fears that, if Australia were to raise the age threshold, then older migrants would contribute less to Australia. They would be in work for less time before they retire and then become a burden on the Australian state.

The ALRC released an issues paper titled Grey Areas: Age Barriers to Work in Commonwealth Laws on 1st May 2012. It is currently holding its second consultation period.

The state government of South Australia argued that the upper age limit ought to be increased. Its position is that Australians are living longer and retiring later and so older migrants will offer more for longer.

The ALRC’s current position is that it need not recommend an abolition of the maximum age on discrimination grounds. Its position is that, while the age limit seems to be, on the face of it, discriminatory, as applicants are not, at the time of their application, members of the Australian workforce, they are not covered by the Age Discrimination Act. It also recognises that there is no upper age limit for applicants for temporary work or ‘457’ visas.

The ALRC continues to take submissions until November 26th 2012. It is due to issue its report in March 2013.

 

Western Australia in desperate need of engineers

In spite constant speculation about whether the resources boom is over…or not, the demand for skilled workers continues to grow.

According to estimates by the Western Australian Chamber of Minerals and Energy, aproximately 111,000 people are directly employed within the WA resources sector at present, and they anticipate that a further 10,000 people will be required over the next 18 months.

A shortage of skilled workers across the board continues to be the sector’s biggest challenge.

In September, Premier Colin Barnett told a skills conference in Perth, WA’s mining industry will need another 100,000 trained workers in the next decade.

The Chamber’s Bruce Campbell-Fraser says engineers, in particular, are in demand.

“It’s across a raft of disciplines, but mining engineers, process engineers and chemical engineers are in pretty high demand, as are geologists and metallurgists,” he said.

The Government’s skills shortage list also names civil, petroleum and electrical engineers, fitters, surveyors and mine deputies as professions in demand.

“They’re either university qualifications or they’re key trades people,” Mr Campbell-Fraser said.

“As we’re in a major expansion phase at the moment, and there are a number of construction projects on in the resource sector, some of those key construction skills are in demand.”

Mr Campbell-Fraser says a number of universities have responded to the shortage by increasing the engineering courses they offer.

But although he acknowledges there is a role for fresh graduates on major projects, he says companies would prefer an experienced person for major projects.

 

“An experienced person can always assist them to deliver that project in a shorter time frame and closer to budget then say a fresh graduate can.

“So while an increase in graduate numbers plays its role, it’s a real shortage of skilled engineers and qualified engineers with relevant experience on major projects.”
Brain drain

The number of engineering graduates from WA tertiary institutions has reached record highs in recent times.

However, Engineering Australia’s WA Executive Director Leanne Hardwicke says that has not necessarily translated into jobs.

“Because the universities have a lot of international engineering students, the actual graduation numbers have gone through the roof,” she said.

She says the problem is a large proportion of those students return to their countries of origin after they graduate.

“We need to do something to entice them to stay and work here since they’ve studied here; that’s another challenge that we’ve got.”

Engineering Australia says overseas students in university engineering and related technologies courses increased by more than five hundred percent between 2001 and 2009.

Professional services firm Deloitte published a report late last year addressing the shortage, called ‘Where is Your Next Worker?’.

Deloitte’s WA Managing Partner Keith Jones says companies should increase their diversification policies by encouraging women or indigenous people to enter the workplace.

“What we were encouraging was an up skilling of capability, a greater use of out-sourcing and a greater increase in participation rates right across the community, so we maximise the value we get out of the people we have working in the Australian market place,” he said.

The Department of Commerce found there were 37,030 engineering and science professionals working in WA as at May last year with that figure increasing by 9.1 per cent every year over the last decade.

Women make up just over 21 per cent of that figure.

Ms Hardwicke agrees women could play a vital role in the sector.

“We could probably solve the skills shortages tomorrow if we had the same number of women doing engineering as we have the same number of men, but we don’t.”

Mr Jones says another key recommendation in the report was engaging skilled migration.

“That may seem like it takes away work from Australians but in truth, if we can’t design projects then we can’t build projects,”

“So if we have to get the design done off shore then get it designed off shore.

“If that’s where the bottleneck is then that’s one of the ways we can get it done and enable the work to actually flow within the Australian business community or in the mining and resource community.”

Mr Campbell-Fraser says skilled migration is usually the last resort for companies.

“It’s expensive to undertake an overseas recruitment process and it’s expensive to relocate someone and get them to work here,” he said.

Ms Hardwicke confirms a lot of engineers are being brought in from overseas.

Census data from 2006 estimates at the time, nearly half of WA’s engineering labour force was born overseas.

“But migration levels haven’t been keeping up with demand either,” said Ms Hardwicke.

“Because we’ve been enticing overseas engineers to come, we’ve been competing with a bunch of other countries as well, particularly developing companies who have a very high demand for engineering skills.
Start early

Ms Hardwicke says the key to solving the engineering skills shortage starts at a grass roots level.

“It starts way back in primary school,” she said.

“If you don’t have good teachers who encourage kids to get an interest in maths and science, they tend to lose interest those subjects.

“In high school, they then need to know that engineering is a career option for them.

“Once they graduate, getting them to go into engineering is difficult as you’re competing with all the other subjects like science and biology.”

Mr Campbell-Fraser agrees the key to easing the shortage is an ongoing investment in education and training.

According to the Department of Training and Workforce Development, the number of apprentices and trainees in the mining industry has increased by nearly 22 per cent in the last two years from 3,351 in July 2010 to 4,326 at July 2012.

Recent figures from Victoria’s Monash University predict approximately one third of all jobs growth in WA over the next four years will be in the mining and construction sectors.

“It’s a pretty diverse range of jobs out there and it can be a pretty good lifestyle and pretty good career choice,” he said.

Like many analysts, Ms Hardwicke is unsure how long the skills shortage will last.

“How long is a piece of string?”

“It really depends on the cycle – there’s been a decrease in demand at the moment because things have gone a bit flat in some sectors, but there is demand out there for engineering skills,” she said.

“So if you’re an engineer and have great project management skills you can expect to get picked up really quickly.”

Visitors to Australia owe millions in unpaid health bills

VISITORS to Australia are racking up tens of millions of dollars in unpaid health bills, prompting calls for restrictions on their access to public hospitals.

In Victoria last financial year, taxpayers were left to cover bad debts of $11.6 million, a third of the cost of treating patients not eligible for Medicare in that state, while in NSW hospital staff could recoup only $25m of the $40m cost for treating such patients. Western Australia has problems with HIV-positive 457 visa holders who require expensive antiretroviral drugs, while in Queensland the cost of treating some non-residents, especially those with tuberculosis, can exceed $1m a patient a year.

Taxpayers have even had to fund the transport of patients to their home countries.

The states are demanding the commonwealth enforce the requirement in some 40 visa subclasses that visitors have appropriate health insurance so the cost burden can be shared with insurance companies, and take into account previous unpaid hospital bills when considering applications to re-enter.

While Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has agreed to review the insurance issue, it is understood the commonwealth has concerns about collecting data on hospital bills.

Enforcing the insurance requirement alone may do to reduce the cost burden on the states. In one case, a foreign student with an eating disorder has required repeated, lengthy stays in a public hospital, and already cost that state government more than $200,000. Health officials contacted the woman’s doctor in her home country, who recommended she be treated there for clinical reasons, but the woman did not want to leave Australia.

The state asked the commonwealth to intervene, but it was powerless to deport her because she had met the insurance requirement – even though the insurer would not cover her treatment because she had a pre-existing condition.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said her state was fortunate to have a higher cost recovery rate than others, but her Queensland counterpart, Lawrence Springborg, said the impact on his state was still significant.

The debate comes as health ministers, who are meeting in Perth today, prepare to discuss the impact of the commonwealth’s decision to accept more refugees and asylum-seekers.

A paper prepared for the meeting notes that almost all new arrivals require catch-up immunisation, 30 per cent have anaemia, up to 21 per cent in some cohorts have hepatitis B and between 17 per cent and 63 per cent of tuberculosis screens are positive.

The ministers will discuss whether translators should be extended to more health services and whether more asylum-seekers should have access to subsidised pharmaceuticals and Medicare-funded treatment.

The paper notes that there are “significant challenges in engaging private GPs to work with this population group, particularly in areas where the overall GP workforce is low. Without GP participation, refugee and asylum-seeker healthcare shifts to higher cost settings that are not sustainable,” the paper says.

Call for long stay visas for foreign farm workers

RURAL leaders have appealed to the federal government for a special long-stay visa for foreign farm workers to ease the critical shortage of farm labour.

As the booming agricultural sector prepares to double production to become a food bowl for Asia, National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie yesterday called on the Gillard government to make the contentious 457 skilled entry visa, used by the mining industry to bring in longer-stay temporary workers from Asia, more suited to farm work.

The agricultural sector had recovered after shrinking during the decade-long drought but had lost many of its young people to the cities and skilled workers to better-paid mining jobs, he said.

He said the desperate shortage of workers was coming to an unprecedented head during the grains harvest, now under way across eastern Australia, making the need for action urgent.

 

In rural centres such as the rich cotton and wheat bowl of Moree in northern NSW, more than one-third of the labour on farms and in contract harvesting teams this year is being provided by young foreign workers from Ireland, France, Scotland, Denmark and Germany.

Most are in Australia on working holiday or 417 “backpacker” visas, which restrict their farm work to six months on any one rural property and to two consecutive years before their return to Australia is blocked.

German solar panel installer Hannes Rinkl, 26, is employed on the 18,000ha Boonaldoon station, west of Moree, and would love to return for six months’ work every year. But this is his second year harvesting grain and irrigating cotton farms in rural Australia on a working holiday visa and, despite his own wishes and a farm manager keen to keep him longer, the current visa restrictions will force him to leave early next year.

“I can’t get a permanent visa because tractor driving doesn’t count (as a priority skill),” Mr Rinkl said this week.

The harvest contractor working alongside Mr Rinkl, driving a tank-like giant green header on 16-hour shifts, is also a new foreign arrival: Craig Nicol, 20, is a farmhand from the Scottish Highlands well-used to farm machinery.

Employed by a cropping contractor from western Victoria, Nicol plans to work from October to February harvesting wheat, barley, chickpea and canola crops stretching south from Queensland to Victoria. It means all-night shifts, seven days a week, but Mr Nicol is earning $30 an hour and saving $15,000 in four months.

“It’s not a holiday; it’s really all about work,” Mr Nicol said.

“But I get to see the world.

“I’m doing something I like and there is a lot more money in it here than at home.

“I’m not sure yet if I would like to come back again next year.

“Leaving home has been hard and the phenomenal scale of things here has been a culture shock, but I’d like to know I had the option (because) it’s a pretty big thrill to be driving a header with a 45-foot front.”

The NFF wants the Gillard government to expand the scope of the 457 temporary longer-entry visas to include farm workers such as Mr Rinkl and Mr Nicol who have been farm-trained to drive expensive and sophisticated harvest machinery but lack formal technical qualifications currently required for a 457 visa.

This would allow young workers, often with trade or farm backgrounds from stressed countries such as Scotland, Ireland and France who are streaming into isolated rural centres for plentiful farm jobs, to convert from a 417 visa to a longer-stay 457 visa if the farm employer backed their application.

Mr Laurie fears the unions are putting intense pressure on the government not to extend the scope of 457 visas to less-skilled foreign workers while national unemployment hovers above 5 per cent. Yesterday’s official labour force survey showed the jobless rate holding steady at 5.4 per cent for the second consecutive month.

“The unions often say they don’t want unskilled workers coming here from other countries,” Mr Laurie said. “But a lot of Australians don’t want to move into remote areas like Moree, while we know many of these young people from overseas have got experience in farming, the basic skills to drive this expensive machinery, and can step straight into these jobs – and most of all, want to work here.”

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government’s first priority was always to ensure jobs for Australian workers, while recognising some sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, continued to face labour market pressures.

He said that while the 457 visa program was an uncapped, demand-driven program designed to address genuine labour shortages where no appropriately skilled Australians were available, it was available only to skilled farm occupations backed by recognised qualifications.

“Of course we recognise that skill shortages pose major challenges to regional Australian businesses, with significant implications for the viability of towns and local economies, and the government is committed to supporting regional communities to address these issues,” he said.

“It remains open to farmers to use the Labour Agreements program, which facilitates the temporary entry of skilled and semi-skilled workers where there are domestic shortages and the 457 program does not suit.”

Farmers such as Maryan Hunter of Garah, in northern NSW, who have tried to keep backpackers longer by applying to convert a 417 visa to a longer-stay 457 visa, have already been knocked back by the Immigration Department.

She says a labour agreement negotiated through a union, as suggested by Mr Bowen, is totally unsuited and irrelevant to a family farm.

Ms Hunter said yesterday the main reasons for her farm-sponsored application being rejected were red tape requiring set employer training budgets to be dedicated to unsuited TAFE training courses and the farm worker’s lack of relevant qualifications that were included on the government’s eligible list.

“That’s why we have got together in this Moree Plains region and formed a working party to lobby government,” Mrs Hunter said. “We just hope the government and the Immigration Department listen because something has to change quickly if we are going to find and keep enough good workers.

“This is not about cheap labour but about continuity of labour; it is these backpackers who we have trained up who are making our life out on our big farms around Moree so much better. They want to work and are willing, and their wages often return to the town.”

Another option being explored is for farm regions to apply for special Regional Migration Agreements.

Tourism industry opposes whv fee increases

Australia’s tourism industry will argue strongly against the Government’s plans to apply a 28.6% increase to the Working Holiday Visa fee as outlined in last month’s Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.

With around 30 of the most significant youth and backpacker products across Australia represented by the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC), the organisation will spearhead the issue on behalf of the industry with a joint letter to the Treasurer.

“The youth and backpacker segment of the tourism industry has been hit hard over recent years, suffering from the impact of the high Australian dollar, fierce international competition from other destinations, and the changing nature of youth travel which has seen more young people sticking to capital cities and minding their budgets,” ATEC board member and Director of Global Gossip, Peter Ovenden said.

“While uptake of the visa has held, the industry has seen clear signs of a contraction in this important sector, with youth travellers now spending less time in Australia and travelling far less to regional parts of the country. We cannot afford to give these travellers yet another reason to reduce their spending – or, worse yet, decide not to visit at all.”

Mr Ovenden said yesterday’s Overseas Arrivals figures released by the Australia Bureau of Statistics showed a continuing and worrying negative trend in arrivals from the UK and Eurozone, a significant cohort of which is the youth traveller.

“The 5.1% decrease for the September quarter from the UK and other countries in the Eurozone is reflective of some of the ongoing pressures from the GFC and it is the youth market which has the potential to offset the decreases from these markets.

“It is imperative we reinforce these markets as much as possible.  An Australian ‘escape’ is a highly desirable alternative for young travellers facing difficult domestic economic pressures, so we should be doing our utmost to encourage them to choose Australia.

“The WHV has long been one of the great drawcards for young people visiting Australia giving them the opportunity to work in order to subsidise an extended Australian holiday and this has given us a real competitive advantage against our global rivals for the youth sector.

“Analysis undertaken by ATEC this year identified that backpackers, and working holiday makers in particular, spend considerably more than the average international visitor, staying around 8 months and spending over $13,000 each.

“Minor adjustments to the program such as extending the ‘regional working’ category, reducing financial requirements and allowing multiple visa opportunities, which ATEC has also advocated for, could increase the spend of these visitors by around $700 million over a 10-year period.”

Since 2005, the WHV fee has doubled in cost and, when expressed in source country currencies, has tripled for youth travellers from the United Kingdom and increased by 2.5 times for the Europeans.

“The competitiveness of the structure of our WHV program is poor when compared to our major global competitors and continual increases to the visa cost have compounded to put significant pressure on the sector over a long period.

“These visitors are important for our industry and our economy, contributing to our short-term labour needs, particularly in regional and remote parts of Australia, and contributing significantly to our tax system.

Call for more Asian backpackers to be granted working holiday visas

THE tourism industry is leading a push to allow more young Asian backpackers to come to Australia to work.

The call comes as the number of working holidaymakers from traditional sources, such as the UK, Europe and the US are dropping off.

Tourism and Transport Forum deputy chief executive Trent Zimmerman said more countries should be eligible for working holiday-maker visas to better reflect the focus on Asia.

“WHM visas are not available to the massive markets of China and India, or to our near neighbour the Philippines, which boasts an outstanding service culture,” he said.

“In addition, while we welcome the recent announcement that the cap for WHM visas in Indonesia has been lifted to 1000, just 100 WHM visas are available to Malaysians and 500 to Thais.

“These should be expanded dramatically without a reciprocal requirement.”

Mr Zimmerman said the age limit should be removed and backpackers who worked in tourism and hospitality in regional areas should be able to apply for a 12-month visa extension.

He said young travellers provided a flexible and mobile source of labour for the tourism and hospitality sectors, where there were already 36,000 job vacancies, many in regional areas. “With many of our traditional WHM markets experiencing weak economic conditions, raising the barriers to entry will discourage visitation and reduce the dispersal of backpackers, impacting negatively on tourism businesses struggling to find staff,” he said.

Tolga Country Lodge co-owner Gina Crameri said there was no need for more farm workers but there was a need to fill shortages in the tourism and hospitality sectors in many rural and regional areas.

“Finding chefs and other good staff is a problem,” she said.

Accor Hotels group chief operating officer Simon McGrath said the scheme was important for Accor, which had 12 hotels in the Far North with more than 700 workers, to attract staff, particularly in regional and remote areas.

“It is disappointing that visa charges have been increased substantially, but this would be compensated by an opening up of the scheme and a general relaxation of visa requirements, particularly for the rapidly emerging China and India markets,” he said.

A response to the proposals is being sought from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.