Albo’s backpacker visa changes devastating for regional WA

The Opposition has lashed the Federal Government’s proposed changes to the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program which will come at a cost to regional tourism businesses and the agricultural industry.

Leader Shane Love MLA said the proposed changes would significantly reduce the amount of time backpackers could spend in Australia – from two years to one year – and had removed incentives to encourage regional work.

“The Federal Government’s 2023 Review of the Migration System has absolutely missed the mark when it comes to the importance of backpackers to our economy, and particularly to our regional tourism, health care and agriculture sectors,” Mr Love said.

“The recommendation to limit backpacker visas to one year would leave WA significantly worse off and force us into competition with the Eastern States to attract these key visitors, and key workers, to our State.

Currently, the WHM visa program allows backpackers from age 18-35 to enjoy a working-holiday in Australia for up to 12 months, with an option to extend the visa for a second year if they complete 88 days of work in hard-to-staff regional and remote employment. These roles include vital industries for WA including tourism, hospitality, and agriculture.

Mr Love said the Federal Government’s proposed changes ignored recent reports into the value of the WHM visa program.

“The top recommendation of the 2020 Final Report into the Working Holiday Maker Program was that the Government maintains the WHM program and notes its value to Australia.

“Every effort must be made by Premier Roger Cook to convince his Federal colleagues that these proposed changes to the backpacker visa will be harmful to WA, and regional WA especially,” Mr Love said.

Shadow Tourism Minister Louise Kingston said backpackers were a key part of WA’s employment mix and significant spenders on tourism experiences.

“Backpackers fill labour shortages in many regional areas where there is a high demand for seasonal workforces – from key tourism and hospitality roles in the State’s north during the peak season, or fruit picking, tree planting and other farm work,” Ms Kingston said.

“To axe the length of time backpackers can spend in Australia and to remove the regional work component would cause huge challenges for tourism, hospitality and agriculture in WA.

“This is an especially egregious proposal given many industries are still reeling from the loss of seasonal workforces for several years during the pandemic, as well as the recent decision to cut WA’s skilled worker visa caps.

“Backpackers also add immense value to the tourism economy, spending on average $10,400 during their time in Australia – more than double that of other visitors.”

“Regional WA is already being impacted by a lack of workers at the moment, and these changes will only put more pressure on businesses and communities,” Ms Kingston said.

A total of 224,431 WHM visas were granted in 2022-23, a return to pre-pandemic levels.