Backpackers, working in Australia on Working Holiday Maker visas, have been a key source of agricultural labor for decades, alongside smaller numbers of temporary migrants from the Pacific Islands, international students and of Australians.
In the 2018-19 financial year, more than 200,000 people came to Australia on working holiday visas. Some 35,000 people a month worked on farms, picking vegetables, fruits or nuts. The numbers declined with the closure of borders to visa holders from March 2020 to February 2022. But since the borders reopened, they have not recovered as hoped.
By the end of June, nearly 100,000 Working Holiday Maker visas had been granted. But by the end of August, only 54,000 visa holders had arrived. With labor shortages creating more employment opportunities in cities and towns, fewer people accept agricultural work.
Why don’t backpackers come?
There seem to be three main reasons backpackers have been cooling off on Australia as a top working holiday destination: fear of future border closures; the federal government’s mistreatment of migrants during the pandemic and Australia’s reputation more generally for exploiting backpackers.
A hostel operator said: ‘They want to come and do a working holiday but Australia is now known as the land of lockdown.