Farm labor shortage continues - despite surge of working holiday visa applications

Almost all of the foreign backpackers granted a working holiday-maker visa since Australia announced it would lift its border restrictions remain overseas. The Department of Home Affairs says it has granted 31,000 of the visas to people who have been permitted to travel to Australia since December 15.

"There are currently almost 30,000 working holiday-maker visa holders outside Australia," a spokesperson said. But there are government estimates that up to 24,000 working holiday-makers could arrive in Australia by late April, when a visa rebate is due to expire.

Fruit and vegetable growers have welcomed the return of the backpackers, but warn it will be some time before the pre-COVID workforce is restored. Australia's fruit and vegetable farmers rely heavily on backpackers to harvest their crops, with more than half the workforce typically coming from overseas.

Last year, Australia agreed to a trade deal with the UK that meant British backpackers would be exempt from any requirement to work on Australian farms, removing about 10,000 backpackers from the workforce. One expert claims that growers expected future trade deals could seek similar exemptions: "Our expectation is that the European Union would look over the fence and ask for the same thing that the UK got in its free trade agreement — I don't think anybody is under any illusions about that.”


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