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$360m warning over new backpacker rule

Backpacker tourism
A total of 224,431 working holiday visas were granted in 2022-23, a return to pre-pandemic levels. Picture: Shae Beplate.

A proposed plan to limit backpackers visiting Australia on a holiday working visa for just one year could cost local businesses and tourism vendors in Western Australia up to $360 million dollars.

Under a major overhaul of the country’s migration system, the federal government is considering placing a one-year cap on the Working Holiday Maker visa – a program that grants young travellers entering Australia a temporary visa to holiday and work for up to three years.

Proposed changes to the visa pathway come after a Fair Work Commission review released 2016 highlighted instances of underpayment and exploitation experienced by working visa holders in the program.

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But WA Nationals Leader Shane Love said capping the visa to one year could have a “devastating” impact on the state’s economy, citing recent tourism data which found backpackers injected up to $360m into local tourism businesses and regional communities across the state last year.

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

Mr Love said the changes could hurt struggling regional employers. Picture: Supplied
Mr Love said the changes could hurt struggling regional employers. Picture: Supplied

“We know that many industries are still reeling from the loss of seasonal workforces for several years during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the recent decision to cut WA’s skilled worker visa caps.

More than 111,000 Working Holiday Maker visas were granted in Australia between July and December in 2022, up from 23,000 compared to the year before.

Under the current visa rules, travellers aged between 18 to 35 can extend to stay in Australia for a second or third year if they take up specific work in a regional or rural area for 88 days.

Last year, Federal Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said she was committed to releasing a wider evaluation of the program to map out potential changes “in early 2024.”

Ahead of a National Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Mr Love urged the WA Premier Roger Cook to plead for the federal government to reconsider.

“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.