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Australia wonders where all the backpackers are

Backpackers working in Australia on Working Holiday Maker visas have been an essential source of farm labor for decades, alongside smaller numbers of temporary migrants from the Pacific Islands, international students, and Australians.

In the financial year 2018-19, more than 200,000 people came to Australia on working holiday maker visas. Some 35,000 a month worked on farms, picking vegetables, fruit, or nuts. Numbers declined with borders closed to visa holders from March 2020 to February 2022. But since borders reopened, they have not recovered as hoped.

By the end of June, almost 100,000 Working Holiday Maker visas had been granted. But by the end of August, just 54,000 visa holders had arrived. With labor shortages creating more job opportunities in cities and towns, fewer are taking up farm work.

Why aren't backpackers coming?

There seem to be three main reasons why backpackers have cooled on Australia as a top destination for a working holiday: fear of future border closures, the federal government's poor treatment of migrants during the pandemic, and Australia's reputation more generally for exploiting backpackers.

One hostel operator said, "They want to come and do the working holiday, but Australia's now known as the lockdown country."



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