The Australian government has taken strict measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus. For example, visa for Australia are temporarily not being issued, even for backpackers and travellers who want to work in Australia (Working Holiday visa). As a result, fruit and vegetable growers are facing major staff shortages.
Seasonal work in Australia with a WHVA
Australia is a popular destination for backpackers who want to stay in the country for an extended time and pay for their trip by working there. On average, around 140,000 young people go to Australia every year with a Working Holiday visa or a Work and Holiday visa (WHVA). This visa allows them to stay in Australia for one year. Travellers who have worked for at least three months in certain sectors, such as agriculture, cattle breeding, forestry, construction or fishing, may qualify for a second visa. A third visa may be obtained if a total of at least six months has been spent working in these sectors.
Travellers with a Working Holiday visa or a Work and Holiday visa therefore play an important role in seasonal work and agriculture in Australia. Before the coronavirus pandemic, as much as 80 per cent of Australiaʼs farm labour was carried out by travellers. Since the start of the pandemic, however, these travellers have stayed away and certain sectors are facing a major labour shortage. According to the Australian government, there are currently only 45,000 backpackers in the country. The fact that there are so few backpackers in Australia can be explained by the strict coronavirus rules that the country has in place.
Strict entry restrictions Australia
Compared to other countries, the coronavirus has been well under control in Australia for a long time. Infection numbers were already falling sharply near the end of summer 2020. Since the autumn of 2020, there have hardly been any new infections, except for a few infection clusters in larger cities such as Sydney and Brisbane. When new cases of coronavirus were registered, a strict lockdown for the entire affected region was declared immediately.
To prevent foreign travellers from bringing the virus to Australia, no visas will be issued to tourists for the time being, and only to a limited extent to people travelling to Australia for family visits. A travel ban is in place until further notice, except for travellers with Australian citizenship or permanent resident status and their immediate family members, and for people who have a very urgent reason for travelling. Individuals who have been in New Zealand for the past two weeks are also exempt from the ban. Because of the travel ban, backpackers cannot travel to Australia with a Working Holiday Visa or an eVisitor visa for the time being.
Negative consequences for fruit and vegetable growers
The absence of backpackers and other tourists who are allowed to work in Australia causes major problems for the fruit and vegetable sector. Growers who rely on travellers as seasonal workers are struggling with a massive staff shortage. According to Australiaʼs largest agricultural association, there is a shortage of 26,000 workers. As a result, millions of crops are lost, which in turn leads to higher food prices in Australian supermarkets. Prices for fruit and vegetables could rise by as much as 29 per cent in the longer term.
The federal government has tried to encourage Australians to work in rural areas with subsidies, but without the desired result. Only 350 people applied for the government subsidy programme. In the state of Victoria, there was even the idea of using prisoners to pick fruit from farms, but this proposal was immediately rejected by the growers. The labour shortages come on top of an already difficult situation for the agricultural sector in Australia. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Australian farmers and growers had a hard time due to years of extreme drought and raging bushfires.
Applying for an Australian visa
Despite the travel restrictions, it is still possible to apply for an Australian visa. The Australian immigration service does take applications, but will probably only grant visas once the travel ban has been lifted. It is not yet known when this will be the case and when growers and farmers can count on backpackers again. The Australian airline Qantas expects to be able to operate commercial passenger flights from Europe to Australia starting October 2021. The question is whether this will be in time for growers and farmers, as the harvest season for many crops will be over by then.
Are you planning to travel to Australia after the coronavirus pandemic? Check which visa is suitable for your trip. British and Irish citizens under the age of 31 who want to work in Australia (as a fruit picker, for example) need a Working Holiday visa. People who only travel to Australia for a holiday and do not intend to work there should apply for an eVisitor visa. This visa is a lot cheaper and easier to apply for. While the Working Holiday visa costs about £300,-, the eVisitor visa costs £14.95. The Working Holiday visa usually takes several weeks to be granted. The eVisitor visa Australia, on the other hand, is granted in an average of five days.