CANBERRA, April 2 — A World Bank report released on Monday has suggested Australia change its visa policy to make it easier for Pacific Islanders to work in the country.
The report called for Australia to abolish the three-month regional work requirement for holidaying backpackers.
Under Australia’s current laws, backpackers in the country on 417 working holiday visas can extend their visa by one year if they complete 88 days of work in the regional, mining, fishing or construction industries in a regional area.
The World Bank report found that the program was also detrimental to the seasonal worker system with seasonal workers outnumbered by six to one in the agricultural sector.
The seasonal worker program brings workers from nine Pacific nations and Timor-Leste into Australia to work in horticulture.
An overwhelming majority of backpackers fill labour shortages in horticulture, spending their 88 days picking fruit on farms.
The program has been plagued by scandals surrounding the exploitation and underpayment of the backpackers who are dependent on their employers to extend their stay in Australia.
“The government provides an explicit incentive for backpackers to work in the agriculture industry by offering them a second-year visa extension conditional on them undertaking work in rural areas,” the report said.
“Eliminating the second-year visa extension for working holiday visa holders would remove the incentive in place for the 36,264 backpackers in rural areas, who predominantly work in horticulture.
“If all these positions were to go to Pacific Islanders, this would represent an additional 282 million Australian dollars (216.7 million U.S. dollars) in net annual income gains for the Pacific. This is equivalent to approximately 26 percent of the Australian government’s entire aid budget for the region.”