Tuesday 25 October 2016

Concern for Australia's seasonal industry as Irish backpacker figures plummet

Published 08/01/2016 | 12:30

Concerns are growing for Australia's seasonal economies
Concerns are growing for Australia's seasonal economies

Operators are concerned about the availability of seasonal workers in Australia after the number of Irish backpackers dropped almost sixty per cent in one year.

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In 2013/14 almost 12,000 Irish people were granted a working holiday visa but in 2104/15 the same visa was granted to only 5,000. Applications peaked in 2011/12 with 19,492 visas granted and 18,200 people departing Irish shores, according to the CSO.

A total of 23,205 Irish citizens were holders of temporary visas in Australia in June of last year, down 44 per cent from two years prior.

A rise in popularity for working visas to places like Canada and increased job opportunities in Ireland are being pinpointed as the reason behind the massive drop by fellow backpackers, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Speaking to the SMH, backpacker Danny Keenan said that the trend of leaving Ireland to go to Australia has "slowed down".

"When I was a teen, every second week there was an Australia-leaving party".

Fewer Irish visa holders are opting to extend their visa for a second year, with applications for extensions dropping by more than 25 per cent to just 5,233.

Richard Mulcahy, CEO of industry body AUSVEG said that Australia is "facing a very real threat to the future of our industry".

"The working holidaymaker program, and especially the second-year visa extension for regional work, is a huge contributor to the on-going productivity and profitability of the Australian vegetable industry", Mulchahy said.

Bars, cafés and restaurants are suffering the hardest, with those in the hospitality sector reporting a 38,000 worker shortage. Deloitte Access Economics reported that this could increase to 120,000 within four years.

Approval for the subclass 457 visa, (employer-sponsored) also dropped in the same time period. The number of Irish workers granted this visa dropped by 43 per cent to 3,760. However, 6,171 Irish workers became permanent residents, up 18 per cent.

Numbers of backpackers coming from South Korea and Taiwan saw similar declines in the same year and the total number of visas granted has seen a five per cent drop each year. Just 226,812 people were granted the working holiday visa last year, according to figures by the immigration department.

CEO of the Tourism and Transport forum, Margy Osmond, told the SMH that the increasing cost of the visa and the decision to abolish the $18,000 tax-free threshold for travellers will worsen these figures.

In contrast to the official figures, a number of reports have claimed that the figure of undocumented Irish - who are living in Australia without the required documentation - is increasing.

The number of Irish people becoming permanent residents of Australia also increased, up 18 per cent from June 2013 to June 2014, totalling 6,171 workers and their families. 2,843 Irish people became citizens of Australia in the same period, up 1,000 from the previous year.

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