The Brexit Bounce: How Australia’s Farm Labour Woes May Worsen With The Loss Of UK Backpackers

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The removal of a rural work requirement for extending Working Holiday Visas “could severely damage the workforce,” according to agriculture organisations.

Rosie Broadfoot immigrated to Australia from the UK in November 2019 on a working holiday visa. She was seeking opportunities to enjoy the Aussie sun for an extra year or two while helping businesses with some additional workforce.

“I went there [on a farm] just to get my second and third year,” she explained. “I was so focused on that that I would have still done it even if I didn’t get paid for it.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever regret working on a farm. I learnt a lot from it. And I met a lot of incredible people. But to be honest, [without the pressure] I wouldn’t have been that interested…”

In the end, though, Broadfoot would end up working in locations around Australia where few other Australian workers go. She would have worked as a fruit picker somewhere in Tully or Gayndah, grafting in Tasmania, and even serving on a fishing boat in Darwin. She helped to fill a labour shortage in a thinly stretched labour pool in a vast, highly urbanised nation like many of her fellow countrymen.

After the Coalition government signed the UK-Australia free trade agreement last year, British backpackers will no longer need to spend 88 days of hard labour on a farm to extend their working holiday visas. The requirements will not become active until 2024, at the earliest, as the deal has not yet gone into effect.

The Coalition backed a south-east Asian worker agriculture visa to fill the gap, but no workers had arrived by the time of the federal election. The Labor Party got rid of the visa and offered a particular agriculture stream through the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) scheme.

But this, too, has not begun to address the workforce needs on farms.

The solution to Australia’s agricultural labour woes may worsen with the loss of UK backpackers. With an aging population and a high Australian dollar, the number of young people wanting to do a working holiday Down Under has decreased. In 2018-19, there was a 3% drop in UK visitors from the year before.

The loss of backpackers will also have a flow-on effect on other sectors. For example, one in eight tourism businesses in Queensland relies on working holiday visa holders.

Australia needs workers, and the UK’s Brexit vote has made it harder to get them. The number of young people wanting to come to Australia on a working holiday has decreased since the Brexit referendum.

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