The age limit for working holiday visas for people from Canada and Ireland will also be lifted to 35.
The changes were announced by the government in an attempt to assist farmers with employee shortages, given the Nationals’ recent failed attempt to deliver a promised agricultural visa, or convince jobless Australians to pick fruit and tend to animals.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the visa reforms from a strawberry farm in Chambers Flat, in southeast Queensland.
Morrison said that although the top priority was to encourage Australians to fill agricultural roles, “we’ve also got to make sure that we actually get the job done”.
“And that’s why I am announcing today that we are making some changes to the way we work in the Working Holiday Visa Program and the Seasonal Worker Programs,” he said.
“We’ll be extending the areas that qualify as regional to support those who are on Working Holiday Visas, so they can get extensions into a second year visa.
“The second thing that we’re doing is we’re allowing people to get up to 12 months working with the same employer now, not just the six months.”
The changes should increase flexibility and ease for international workers wishing to extend their stay in the country.
The response by the Italian backpacker community has been mixed, however, with many emphasising that the possibility to increase their time in Australia to three years will only become effective after July 1, 2019.
“Pretty much nothing has changed then,” an Italian backpacker said online.
Cristian, another Italian backpacker, said that although it might ease the pressure, “I think the government did it because they need people on the farms”.
“If you want to get the three year visa you basically need to work on farms for one out of three years (three months plus six, which can become longer if people don’t work because of rain or sun or whatever),” he added.
The announcement comes at a contentious time in the history of Australia’s international workers, given the publication of the report ‘Wage Theft’ on Monday, which was the most comprehensive study to date on working conditions amongst international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants.
The report was authored by senior law lecturers Bassina Farbenblum, from the University of New South Wales, and Laurie Berg, from the University of Technology Sydney.
It revealed that almost a third of international workers earned $12 an hour or less, approximately half the casual minimum wage.
The survey also found that fruit and vegetable-picking and farm work were the biggest sectors of underpayment, with 15 per cent of workers earning $5 an hour or less.
Almost a third (31 per cent) earned $10 an hour or less.
It’s not the case for everyone, however.
Cristian indicated that he completed agricultural work in Western Australia, using heavy machinery and undertaking picking, pruning and thinning of plums, peaches, apples, nectarines and for a short while, avocados.
He said that he was fairly paid and that he met many interesting people.
He even said he’d do it all again.
Some academics have warned that the expansion of the backpacker scheme will negatively impact on the smaller Pacific Worker Scheme, with Pacific workers being driven out in favour of other international workers.
According to SBS, in November last year the Development Policy Centre found that there were just 250 Pacific workers in Australia for every 1,000 backpackers.
By contrast, New Zealand had nearly 3,000 Pacific workers for every 1,000 backpackers.
PM Scott Morrison has also announced that under the Pacific worker scheme, workers will be able to remain an extra three months, bringing their maximum working time up to nine months.
For more information on the changes to the Working Holiday Visa Program click here.