Far North wants more Asian backpackers to come to work
THE tourism industry is leading a push to allow more young Asian backpackers to come to Australia to work.
The call comes as the number of working holidaymakers from traditional sources, such as the UK, Europe and the US are dropping off.
Tourism and Transport Forum deputy chief executive Trent Zimmerman said more countries should be eligible for working holiday-maker visas to better reflect the focus on Asia.
"WHM visas are not available to the massive markets of China and India, or to our near neighbour the Philippines, which boasts an outstanding service culture," he said.
"In addition, while we welcome the recent announcement that the cap for WHM visas in Indonesia has been lifted to 1000, just 100 WHM visas are available to Malaysians and 500 to Thais.
"These should be expanded dramatically without a reciprocal requirement."
Mr Zimmerman said the age limit should be removed and backpackers who worked in tourism and hospitality in regional areas should be able to apply for a 12-month visa extension.
He said young travellers provided a flexible and mobile source of labour for the tourism and hospitality sectors, where there were already 36,000 job vacancies, many in regional areas. "With many of our traditional WHM markets experiencing weak economic conditions, raising the barriers to entry will discourage visitation and reduce the dispersal of backpackers, impacting negatively on tourism businesses struggling to find staff," he said.
Tolga Country Lodge co-owner Gina Crameri said there was no need for more farm workers but there was a need to fill shortages in the tourism and hospitality sectors in many rural and regional areas.
"Finding chefs and other good staff is a problem," she said.
Accor Hotels group chief operating officer Simon McGrath said the scheme was important for Accor, which had 12 hotels in the Far North with more than 700 workers, to attract staff, particularly in regional and remote areas.
"It is disappointing that visa charges have been increased substantially, but this would be compensated by an opening up of the scheme and a general relaxation of visa requirements, particularly for the rapidly emerging China and India markets," he said.
A response to the proposals is being sought from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.
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