Farm community splits over backpacker visa

Working holiday visa reforms, Chinese fast-track visas and Home Affairs' $4.9m sheet of paper.

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Farmers split on backpacker visa

One month ago, significant changes were made to the backpacker visa subclasses 417 (think UK, French and some Asian backpackers) and 462 (more developing nations, capped in number). More countries were added and a third year of work was made available to visa holders.

On top of this, David Coleman’s office flagged on Tuesday that it wanted to expand the scheme to 13 more countries.

This week’s first story cited in-principle support from the National Farmers’ Federation but also concerns from experts about the expansion.

That prompted a response across radio, Australian media and the international press.

Yesterday Emma Germano from the Victorian Farmers’ Federation emerged as a critic of the expansion, and emphasised the need for a specific visa for agricultural workers.

A woman stands in front of a row of crops.

It’s a compelling immigration debate, particularly given the popularity of the backpacker visa has been waning. Interest from backpackers from the UK, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong on the 417 has dropped considerably in the past five years.

However, in the same period the 462 program has grown to almost make up for the 417 decline. The changes in July, plus the mooted expansion, are likely to continue this trend. That means the farm sector may become increasingly reliant on workers from less developed countries.

People of Australia

ABC reported that a group of 50 visitors from Spain's Basque Country visited north Queensland, some returning to a land they left as children when their parents returned home.

What else happened

Policy

Partner visa rules were in the spotlight($) for about a day, before the criticisms were shot down ($) by the migration industry:

Immigration professionals yesterday dismissed claims that the rules for obtaining a partner visa in Australia were so “weak” that bogus couples were using them in place of other visas with tougher entry requirements.

The Adelaide Advertiser’s Jade Gailberger reported ($) about the latest bridging visa figures (the data is available here):

More than 205,000 foreigners were waiting for a visa decision in June, up 29,400 at the same time in 2018. It follows an increase in the number of applicants in the March quarter, up 34,367 from March 2018.

The AFR reported WestConnex chief executive Andrew Head had called on the Government to broaden the diversity and experience of skilled migrants to help build Australia's infrastructure.

The increased migration of “low-skill” workers could contribute to poor pay growth at the lower end of the labour market, according to a Grattan Institute report covered by Paul Karp at The Guardian.

The report (pdf) highlighted the potential impact of international students in Australia on the labour market.

It also found that an increasing proportion of migration is relatively low-skill.

Also at The Guardian, Helen Davidson reported the Department of Home Affairs does not keep track of how many people claim asylum at Australian airports.

During Parliament, Labor sought the outcome of a $4.9 million review into the Department of Home Affairs. It received a single sheet of paper. Senator Kristina Keneally said:

"This is either the single most expensive piece of paper in the history of this chamber, or a blatant rejection of the will of the Senate by a minister who is allergic to scrutiny."

The Department claimed “the strategic review process delivered substantial and long-term benefits to the home affairs portfolio".

Jacinta Carroll from ANU’s National Security College argued a strong Home Affairs department was good for Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age published an investigation into Crown Casino, which made allegations that Chinese gamblers may have been given preferential visa treatment. There’s lots to this story, but this was a key point:

In Crown emails written in July 2013, it appears some Crown staff shopped around between different consulate offices on the basis that some had weaker vetting procedures. One email said applicants likely to be blocked by a certain Australian visa office in China because they did not “have good reputation or [have a] visa refusal record” should apply to a different consulate. In one email, Mr Chen said there was a risk consulate staff 'will view us as abusing the hotline' and it should only be used if 'hundreds of millions of dollars' are at stake.

The matter has been referred by the Government to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity for investigation. Crossbenchers wanted a separate parliamentary inquiry which would have been more public, but Labor and the Government voted against it. The issue is also receiving some international attention ($).

Population

RMIT ABC Fact Check tested Pauline Hanson’s claims that Australia's population growth was mostly the result of migration, and that this growth is underpinning the federal budget.

It found she was “close to the mark”.

People

Anna Patty’s series on migrant worker exploitation in the Sydney Morning Herald continued with a story about one of the staff at a Blue Mountains hotel facing deportation:

"Australia is known for culinary things," he said. "I came here ... to improve ... to learn more about [cooking] seafood, steaks, pastries, basic cutting skills and appetisers".

-chef Narendra Shetty

The local paper in Tamworth covered a citizenship ceremony.

SBS reported findings from research that found more time spent in Australia doesn’t necessarily lead to more personal well-being if skilled migrants don’t adapt to Australian culture.

Ben Schneiders at The Age reported that dozens of migrant farm workers from Vanuatu have won an important settlement after taking legal action for gross underpayment and mistreatment.

The world

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel outlined her plans to toughen up the UK's immigration system whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal.

SBS reported that Papua New Guineans will be able to travel to Australia more easily under changes being pursued by Prime Minister James Marape. 

Stephen Howes and Holly Lawton asked whether the Pacific Labour Scheme has been a flop.

New Zealand continues to discuss Australia’s proposed changes to character-based visa cancellation laws. One former minister said Jacinda Ardern was being hypocritical.

Boris Johnson backed an amnesty for half a million migrants who do not have proof of their right to stay in the UK.

And finally, Johnson continues to push ($) for a points-based immigration system. The pledge has been analysed by the London School of Economics and Political Science and Yahoo! Finance.

I’m working up a story on how Johnson’s call for points-based immigration may be out of step with Australia’s more recent trend towards employer sponsored visas. Please get in touch if you would like to be part of it. Just reply to this email.

Have a great weekend! Catch you next week.

Jackson