The Australian Council of Trade Unions is pressing for a moratorium on the working holiday visa program because of the scale of entry-level youth unemployment in Australia.
The call comes as Australia’s Work and Holiday visa agreement with Greece is still waiting to be signed off, after extended negotiations over its arrangements.
ACTU president Ged Kearney told reporters this week that the government should review signing off working holiday agreements with new countries such as Greece and other European countries suffering economic difficulties.
“If you look at just unemployed teenagers [in Australia] who are looking for full time work – that’s up to 19 years of age – it’s rising well toward 25 per cent unemployment,” Ms Kearney said.
“Before we just jump into … saying well, let’s open up the holiday visa program for example and allow all those young people in Europe to come to Australia, we have to stop and just have a think about what impact that will have on our economy; what the impact of that is on our young people.”
Monash University demographer Dr Bob Birrell says that he agreed with Ms Kearney.
Dr Birrell said that major changes were needed following a 30 per cent increase in the number of young foreigners coming to Australia on working holiday visas in the last year.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of working holiday visas.
“There’s a vast imbalance between the number of working holiday makers coming here versus Australians who are taking advantage of the reciprocal rights overseas.”
Dr Birrell added that the Australian government should stop signing new working holiday agreements with about a dozen new countries – one of which is Greece.
“They’re showing no concern whatsoever for the plight of young [Australian] people who are disadvantaged by this,” he said.
Dr Birrell told Neos Kosmos that because the visa under discussion with Greece is the Work and Holiday visa – which will be capped (in Greece’s case initially to 500 per year) – the impact of its introduction could not be compared to the kind of numbers coming from Taiwan and South Korea under the Working Holiday program – which is uncapped.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian government would continue to offer working holiday visas for the good of the economy.
“The facts are that tourists coming to Australia on working holiday maker visas create jobs for Australians,” he said.
“They are good … for jobs and good for our regions.”
The gross contribution of the total number of working holiday makers (WHM) to expenditure in the Australian economy was estimated to be $1.8 billion when research was last conducted in 2009.
Mr Morrison said that working holiday visa holders are protected by the same workplace laws – including the Fair Work Act – as Australian citizens and permanent residents.
“The WHM program is not a work visa and undertaking work is an optional part of a WHM’s stay,” he said.
“WHMs are therefore not subject to the direct sponsorship requirements of Australia’s more structured skilled migration visa programs.”
Greece’s Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Mr Haris Dafaranos told Neos Kosmos that he will meet with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on December 4 to discuss a number of issues around migration between Greece and Australia, including the long-awaited Work and Holiday visa agreement.