Visa changes “much needed” as hospitality struggles for local workers

Visa changes making it easier for non-nationals to work in Australia will help bridge hospitality’s cavernous labour gap, says the head of Tourism Accommodation Australia.

The peak representative body has welcomed federal government changes to working holiday maker visas, CEO Carol Giuseppi saying the sector needs an injection of workers to remain competitive internationally.

Ms Giuseppi says the government’s announcement this week on increased flexibility of access to visas is “great news” for the tourism and accommodation sectors – and could not have come at a better time.

“There is a real need to fill the labour and skills gap created by growth in hotel investment and overall visitor numbers nationwide,” she said.

“With more than 270 hotels and 45,000 rooms in the development pipeline, 24/7 operations and high seasonality, particularly in regional areas, there is a need to attract more workers if we are to remain a competitive tourism destination.

“Backpackers help to fill the labour gap, and their personal spending drives the economies of many country and regional areas.”

The latest International Visitor Survey figures show a decline in backpacker visits, nights and expenditure for 2018 compared with the corresponding period in 2017, particularly in regional Australia.

The data records a drop of 10.7 percent in visitor nights and expenditure in the year to June 2018, despite overall growth of 1.4 percent in international visitor arrivals to Australia and a 4.53 percent growth in visitor expenditure.

Ms Giuseppi argues more should be done to ensure Australia is an attractive destination for working holidays.

“While we have the most comprehensive working holiday maker (WHM) program, our 2018 visa benchmarking study showed WHM visa fees (A$450) are higher than most competitor destinations and, with annual consumer price index increases, this gap will continue to widen,” she said.

“Apart from explicit visa application fees, the real costs of visas include visa application centre fees, courier fees for paper-based applications and the passenger movement charge.

“The passenger movement charge is the second highest departure tax in the world, and because it does not vary with distance, it is the highest departure tax on short-haul sectors.”

She did, however, praise the Morrison government’s action to ease working holiday restrictions, saying: “We welcome the government’s continued support of the WHM program which recognises its importance not only to the agricultural sector but to the visitor economy”.

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