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Visa decision spells hope for sector in crisis

Government's ploy aimed at plugging critical staff shortages

Part of a strategy to counter workforce shortages, and in particular in the crisis-hit hospitality sector, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has laid out the welcome mat to international students with his government offering to rebate student visa application fees

Targeting a potential 150,000 students who would normally pay $630, the fee rebate offer will be in place for the next 12 weeks and is expected to cost $55 million.

The government is also hoping to entice a further 23,500 backpackers who currently hold working holiday visas back to Australia.

Tourism Australia has also been brought into play with the national tourist office being allocated $3 million to launch a marketing campaign to lure both groups back to the country.

The Prime Minister said the move was a thank you to students for coming back and continuing to choose Australia.

“But we also want them to come here and be able to be filling some of these critical workforce shortages,” he said.

Those sectors suffering critical workforce issues include hospitality which has faced severe shortages since March 2020 when the pandemic began to take hold on international travel.

“My message to them is come on down,” the Prime Minister said.

“Come on down now because you wanted to come to Australia, you’ve got your visa, we want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here in Australia, move all the way around the country.

“And the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labour, that workforce right now.

Mr Morrison said that any student or backpacker turning up within the next 12 weeks will get their visa application fee rebated by the Department of Home Affairs.

Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ACCI), chief executive Andrew McKellar said the move will encourage international students and working holiday makers to return to Australia and help fill acute shortages across several industries.

However, he said, the continued ban on foreign tourists, business travellers and other barred international arrivals must be reconsidered to get the country back to business.

“Prior to the pandemic, up to 400,000 international students and 250,000 working holiday makers were employed per year in Australia,” he said.

“The rebates announced today will be critical in filling labour and workforce gaps, particularly in our tourism and hospitality industries.

“Working holiday makers are not only some of our highest yielding visitors, spending $3.2 billion a year before the onset of the pandemic, but they make up a substantial part of the very workforce we need right now.

“Similarly, supporting the return of international students will be fundamental to securing Australia’s economic recovery.  Prior to the pandemic half a million international students were enrolled in our universities, contributing $40 billion to the economy.

“With businesses confronting the worst labour and skill shortages in more than three decades, the changes to ensure that working holiday makers and international students can efficiently and affordably come to Australia and plug shortfalls across the economy are welcome.”

Australian Chamber-Tourism Chair John Hart called on the Federal Government to expedite the reopening of international borders to all fully vaccinated international travellers, a move that will provide the tourism industry with the confidence to resume their operations.

“Given the high rates of community transmission and the protocols for international arrivals to Australia, we must immediately end the ban on international tourists, business travellers and other barred international arrivals, to support those businesses that are reliant on these arrivals,” Mr Hart said.

“Opening the borders last month to international students, skilled migrants, working holiday makers and other important visa holders who have to be vaccinated and tested before they arrive has demonstrated that international arrivals pose very little additional risk.

“Australian Chamber-Tourism is urging the Federal Government to undertake a broader review of visa pricing arrangements. Offering fee-free tourist visas will enhance Australia’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.

“Businesses reliant on international travellers are only just holding on with very little government support to keep them going. They are desperate for some good news.”

Mike Parker-Brown

Mike Parker-Brown is a UK-trained and qualified journalist and an award-winning travel communicator with more than 30 years experience. Since 2002, Mike has worked as a freelance writer and PR consultant providing his services to major organisations in Australia and internationally in the tourism, aviation, hospitality, recruitment and export marketing sectors.

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