The nationality imbalance in Australian hostels

February 20th, 2018 | | industry

Often, in Australian hostels there’s a joke that there must be very few young people left in Germany because they’re all in Australia. Turns out, there might be some truth to this perception. Every year, thousands of young people aged 18-30 enter Australia as Working Holiday Makers. In 2017 alone, over 175,00 Visa 417 and 462 were granted to over 40 nationalities. However, the balance of working holiday makers arriving from each country is disproportionate to the total population of their home countries. There are a number of economic and social reasons for this imbalance.

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection research and the Tourism Research Australia, International Visitor Survey June 2017, the leading countries for the number of working holiday makers were United Kingdom, Korea, and Germany, they make up 40% of all Working Holiday Makers (see graph below). However, this group only makes up 2.6% of total world population. On the other hand, China, United States, and Indonesia are some of the most populous countries in the world, making up around 26% of the total global population, yet they only account for 8% of the Working Holiday Makers in Australia. The number of young travellers coming to Australia from these larger countries is vastly disproportionate to their total population.

How is it possible that relatively small countries are sending over so many young working holiday makers? Part of this is due to social expectations and norms. In the United Kingdom and Germany, it is socially accepted to take a “gap year” in-between studies before heading off to university or starting a career. Because of this accepted practice, there are many resources and examples to make the journey an easy one. However, in the United States, there is social pressure to remain laser-focused on studies and careers without taking a break. Taking time off to travel is sometimes viewed as lazy, irresponsible, or frivolous. For Americans hoping to work and travel in Australia, they must overcome the potentially negative social perception.

Financial security and opportunity are also factors that may impact this imbalance in youth travellers. The top three countries for Working Holiday Makers rank high on economic opportunity for young people, according to the Global Youth Wellbeing Index. European millennials feel secure and report positive outlooks on their future, attributing a strong economy as part of this outlook. China and Indonesia fall into a lower category for youth economic opportunity, which might limit the ability of young people to participate in the visa program.

However, the trends show that this imbalance of population representation may have some shifts on the way. For example, Indonesia, one of the world’s most populous countries, experienced a 28% rise in the number of Working Holiday Makers from 2015-2016. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Korea all experienced small declines in the number of youth coming to Australia on a working holiday visa. Furthermore, some countries are capped for how many working holiday visas (462) Australia will grant. This applies to both China and Indonesia, which means that there are potentially more youth that would like to take advantage of the visa program, but are blocked from doing so by regulations. In a time when some countries are experiencing a decline in working holiday makers, the Australian government should consider increasing the limits imposed on other countries. These changes could eventually lead to a more balanced snapshot of the global population.

The current disparity between the population of working holiday makers and the global population by country is significant. There are many underlying factors that have caused this to occur, including youth financial security and social acceptance for taking time off to travel. Although changes are occurring slowly, it is unlikely that this phenomenon will become proportionate any time soon.

Sources: Home Affairs, Youth Index, PEW Research


One Response

  1. Joanna Burnet says:

    Just recently we had 16 backpackers here doing the training week – 10 were German. We do try not to get over-Germanned by putting a cap in some peak weeks – like September. However, we did have 10 nationalities in one week in November. We have a line of flags by the roadside so the passers by and locals can see who we have in residence – we had to put an extra pole up that week. We put a photo on to our Facebook with the flag line up.