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WHM – 88 days, how important is it?

October 30th, 2018 | | 88 days

Working Holiday Makers, or Backpackers, are critical to getting fruit and vegetables harvested in Australia and any reduction in the number of these workers available or changes to the countries they come from can have major implications for growers.

So where do backpackers come from, and how many of them come to Australia each year?

The numbers fluctuate from year to year and are influenced by issues such as the strength of the economies in the countries of origin, the $AU exchange rate, and competition from countries such as New Zealand and Canada. While total backpacker numbers are important, the most relevant statistic for the horticulture industry is the numbers who do their „88 days” to gain a 12 month visa extension. While total backpacker numbers have declined since 2012/13 it is interesting to note that since the change in 2016/17 (allowing 462 visa holders to obtain an extension by doing specified work in northern Australia), over 3,000 of these workers are now gaining an extension.

While total backpacker numbers are in steady decline since the peak which occurred in 2012/13, it is interesting to note that the TOTAL number of people getting a visa extension has INCREASED when compared to 2012/13 or last year (table 1).

2012/13  2016/17
TOTAL WHM VISA GRANTS – 417 Visa  210,369  157,858  152,622 
TOTAL WORK & HOLIDAY VISA GRANTS- 462 Visa  9,017  34,097  32, 828 
COMBINED 417 & 462 VISA GRANTS  219,386  191,937  185,450 
TOTAL 2ND YEAR 417 VISA GRANTS (horticulture)  33,421  31,701  30,807 
TOTAL 2ND YEAR 462 VISA GRANTS  N/A*  409  3,339 
COMBINED 417 & 462 2nd VISA GRANTS  33,421  32,110  34,146 

Table 1 – Information on visa grants for the peak year of 2012/13, compared to the previous and current financial years. 

Analysis of the countries that 417 visa holders come from shows some interesting trends with the highest overall numbers of first and second year grants for the UK. However while there are large numbers of German first year visa grants, they do not appear in the top five countries for a second year extension. 

When looking at the lower numbers of the relatively new 462 visa, it is clear that USA is the largest sending country; however the largest numbers of second year grants go to Chinese workers, with 23% completing specified work, compared to only 6% of US visa holders (table 2). It is worth noting that 462 visa numbers are capped, limiting the growth of workers from countries where that cap has been reached, which includes China, Chile, Spain and Argentina, whereas the 417 visa is uncapped. Negotiations are currently underway to allow 462 visa holders to come to Australia from additional countries including Mexico, Brazil, India, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Andora, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia and the Philippines. 

As at 30 June 2018, there were 118,524 Working Holiday visa holders in Australia (first and second visas). This is a 2.0 per cent reduction in the number of Working Holiday visa holders in Australia compared to 30 June 2017. 

Source NHLIS.

2012/13  2016/17
TOP 5 COUNTRIES FOR 1ST YEAR 417 VISA GRANTS  UK (38,782) 

South Korea (29,614) 

Taiwan (28,599) 

Germany (26,687) 

France (22,539) 

UK (32,517) 

Germany (23,996) 

France (19,546) 

South Korea (18,400) 

Taiwan (14,309) 

UK(30,036) 

Germany (22,025) 

France (20,439) 

South Korea (18,145) 

Taiwan (14,659) 

TOP 5 COUNTRIES FOR 2ND YEAR 417 VISA GRANTS  UK (7,349) 

Ireland (7,300) 

Taiwan (7,162) 

South Korea (5,606) 

France (2,249) 

UK (7,811) 

Taiwan (7,330) 

South Korea (4,012) 

France (2,815) 

Japan (2,179) 

UK (7,716) 

Taiwan (6,698) 

South Korea (3,992) 

France (2,778) 

Italy (2,221) 

TOP 5 COUNTRIES FOR 1st YEAR 462 VISA GRANTS  N/A*  USA (7,745) China (5,000) Chile (1,500) Spain (1,000) Argentina (700)  USA(7,368),China (5,000), Chile (2,000), Spain (1,500), Argentina (1,400) 
TOP 5 COUNTRIES FOR 2ND YEAR 462 VISA GRANTS  N/A*  China (189), Chile (62), USA (47)Argentina (16)Spain (12)  China(1,155), Indonesia(562), USA (469), Chile (448), Argentina (175)