WHV taking or creating Australian jobs?

August 13th, 2014 | | industry

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 2.15.50 pmThe subject of whether working holiday makers and students are taking jobs from Australians was spotlighted in the media again this week, when Bob Birrell from Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban research hit out once again against what he calls ‘Australia’s lax immigration rules’, saying they are fuelling an oversupply of job seekers who are taking jobs from Australians.

The Byte caught up with Dr Jeff Jarvis, director of the Graduate Tourism Program at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, who disagrees with Birrell, saying that working holiday makers are crucial for regional tourism economies in Australia.

“Although WHMs do find employment while in Australia, it is one dimensional to say they take jobs from Australians, in fact they actually create jobs within the economy. What has been overlooked in the current immigration debate is the number of jobs WHMs create due to their expenditure. This is particularly true in regional Australia as WHMs travel widely in Australia, more than most other tourists,” Jarvis told The Byte.

According to an Evaluation of Australia’s Working Holiday Maker (WHM) Program conducted by the former Department of Immigration and Citizenship in 2009, the gross contribution of the total number of 134,388 WHMs to expenditure in the Australian economy in 2007-08 was estimated to be $1.8 billion.

“The study identified that WHMs are actually positive for domestic employment, with every 100 WHM visas generating 6.3 full time jobs for Australians,” said Jarvis.

“Forty per cent of all the jobs done were in regional areas, the largest share being farm hands and fruit pickers. This does suggest that WHMs are providing a very useful additional labour force to a specific region/occupation/industry that is struggling to find good workers.”

According to Federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce (The Byte, 16 July 2014) there is a large shortage in Australia’s agricultural workforce in regional areas, and jobs that Australians do not want to do, therefore streamlining working holiday maker visas is an option for improving the workforce.

Birrell, co-author of Monash University’s recently released ‘Immigration and Unemployment in 2014’, and a vocal critic of the Australian Government’s visa policies for a number of years, maintains overseas workers’ visas are being granted at the expense of Australian-born and overseas-born residents.

“As of May 2014, the number of overseas-born persons aged 15 plus in Australia, who arrived since the beginning of 2011, was around 709,000. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey, 380,000 of these recent arrivals were employed as of May 2014. Over the same three years, the net growth in jobs in Australia is estimated by the ABS to have been only 400,000. This means that these recent overseas-born arrivals have taken almost all of the net growth in jobs over this period,” according to Birrell.

Birrell says successive governments have allowed the pool of temporary residents to access the Australian labour market (including Working Holiday Makers and students) and to prolong their stay in Australia by churning from one visa to another. 142,000 students did so in 2012-13, including 28,484 who were granted a tourist visa.

Henry Sherrell, previously employed with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and also Migration Council Australia, and commentator on immigration matters, says he finds Birrell’s research misleading.

“From experience, the authors know a report like this will reach a broad audience. Their message provides a simple answer to the wrong question: The government is at fault because there are too many migrants in the labour market. The authors use this research to push a singular, particular message: to limit further immigration to Australia.

“In fact, this is likely not the case at all. Bob Birrell knows about how net migration operates and should have done better to justify these claims. Mistakes have been made in immigration policy – particularly in student policy which Birrell helped document – but debates over the labour market where passions run high should be argued on evidence grounded in rigorous analysis, not numbers thrown together in haste.”


The Evaluation of Australia’s Working Holiday Maker (WHM) Program can be downloaded here:


Bob Birrell’s ‘Immigration and Unemployment in 2014’ report can be found here:

Written by Kris Madden

Do you think working holiday makers are taking jobs from Australians? Have your say.




2 Responses

  1. Joanna says:

    No, they don’t take jobs from Australians. The Department of Immigration produced statistics a few years ago that every 100 backpackers produces 6.3 jobs for Australians – perhaps Birrel ought to read their paper and reasoning.