Australia’s decision to extend stay of backpackers to do agri labour draws criticism

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The Australian government has announced that it will allow backpackers and seasonal workers to stay in the country for longer durations to let them fill labour shortages in the agricultural sector.

Backpackers who are visiting Australia — usually youngsters from Europe and other places —  will be now able to triple the length of their stay if they do extra agricultural work. They would not have to leave jobs every six months.

The country had a rule which allowed backpackers to extend their one-year visa by another year if they undertake three months’ work in areas such as agricultural, mining, fishing or construction industries.

Estimates say that some 419,000 backpackers visited Australia last year.

The backpackers are a competition to labourers from the Pacific island nation, who come and work in Australian farms under a seasonal worker program.

The new changes by the government will allow them to stay three months longer,  and lift the age limit for working holiday visas to 35.

The changes, however, have been criticised by Pacific island nations, who feel the relaxation for backpackers will take away jobs for their jobs, who have fewer employment opportunities compared to those from other countries.

A World Bank report had estimated that the A$282m in net annual income gains for the Pacific Islanders through the programme was equivalent to approximately 26% of the Australian government’s entire aid budget for the region.

Advocating more boost for the programme, the Bank said that it provided regular income to families in the Pacific as well as a reliable labour pool for Australian farmers.

The backpackers programme has been marred by scandal over the abuse, underpayment and exploitation, as the young backpackers are dependent on the farmers to get certification for the extension of their visa.

Recently a report found that a third of backpackers in Australia were paid less than $12 an hour, and they were owed billion dollars in unpaid wages.

The seasonal employment programme too has faced such problems, often over exploitation resulting in the death of labourers.

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