Working Holiday Makers

In this issue we follow the adventures of a young backpacker on the harvest trail. For working holiday makers (WHMs) it’s a great way to travel around Australia at your own pace and earn some money along the way, but it’s not always easy pickings as our young traveller soon discovered.

For many growers, WHMs are a valuable and convenient labour resource.  At certain times of the year they often have difficulties finding casual workers to help out during harvest times, or to attend to the many tasks required to keep the growing operation running smoothly.  And each year there are thousands of people following the harvest trail as a means to extend their working holidays. Little known is that these people also make a welcome and significant contribution to the national economy.

In a recent research summary on the Impact of International Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) on the Tourism Economy of Mildura in Regional Victoria, (, it was acknowledged that the WHM is one of the fastest growing sub-segments of international visitation to Australia. Long-term independent travel has now become a widely accepted rite of passage for young people and the WHM visa is a great facilitator of this in Australia. The WHM visa permits young international travellers aged between 18 and 30 from 19 countries the right to work and travel in Australia for up to 12 months. A second 12-month visa is available for WHMs who have worked in specified professions (such as fruit and vegetable picking) in regional Australia for 90 days. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09 the number of WHM visas issued increased by 79.8%, from 104,000 to 188,000. Over the same period, international visitation to Australia increased by just 4.5% and significantly, ‘non-backpacker’ visitation increased by just 3.3%. This growth in the popularity of the WHM visa runs counter-cyclical to the sluggish international arrival trends evident in the Australian tourism industry. A 2009 Department of Immigration and Citizenship study conducted by Tan et al estimated that each WHM spent $13,218 in Australia over an average 8-month stay, with the total value of the segment estimated at $1.8 billion. The study also identified that for every 100 WHMs arriving in Australia, 6.3 full-time jobs are created in the wider economy. Further information about working holiday visas and grower responsibilities can be found on the Dept. of Immigration and Citizenship website ( A valuable guide for WHMs is the National Harvest Guide, which outlines information on harvest work opportunities, working conditions, transport and accommodation. Growers will also find it a useful guide for finding casual workers. The guide is updated monthly and is available free for download (, or in hard copy – phone the National Harvest Telephone Information Service 1800 062 332 and ask for a copy to be mailed to you.

Australia also has reciprocal working holiday visa programs with other countries, although there are a few extra requirements if you wish to have an extended working holiday in the USA, Turkey, Thailand, Chile, Indonesia and Malaysia. Those interested should contact the foreign mission of the country you wish to travel to for full details about application requirements.

Steven Carruthers

PH&G January/February 2011 – Issue 116