Improving the Australian Working Holiday Visa

Earlier this year, news about the muru-D startup graduate, Disrupt was making its rounds due to one of their business partners being deported for not fulfilling a visa obligation. I won’t rehash what happened here, and instead urge you to read the original LinkedIn post posted by the founder.

I am very familiar with the visa programs that Chris is on which is the working holiday programs. These are essentially bilateral agreements between two countries allowing young people under 30 to live and work under certain conditions. These agreements are generally for the short-term, since your main reason to work is to supplement income while you travel in and around these regions.

As an Australian, I’ve had the opportunity to work in the UK and in Canada under these bilateral agreements. While the UK tightened its policies when I was living there (I was planning to go to Tier 2 but I was not successful), Canada currently has a very good process. You can graduate from the Canadian working holiday program and into the pool for an invitation for permanent residency in as little as a year.

Australia needs an overhaul

The Australian working holiday visa agreement (subclass 417) has some lessons to learn from Canada’s International Experience Canada visa and the UK’s Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme visa.


The current limitations are as follows:

1. Only being able to live for up to 12 months.

2. Only being able to work for up to 6 months.

3. For the first visa, only being able to apply while outside of Australia.

4. For the second visa (to apply upon the completion of the first), only being able to apply after completing three months of specified work in regional Australia.

Here’s my proposal – a two-year working holiday visa

Australia should match both the UK and Canada in its working holiday visa conditions. That means an open-work permit to live and work in the country 2 years.

Australia should have an ‘applicant stream’ available to graduate into another visa class should one decide to live and work in the country for longer. The visa class can either be a longer option that is still temporary but can lead to permanent residency. Or it can be a direct stream into a permanent residency application.

I agree with the motivation behind doing three months of specified work in regional Australia. I lived in and grew up in regional Australia. I believe this requirement should instead be optional. However, applicants that do meet this requirement should be rewarded with additional ‘visa points’ if they decide to graduate into another visa class in Australia.

What’s in it for candidates and Australian businesses?

Businesses have the opportunity to tap into a more global talent pool. They can do this without having to touch the red tape associated with the standard visa sponsorship pathways.

One of the red tape that I have in mind is businesses sponsoring a worker under the Temporary Work (Skilled) subclass 457 visa. Earlier, I was posting a comment to an Australian-based recruiter and also to a job-seeker about a post concerning sponsoring a potential candidate.

This visa subclass provides candidates the freedom of working for that business for up to four years. Which is great. However, the burden of proof is either on the candidate to convince a business to sponsor them or on the candidate to completely follow through with the sponsorship path from start to finish.

If a candidate decides to forego the sponsorship opportunity, or if the business payoff to sponsor ended up being disappointing, then the business will probably be less inclined to consider future sponsorship opportunities with others.

The benefit of a two-year working holiday visa, already available in Canada and the UK, is that it opens up the doors for young, emerging talent in the countries that have these bilateral agreements to work for Australian businesses.

Instead of being restricted to 12 months, I propose that young people should instead have 2 years to build up their global and professional skill while contributing to the Australian economy. It will also give them the opportunity to travel in and around Australia, New Zealand and the nearby Asia-Pacific regions.

The Australian Government to review the Working Holiday Visa program

Recently, the Australian Government issued out a call of submissions to stakeholders in regards to this visa program. You can read all the submissions here from a variety of companies such as Fragomen, Cotton Australia, YHA and the NSW Business Chambers.  Free text comments from other individuals, organizations and businesses can be read here. The submissions must also address the issue of exploitation and protections for vulnerable workers. The submissions also address a 2015-2016 Budget proposal in regards to changing in the tax status for those under this arrangement.