Australia Offers Visa Fee Refund to Entice Students, Backpackers Back Down Under

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs.
January 20, 2022Updated: January 20, 2022

The Australian federal government has announced a series of measures to lure over 170,000 student and working holiday visa holders back into the country to fill labour shortages.

Offshore student and working holiday visa holders, as well as new applicants, will have their visa application fees refunded upon arrival.

All student visa holders who arrive within the next eight weeks will have their estimated $630 (US$453) application fee refunded.

The eligibility period for working holiday visas will be longer, at 12 weeks, with an approximate rebate of $495 (US$355) for the application charge.

“That is a thank you to them for coming back and continuing to choose Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Jan. 19. “We also want them to come here and be able to be filling some of these critical workforce shortages, particularly those who are working and being trained in health care, aged care, those types of sectors. That will be incredibly helpful.”

There are currently around 150,000 student and 23,500 working holiday visa holders offshore, with the rebate scheme expected to cost $55 million (US$49.5 million).

“And my message to [backpackers] is—come on down,” Morrison said. “Come on down now, because you’re wanted to come to Australia, you’ve got your visa. We want you to come to Australia and enjoy a holiday here in Australia.”

In addition, the federal government previously allowed student visa holders to work additional hours in critical industries, but that will now be extended to all sectors of the economy.

There will also be no limit to the length of time working holiday makers can work for the same employer, effective immediately until the end of 2022.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) said the measures taken were “critical steps” to keeping shelves stocked and supply chains functioning.

“We welcome the government’s sensible changes to boost the workforce, keep businesses functioning and ensure Australians can access the products and services they need.

“These changes combined with the sensible adjustments to isolation and close contact rules will help address critical workforce shortages in the short term,” BCA Executive Director Jess Wilson said.

The Independent Tertiary Education Council of Australia (ITECA) cautiously welcomed the announcement and said they were committed to working with the government and independent education providers to ensure the protection of students’ interests.

ITECA CEO Troy Williams said the visa rebate was great news and encouraged international students to “get on a plane now.” However, he was more cautious about the changes to work hours.

“While we support the ability for overseas students to work longer hours during the pandemic, our priority and the focus of our members remains on ensuring students meet the obligations associated with their study,” Williams said.