Australia will waive visa application fees for working holidaymakers (A$495) and international students (A$630) in a bid to boost a labor shortage caused by the pandemic, if they can travel to the country within the coming weeks.
Australia's working holiday and work and holiday visa schemes are open to applicants from many countries (including the US, UK, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and many European nations) aged between 18 and 30 (or 18 and 35 for Canadian, French and Irish citizens).
The visas allow the holder to take up temporary jobs while in Australia to fund their trip. It's a popular route into the country for many young people, and while the visas are valid for one year, there is an option to extend them in many cases to two or even three years.
The government put a halt to the visa schemes when the pandemic broke out and borders were sealed shut. But earlier this month, amid COVID-fuelled labor shortages, the government reopened the program and is now making it easier for people to visit by offering financial incentives through a visa rebate scheme.
Speaking today, Australia's prime minister Scott Morrison said that people do not have to pay the A$495 (£262 /€313/US$357) visa application fees provided they arrive in the country within the next 12 weeks (that is 12 weeks from January 19). That means they will be able to apply for a full refund when they arrive in the country.
"If they turn up within the next 12 weeks, they will get their visa application fee rebated by the Department of Home Affairs. Anyone who applies for one and turns up within the next 12 weeks, they will also have their visa application fee rebated," Morrison said.
Students will get their A$630 (£332/€398/US$455) refunded by the government if they arrive within the next eight weeks to coincide with the start of the new school year for universities. Details on how applicants can apply for the refunds have yet to be announced.
According to Morrison, there are some 23,500 backpackers who have visas to come to Australia right now and 150,000 students.
"And my message to them is—come on down. Come on down now, because you’re wanted to come to Australia, you’ve got your visa.
"Move all the way around the country, and the same time join our workforce and help us in our agricultural sector, in our hospitality sector, and so many of the other parts of the economy that rely on that labour."
Morrison said the refund scheme is part of a Tourism Australia marketing program "to target backpackers and students to get them out".
Australia is currently only open to certain visa holders including working holidaymakers, skilled migrants, international students, and family visa holders. It's also open to tourists from New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and South Korea, as well as Australians living overseas. The rest of the world remains banned for now but it's likely that border restrictions will be eased in the coming months.
And while some states are open to fully vaccinated arrivals who test negative for COVID-19, others have additional restrictions in place such as quarantine. Check the latest entry rules ahead of your trip.
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