If you think you missed out on the "gap year" or working holiday experience because of the global lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, we have some good news.
Since Australia reopened its borders in 2022 it has been experiencing labor shortages in a host of industries. In response, the government has just increased the eligibility for some working holiday makers from 30 to 35 years to attract more workers Down Under.
And there's more: the range of jobs available to working holiday makers in Australia means taking a year out to work and travel doesn't have to derail your career (something the gap year naysayers might tell you).
Keen to spend a year or two living, working and traveling in Australia in 2023 or 2024? Read on for everything you need to know to make it happen.
What are the new rules for working holiday makers in Australia?
As of 1 July 2023, citizens of the UK, Canada, France, Denmark, Italy and Ireland are eligible to apply for an Australian Working Holiday visa up to the age of 35. For the other 40 countries participating in the program, the 30 year age restriction remains for now.
Industry groups are calling on the Australian government to go further and lift the age of working holiday visas to 50 years to help plug skills gaps, especially in management level roles, but nothing has been decided yet.
Some of the requirements for extending the visa beyond an initial 12 months (such as undertaking farm work) will also be dropped for British passport holders from 1 July 2024 as part of the Australia–UK Free Trade Agreement.
Commenting on the changes, Sally Cope, Tourism Australia’s Regional General Manager for UK & Northern Europe said, “Every year, more than 35,000 young Brits head to Australia to work and play, the Aussie way.
"Our research reveals close to half of 25- to 34-year-olds are considering working abroad to advance their careers, so this five-year age range increase presents a world of openings to these young professionals.
"Australia also offers an incredible lifestyle – where else can you be in the boardroom at 4pm and by the beach an hour later? We’re sure there are many 30–35-year-olds who thought they had missed their chance to live and work Down Under, who will jump at this exciting prospect; and Australia is ready to welcome them.”
So, is there a downside? Well, while eligibility has increased – so has cost of the Working Holiday Maker visa, rising from AU$510 to AU$640 from 1 July. Perhaps it's a government incentive to stick around for longer and make the most of the opportunities in Australia.
How long does it take to get a working holiday visa?
Provided you have an up-to-date passport, satisfy the age requirement (which varies by citizenship), have some savings, and meet the health and character requirements for a Working Holiday visa, you can apply immediately.
As long as you have all the necessary documentation ready, visa approvals can be turned around in less than a day.
How long can I work in Australia?
To extend your initial 12-month Australian Working Holiday visa for a second year (and even a third year), most travelers need to do at least 12 weeks (3 months) in a "specified industry" and/or region. These are places where workers are most needed in Australia: farming, fisheries, construction or remote-area tourism gigs.
However this requirement is changing in 2024 for British travelers thanks for a reciprocal agreement between the two nations.
The former rule that you can only work for one employer for a maximum of six months is being reinstated, after a temporary amnesty. This was a condition industry wants removed, particularly in more remote locations where it's harder to attract good staff. Workers take time to learn the ropes, and to build strong relationships.
To further entice willing workers, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s tourism group is encouraging employers to stump up the visa fees (AU$640) to get people over to fill their job vacancies.
If you're applying for a job from home while applying for your visa, there's no harm in asking your future employer to help you out with the fee.
What jobs are there in Australia for working holiday makers?
Matthew Heyes of Backpacker Job Board, Australia’s largest recruitment website for working holiday makers, says, “Job opportunities for working holiday makers are widespread, covering a range of different sectors. There are fruit-picking…and other agricultural-based [jobs], which are really popular because these roles contribute to the second- and third-year visa-extension program. The roles are also seasonal and offer the opportunity to earn well while the seasons are high.
“Other cornerstones of backpacker employment include au pair work, plus sales and marketing positions as well as other broader hospitality jobs.”
A strong Australian dollar is another key incentive for workers who might be seeing their local currency tanking. Work hard enough and save well, and you could go home with some major dollars in the bank – that is, if you don’t spend it all having the time of your life traveling around Australia.
I'm over 40, can I work in Australia for a year?
The proposal to extend the maximum age for the Working Holiday visa to 50 has certainly piqued a lot of interest. The mid-career sabbatical – sometimes called an “adult gap year” – was already gaining traction before the pandemic.
The global shutdown also saw a lot of people reviewing what is important in life. Taking a year out from an established career to work, travel and meet new people is just the kind of radical change many now crave in place of being tied to a screen all day.
Matthew Heyes sees the potential for extending the age for working holiday . “It will completely change what it is to be a backpacker,” he says. “No longer will it be confined to the youth travel market. We could see a more diverse profile of traveler in Australia’s adventure travel sector. I believe this could be a huge win for Australia.
“If it goes ahead, it will also introduce a workforce to Australia who have a broad wealth of skills and qualifications. Their career experience would benefit the Australian economy.”
Doing something really different – whether working outside or in a public-facing role – somewhere as friendly, safe and beautiful as Australia could be the adventure of a lifetime. No matter your age.