1 Week Until WWOOFing Ends [Government Rolls out Abrupt Change With No Notice]


1 Week Until WWOOFing Ends - Government Rolls out Abrupt Change With No Notice

A couple of months ago, news trickled out from Immigration and Border Protection in Australia, that there would be some changes to the eligibility requirements around 2nd year visas.

The rules have been as follows:

If you want to live and work in Australia for longer than a year you have to complete work on a farm or do some fruit-picking, for a total of 88 days. You must do it in certain postcodes, for a minimum of 7-8 hours per day, 5 days per week. You might earn well on some farms, and hardly any on others; it's not an ideal situation, rife with exploitation and various issues around piece rates and hourly wages.

The government expressed these new changes as being a remedy to the situation, but at the same time addressed WWOOFING (and all other voluntary work), where people work willingly, for no wages but usually (and are supposed to) receive accommodation and food. Its a great way to get your visa days as you often gain a myriad of experience, get to see the beauty of rural Australia, and most of all, unlock the chance to a 2nd year to spend in this amazing place.

A familiar sight for farm workers in Oz

The changes mentioned in May were that WWOOFING (or all other voluntary farm work) would no longer count in visa applications; so basically farmers would have to start to pay wages, or lose their labour-force. The reality is that many can't and won't, once this change comes in. But most felt comfortable that maybe they'd have enough time to make different arrangements, or at least welcome wwoofers for a bit longer. Many began planning for this change assuming it would be way in the future.

Back to where this is all fits in with the predicament that many backpackers now face; those of us who had spent weeks and weeks seeking paid fruit-picking work...well many of us have ended up WWOOFING, and quite happily I might add.

We love our placement. Our hosts care about us. They have given us a beautiful house, make sure we are well-fed and are very keen to aid us in every way possible to gain great farming experience and of course, get our vital visa days.

But that is all being pulled to a grinding stop. As of next week.

How come?

Well, on the 24th of August, upon checking the WWOOFING website for updates on the matter, something I do regularly since talk arose of changing the rules, I was rather shocked to find that the changes were indeed coming in, and within 7 days.

Changes were discussed first in May, and here we are, not quite 3 months down the line, and they role out this news abruptly and with little explanation or clarification.

It was believed that there would be at least 30 days notice provided to all whom these changes concern. Yet this was not adhered to.

A week seems like a ridiculously short amount of notice given to farmers and wwoofers alike.. And that's because it is. 

Farmers work off plans, as do working-holiday makers. Many of us have felt safe in the knowledge we were well on our way to securing our 88 days. 

Not so lucky....

On a personal note, myself and my partner, along with two others, have spent a month getting established on a beautiful farm, bonding with a family, finding our feet in our job roles, feeling happy and secure in the knowledge we would get another year in Australia, to now facing being back out on the soul-destroying job-hunt.

4 weeks it took to really get us settled here, and in 1 short week, that progress will mean nothing. 

The manner in which these changes have been brought in might be in the interest of those who have been mistreated or exploited whilst wwoofing or who are potentially going to be mistreated – yet providing 7 days notice means many happy volunteers will have to suddenly leave their positions in search of paid work.

Many will struggle to find work, many won't find any at all and many will have run out of time to secure a new job that will get them up to the 88 day requirement.

Furthermore, the harm to Australian business will be far-reaching.

Farms and agricultural enterprise across Australia will lose some if not all of their valuable workforce, people with whom they rely upon but whom they also have built strong and fulfilling relationships with. Farmers may then lose income due to uncompleted work. It's worth considering too, that May to November is the harvest season for much of Queensland, where we currently are, and to lose their labour now, well, it's unthinkable.

Many wwoofers will lose the promise of the days they believed they had ahead of them within their position. They may have foregone other paid work to remain in their wwoofing roles which they love so much. Many of us will be unable to secure paid work due to time limitations and the obvious sudden influx of workers coming onto the already flooded market of backpackers.

The chance of a visa gone for many who previously felt it was a certainty.

So Australia, what will you lose?

Over the coming days and weeks, your hard-working farmers and agricultural industry will lose their labour, productivity and income.

The tourism industry will lose 12 months of spending and tourism from those whom would have been able to stay had they been allowed to finish out their wwoofing stays and secure their 2nd year visa.

Fun on the farm...

Many working holiday-makers will be further discouraged toward agricultural work, despairing at the limited jobs available amid the mass of competition, not then bothering to even try to gain a 2nd year visa.

Lost workers, lost business, lost money, and worst of all, the most unrecoverable of things, faith, in the government, greatly diminished.

In reality, these sudden changes will discourage those whom wish to enjoy, share and most importantly, spend their money, in your country.

And it doesn't do much for a countries overall reputation if its government makes very unwelcome changes simply over-night, giving people no sense of security.

How can anybody confidently work, thrive, travel (and spend) in Australia if this is how it's government treats people?

The Solution?

Here I want to implore directly, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, the Hon Michaelia Cash, to think back to her original press release and it's title "Strengthening integrity in the Working Holiday programme".

She stated: 

“I recognise that the majority of operators are doing the right thing, however it is unacceptable that some employers have been exploiting vulnerable young overseas workers and damaging the reputation of this important social and cultural exchange programme". 

Well, Michaelia, I am addressing you from a beautiful property, a place that has become home, and a place that we will have to leave in a state of devastation this coming weekend, no longer able to work here as it won't count towards our visa days.

Despite their being not a whiff of exploitation, only admiration, our farm will lose out, and so will we.

If WWOOFING is to no longer be eligible within visa applications, which is a loss to many people, then to cut it short in this unfair manner, is simply adding injury to insult.

Please consider upholding the integrity of the good intent behind your initial public statement, by doing the following:

Add in a clause, which clearly states:

  • those whom began a wwoofing/voluntary/Helpx position prior to August 31st, and have completed the correct specified work, in the correct postcodes, for the correct amount of hours, and whom had the promise of working days after August 31st, (whether it be 5 or 55), can remain in these roles, and that all days worked after the 31st, and up until they leave, will then 100% qualify toward their 2nd year visa application.
  • No payslips or payment required. 

And this combined with the provision of a document completed by the wwoofing host and the workers themselves stating the date of commencement and expected end date of their voluntary work, submitted along with their 2nd year visa applications, all the potential harm the haste with which this change was put forward, can be prevented.

A simple and clear amendment within the policy, stated clearly on the immigration website and across the media, reassuring those who are willingly and safely working on farms, that they can have a chance to secure their visas via their current positions. They won't be suddenly forced out of their roles.

Farmers won't lose workers. Workers won't flood the already saturated market, itself complex and rife with problems. People won't lose out on the 2nd year visa. 

Farmers and working holiday makers alike will achieve the goals they so confidently set out on a short time ago.

Some faith might be recovered. 

Australia, well, it's economy won't lose out on all that it most certainly will if this basic clause is not added before August the 31st. 

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Hannah and Taran here. We hail from Southern England, where we met online and are now realizing our mutual passion for travel here at Nomad'erHowFar. We discuss Nomadic Living, Simplifying your Life and Long-term Travel, to empower, motivate and inspire our readers. Get to know us here!