Fraud in Australia: How Backpackers are Cheating the Government

Rampant fraud is occurring in Australia by backpackers cheating a broken system. In order to obtain a second year visa, backpackers are required to do 88 days of farm or regional work in Australia, however, many have figured out they can get the visa another way, by lying about doing the work.

A Backpackers Paradise 

Australia has proven to be one of the most attractive destinations for backpackers from around the world. This is because Australia allows young people (ages 18-31) from many countries to come for a year to work and travel. There are two types of “Working Holiday” visas, the 417 and the 462, depending on what country you are from. Both of these visas allow for a second year provided the holder does 88 days of farm or regional work. The vast majority of the backpackers I have interacted with are either on a second year visa or intend to get one. This can be used right after the first visa expires or can be used later, as long as the person enters the country before they turn 32.

When I was working in a hostel bar in Darwin, I interacted with literally hundreds of backpackers. I began to notice a theme, people would brag that they got their second year visa without doing their farm or regional work, or only doing a portion of it. Some told me they paid farmers to fabricate their work. Some said they just made it up or lied about how much work they did when they filed the application. Some said they used the information from friends or fellow backpackers when filing out the application. None of them seemed concerned with admitting to fraud.

At first, I was skeptical and thought it anecdotal, but the more I heard the more I wondered just how much this was happening. Backpackers in hostels talk. The conventional wisdom is you can cheat and will most likely not get caught. I have heard people talking about this in hostels all over Australia. Even if you get investigated there is no consequence to my knowledge other than getting the second year visa denied. I have only heard of this happening a handful of times, usually from people who seemed to actually do the work. I think there should be real consequences such as deportation and a ban for attempting to defraud the government.

Why Work for the Second Year Visa

The reason the government requires people to do farm or regional work is due to the fact there is a labor shortage. Australians, much like Americans, are not lining up to do agricultural work. The work is incredibly hard. Long, hot days in the humidity picking fruits and vegetables is enough to break even the strongest man. But the money is good. A friend of mine was working on a pineapple farm in Queensland making $22/hour, and only paying $100 a week for accommodation.

Now this is not to say there is not abuse. There have been reports in the Australian media about farmers under paying and abusing workers. This article, ‘I wonder how long you’ll last’: Backpacker exploitation goes even deeperdiscusses this. But the majority of people I have met who have done farm work were paid well and treated fairly. The government recently began allowing those on the 462 visa to do hospitality or tourism work in the Northern Territory or northern Australia as well to qualify for the second year visa. This is also due to the labor shortages in those areas.

The government has clearly set up an incentive for backpackers. Do the work we need done in Australia for 88 days and you can stay for another year. Australia is a great place to live and work. The wages are higher than other western countries. You can expect to earn at least $20/hour for unskilled work and often times much more if you are skilled or working in a remote part of Australia. The people are great and the lifestyle is laid back. So it is no wonder people who come here want to stay. But just how many of these people are gaming the system?

How Many Backpackers in Australia

According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and Tourism Research Australia, there were around 600,000 backpackers in Australia in 2016, with over 300,000 new ones arriving every year. This article from Tourism Research Australia gives statistics for 2015, Latest Backpacker stats from Tourism Research AustraliaThat is a lot of people.

Let’s assume that half of the 300,000 new backpackers entering the country intend to get a second year visa. Now let’s assume only 20% of them are cheating, that would mean 30,000 people are defrauding the Australian government every year. Considering how many people talk about this so openly. I would not be surprised if the real numbers were higher.

I have 3 ideas about why this is occurring:

  1. The government is not providing enough resources for proper oversight
  2. There is incompetence in the office that processes the second year visas
  3. The government does not care

My sense it is mostly due to number 1 and partially due to number 2. Governments and bureaucracies tend to be inefficient and this could be part of the reason this fraud is occurring. However, when someone applies for a second year visa it costs around $400, so maybe the government does not care. But they should, this program was setup to meet specific labor demands and allowing people to cheat the government is wrong. If they feel they no longer need people to do this work they should just issue people 2 year work visas off the bat or change the conditions for obtaining a second year visa.

What Does the Government Think

I contacted the office of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, to inform them of this and see if they were aware or had any comment. The lady I spoke with was very dismissive and condescending. She would not let me speak to anyone in the office about this. She did tell me I could provide written feedback to the office if I chose. I told her I would be writing a blog post on the topic. She did not have much to say about that.

I also contacted the office of the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Shayne Neumann. The person I spoke to in his office was much friendlier. We spoke for around 30 minutes. He said he had heard of this but was not aware or sure of how big the problem is. He did say that a lack of resources may be a factor of how people are getting away with the fraud. He informed me he would let the Shadow Minister know about my call and also see if this issue can be raised during the next set of budget talks.

Politics always plays a role in how governments work. But this is a total non-partisan issue. If ten of thousands of people are defrauding the Australian government, I can’t imagine why anyone would not want to see this is fixed. Not only does it encourage more people to do the same, it is an embarrassment to the government.

This issue needs to be brought out in the open and fixed. There are lots of people that work hard and do their 88 days of farm or regional work for a second year visa. It is unfair to them that so many people are allowed to cheat the system, and even worse, brag about it. I hope the proper people in the government are made aware of this and appropriate actions are taken to ensure that people coming to Australia are not allowed to get away with fraud. After all, these are not the kind of people Australia should want in their country.