The number of international backpackers returning to Australia to work their way around the nation jumped 20 per cent in a year following a multimillion-dollar overseas advertising campaign and an overhaul of the visa system.

About 43,200 second-year visas were granted under the working-holidaymaker program last financial year, up on the previous year’s 36,160.

More than 8000 were from Britain, where the ad campaign was launched earlier this year, with 7800 from Taiwan, almost 4000 from South Korea and 3600 from France.

The boost coincides with the Morrison government’s push to get more migrants to the regions to fill critical labour shortages in agriculture, with applicants for a second visa needing to show they worked at least three months in a regional area on their first visit. The specified work includes agriculture, forestry and fishing and in some circumstances mining and construction, and tourism and hospitality.

Immigration Minister David Coleman, who will announce the figures in South Australia on Wednesday, said he expected the number of young overseas tourists to continue to rise as the government’s regional migration settings encouraged more people to work outside capital cities.

“We know there are jobs in regional Australia that aren’t being filled by Australian workers and we are giving regional businesses the immigration settings to help them fill those roles,” he said.

In November, the federal government announced changes to the working-holidaymaker visa program to assist farmers in regional and rural areas resolve critical labour shortages. These included lifting the annual caps on sub-class 462 visas, expanding the number of regional areas where holidaymakers could work in specific farming jobs and allowing 12 months’ work with the same agricultural employer, up from six months previously.

Since July 1, visa-holders who complete six months of regional work in their second year are eligible to stay in Australia for an additional year. Some working holidaymakers can be eligible for a second or third year visa if they undertake construction-type work in a disaster-affected area, such as demolition of buildings, trench digging, land clearing or earth moving.

In November this year two new regional visas categories will be introduced that will require applicants to live and work in a regional area for three years before being eligible to apply for permanent residency. There will be 23,000 of a total 160,000 places dedicated to these regional visas within the nation’s permanent migration program, with $19.4 million in funding to support regional migration, including priority processing of regional sponsorship and visa applications.

A $7.5 million campaign, Australia Inc, has targeted school leavers from key European markets, including Britain, France and Germany, following a 5 per cent fall in numbers from there in 2017-18.

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said working holidaymakers spent more money than they earned while in Australia, providing a significant boost to the Australian economy.

“Work and holidaymakers generally stay longer, spend more money in Australia and travel further into regional areas than most other international visitors, supporting Australian jobs in tourism and hospitality,” Senator Birmingham said.


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