Labour shortage Australia: Foreign workers, backpackers scared off by Covid lockdowns


Foreign workers have abandoned Australia in droves and while our economy is dependent on them many say they’re worried about coming back thanks to our intense lockdowns during Covid.

The former Morrison government was one of the first countries in the world to slam the national borders closed in March 2020 when Covid began spreading across the globe.

But as other countries began to move on from the pandemic and focus on economic recovery, Australia stayed shut, with both international and interstate travel blocking any worker movement.

Global Work and Travel chief executive officer Jurgen Himmelmann said when borders were finally open to foreigners earlier this year, too much damage had already been done.

Australia’s workforce is critically understaffed despite a low unemployment rate with industry experts saying foreign workers are unlikely to travel to Australia after seeing Aussies ‘trapped’ during Covid lockdowns (pictured, train workers in Sydney)

Data from the Grattan Institute showed the number of working holidaymakers in Australia during May 2022 was 86 per cent less than in September 2019 (pictured, a graph showing the decrease in working holidaymakers)

Data from the Grattan Institute showed the number of working holidaymakers in Australia during May 2022 was 86 per cent less than in September 2019 (pictured, a graph showing the decrease in working holidaymakers)

The former Morrison government locked down Australia's international borders in March 2020 but didn't open them to foreigners again until earlier this year (pictured, former prime minister Scott Morrison)

The former Morrison government locked down Australia’s international borders in March 2020 but didn’t open them to foreigners again until earlier this year (pictured, former prime minister Scott Morrison)

Mr Himmelmann said the lockdowns left overseas workers worried they could became trapped Down Under if another virus were to suddenly hit.

‘Since the borders have opened, we are seeing the same volume of people wanting to leave Australia (as before Covid) but not the same number of people wanting to come to Australia,’ he told News Corp.

‘We were expecting there to be some pent-up demand – that people would want to rush to Australia once everything opened up but people saw Australians being jailed for (breaking Covid quarantine laws). They saw people trapped.’

Data from the Grattan Institute, one of the nation’s leading independent research organisations, found the number of working holidaymakers in Australia during May 2022 was 86 per cent less than in September 2019.

The amount of temporary overseas workers living in Australia has dramatically decreased since 2020 despite early beliefs migration would pick up again once borders opened (pictured, a graph showing the decrease of temporary workers in Australia)

The amount of temporary overseas workers living in Australia has dramatically decreased since 2020 despite early beliefs migration would pick up again once borders opened (pictured, a graph showing the decrease of temporary workers in Australia)

Several industries, like agriculture and hospitality, rely on working holidaymakers to fill the gaps in the local Australian workforce (pictured, a fruit picker in regional New South Wales)

Several industries, like agriculture and hospitality, rely on working holidaymakers to fill the gaps in the local Australian workforce (pictured, a fruit picker in regional New South Wales)

One in three workers currently employed in Australia was born overseas.

The nation’s current workforce does not have the number of skilled workers to fill vacant jobs around the country and with an unemployment rate of just 3.5 per cent, we need migrant workers to move and fill those positions. 

Mr Himmelmann said that while there was an accumulation of people overseas wanting to move once the pandemic eased, Australia took too long and missed out. 

‘Most parts of Europe never did a hard border closure so a lot of the people that had an eagerness to travel just went somewhere (other than Australia),’ Mr Himmelmann.

To make matters worse, migrants who did wait through the lockdowns to move to Australia are now facing massive delays with getting visas.

Global Work and Travel CEO Jurgen Himmelmann said Australia missed out on a massive influx of foreign workers keen to travel once Covid ended by waiting too long to open its borders (pictured, Sydney Airport)

Global Work and Travel CEO Jurgen Himmelmann said Australia missed out on a massive influx of foreign workers keen to travel once Covid ended by waiting too long to open its borders (pictured, Sydney Airport)

Construction is just one of the industries that majorly relies on overseas workers to supply high-volumes of special skilled workers (pictured, a lollipop lady in Sydney)

Construction is just one of the industries that majorly relies on overseas workers to supply high-volumes of special skilled workers (pictured, a lollipop lady in Sydney)

The median processing time for a skilled worker looking to permanently immigrate to Australia is five months.

A skilled worker wanting to temporarily moving to Australia can expect their visa to take three months to process.

‘​​​​​​​Processing on-hand visa applications is a government priority. We are working to reduce the time it takes to finalise visa applications,’ the Home Affairs Department website reads.

‘We are prioritising the processing of visas lodged by people outside of Australia, including temporary skilled, student and visitor visas. 

‘This is to make sure more people can travel to Australia to fill the critical skill shortages across the country.’

Mr Himmelmann said harsh travel restrictions in Australia, including those set by state leaders, frightened foreign workers who saw Aussies 'trapped' (pictured, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews)

Mr Himmelmann said harsh travel restrictions in Australia, including those set by state leaders, frightened foreign workers who saw Aussies ‘trapped’ (pictured, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews)

Hospitality employers previously hired large amounts of temporary foreign workers but are now struggling to find Aussies willing to fill in the jobs (pictured, barristers in Sydney)

Hospitality employers previously hired large amounts of temporary foreign workers but are now struggling to find Aussies willing to fill in the jobs (pictured, barristers in Sydney)

The Grattan Institute found people who migrated to Australia after the year 2000 make up 12 per cent of our workforce with the majority of them working in high-earning industries like construction.

People with a temporary visa, including working holidaymakers and international students, make up seven per cent of the workforce and tend to work in lower-earning industry like agriculture and hospitality.

Small businesses, especially in regional communities, rely on working holidaymakers to do the jobs most Aussies aren’t interested in.

A quick scan of Australian backpackers pages show hundreds of farmers and hotel owners looking for temporary workers to fill worker shortages. 

Even with the promise of free accommodation and good pay, most offers receive very little interest.

Australia does not have the number of skilled workers needed to fill vacant jobs and with only 3.5 per cent of workers unemployed there is little opportunity to train enough people up

Australia does not have the number of skilled workers needed to fill vacant jobs and with only 3.5 per cent of workers unemployed there is little opportunity to train enough people up

One in three Australian workers was born overseas but Australia still needs more specialised foreign employees to fill vacant jobs (pictured, Sydney Airport)

One in three Australian workers was born overseas but Australia still needs more specialised foreign employees to fill vacant jobs (pictured, Sydney Airport)

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