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Visa rebates can plug workforce gaps, but international tourists must return

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said visa rebates are not going to fix the problem of the lagging economy.

Visa rebates can plug workforce gaps, but international tourists must return
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Yesterday (19 January) the Prime Minister announced the government would offer international students a visa rebate on their application fees as a way to encourage them to return to Australia. However, ACCI chief executive Andrew McKellar said the continued ban on foreign tourists, business travellers and other barred international arrivals needs to be reconsidered if Australia is to get back to business.

“Prior to the pandemic, up to 400,000 international students and 250,000 working holiday makers were employed per year in Australia. The rebates announced will be critical in filling labour and workforce gaps, particularly in our tourism and hospitality industries,” he said.

“Working holiday makers are not only some of our highest yielding visitors, spending $3.2 billion a year before the onset of the pandemic, but they make up a substantial part of the very workforce we need right now.

“Similarly, supporting the return of international students will be fundamental to securing Australia’s economic recovery.  Prior to the pandemic half a million international students were enrolled in our universities, contributing $40 billion to the economy.

“With businesses confronting the worst labour and skill shortages in more than three decades, the changes to ensure that working holiday makers and international students can efficiently and affordably come to Australia and plug shortfalls across the economy are welcome."

Australian Chamber-Tourism chair John Hart called on the federal government to expedite the reopening of our international borders to all fully vaccinated international travellers, a move that will provide the tourism industry with the confidence to resume their operations.

“Given the high rates of community transmission and the protocols for international arrivals to Australia, we must immediately end the ban on international tourists, business travellers and other barred international arrivals, to support those businesses that are reliant on these arrivals,” Mr Hart said.

“Opening the borders last month to international students, skilled migrants, working holiday makers and other important visa holders who have to be vaccinated and tested before they arrive has demonstrated that international arrivals pose very little additional risk.

“Australian Chamber-Tourism is urging the Federal Government to undertake a broader review of visa pricing arrangements. Offering fee-free tourist visas will enhance Australia’s competitiveness as a tourist destination.

“Businesses reliant on international travellers are only just holding on with very little government support to keep them going. They are desperate for some good news.”

Attracting student and working holiday maker visa holders back into the country and letting those already here work more hours are critical steps to keeping shelves stocked and supply chains functioning, Business Council executive director Jess Wilson said.

“We welcome the government’s sensible changes to boost the workforce, keep businesses functioning and ensure Australians can access the products and services they need.

“Businesses are experiencing workforce shortages of up to 40 per cent in some sectors.

“Not only do critical labour shortages risk holding back our recovery but they put serious strain on supply chains across the economy and force businesses to close their doors.

“Temporary changes to give international students the chance to work more hours in all sectors of the economy are common sense. Many international students are already here and contributing – now they have a chance to do even more.

“Working holiday makers are also crucial in sectors like agriculture, so making Australia an even more attractive destination with lower costs and faster approval times is a no brainer.

“These changes combined with the sensible adjustments to isolation and close contact rules will help address critical workforce shortages in the short term.

“Businesses are committed to working with governments, health officials and workers to see Australia through these challenges and keep our strong recovery going.”

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