Welcome back backpackers!

The borders are open again and you are starting to head Down Under once more.

Want to stay a second year?  Just want to get out in the fresh air and earn some cash? Farm work is almost a rite of passage for Working Holidaymakers, but a bit of information can make life much easier for you.

The door is open again

Wow, what a strange couple of years we have just been through.  COVID19 took the world by surprise and created circumstances we never thought would occur.  Each country handled them differently and Australia took advantage of its island geography and simply shut the door.  Even backpackers here at the time were told by our Prime Minister, politely but firmly; “it’s time to go home”.  And most did, with well over 100,000 leaving our shores, and you were not replaced for almost two years.

Now that vaccines have given us the confidence to open our borders and, in most cases, lifted restrictions on society, life has largely returned to normal.  And that means young independent travellers from the 45 countries that can access the two Working Holidaymaker Visas are starting to gradually drift back to enjoy our wonderful country.

The welcome mat will definitely be rolled out for any backpackers knocking on the door of employers.  You have been missed by horticulture farmers that have traditionally tapped into the pool of young, enthusiastic workers, happy to have a go at almost any job, and not looking for permanence.

Stay in Australia longer

Although fruit picking work on horticulture properties have been a mainstay of the backpacker experience for well over a decade, it is generally not the first choice of young workers from overseas.  However, when you have been in Australia for a while and have been enjoying the experience, you have realised the best way to extend your stay is to seek a second-year visa by doing some farm work. 

To qualify for a second year (a third year is available too), a holder of either a 417 (Working Holiday Visa) or 462 (Work and Holiday Visa) must undertake 88 days of work in a regional area.  The regional areas are defined by postcode and have been successfully designed to entice backpackers away from the big cities on the east coast and into the regions. 

Because the qualifying period of work is just three months (88 days), the type of farm that is most likely to take you on for such a short time is generally a horticulture property – one that grows fruit or vegetables.  However, at the moment there is such a scarcity of labour that virtually all sectors of farming, and the immediate processing of their product, will welcome workers for however long they are available.

How to find farm jobs

To find this work there are several avenues you can use.  The biggest and safest is to check out the Government’s Harvest Trail jobs board and website.  Many vacancies are listed with basic information, and there is a national Contact Centre that can answer many questions about the jobs listed.  Those ringing the freecall number of 1800 062 332 can then be transferred either directly to the farm employer, or to a regional Harvest Trail office that is handling the job.  There is no cost to access this service.  The farms listing the jobs are often known by Harvest Trail staff, so there is a much stronger likelihood that they will be a reputable employer who will look after their workers.  And if that is not your experience you are encouraged to provide feedback to the Harvest Trail team.    

Be careful out there

There are also private websites that offer jobs boards and other support services.  Some of these require a payment either by the worker or the employer, while others are free.  Care needs to be taken when accessing these websites as scams are not uncommon, while money-back guarantees are notoriously hard to access should promised opportunities not live up to expectations.  Some even take free job listings from the Harvest Trail website, list on their own sites then charge a fee to access them!

It is highly recommended that no up-front payments are made on websites offering farm jobs without very careful scrutiny first.  Google and social media can be used to find information from people who have used the services and have posted of their reputation.

Australia is huge

Australia is a very large country with a sparse population, so public transport to farms is almost non-existent.  Even finding transport to regional towns near the farms can be difficult.  Where such services are available, how you get to the farm each day to work will need to be sorted out before you arrive.  It is not common for the farmer to provide transport daily to the farm, especially during their busy harvest season, but it is worth asking. 

The best option is to have your own transport. The image of backpackers living out of a campervan is common for a very good reason – it holds many advantages.  A van can not only double as very cheap living quarters, but it provides the flexibility of not having to rely on accommodation being available at the work location.  While farm accommodation does exist, it is not common, and can sometimes be a low standard.  The good news is that where it does exist it is usually cheap, and sometimes even free.  The alternative to a van is simply a car large enough to holding a tent and camping equipment.

There are companies that specialise in vehicles for long-term hire for travelling workers.  Some of them provide sale and buy-back arrangements that are beneficial for periods longer than about three months.  Some even include camping gear as part of the deal.

Where to stay

Accommodation can be hard to find in regional areas but some locations have hostels that specialise in catering for backpackers working on farms.  Known as ‘working hostels’, they usually provide transport to farms for work each day, generally for an additional cost, so are ideal if you don’t have your own vehicle.  They can even help to find work for their guests. 

Once again, you need to check out arrangements before you commit, especially when a bond or substantial rent-in-advance is required.  Find out what work is available; when it will start; how many hours are being offered; and what guarantee is there that all these things are accurate!  Talking to someone who is already a guest at the hostel you are considering is always the best advice.

Don’t wait until the last minute

Once cautionary note!  Finding 88 days of continuous work (or 176 days for a third-year visa) is often not possible.  Harvest seasons are sometimes short, weather can interrupt work, and there can be great distances to travel between opportunities.  So, deciding to qualify to stay longer should be taken early in your visit.  If you wait nine months before pursuing three month’s work to qualify, you are likely to be sorely disappointed and go home early.  If you do the work then change your mind about staying longer, the experiences and earnings you accumulate can never be taken away.  And once you qualify for the extension, you can relax and revel in the wide range of choices available in this vast and beautiful country of ours.

Harvest Trail can help – for free

For advice and information on working in regional Australia, particularly for work that qualifies for extended visas, the experienced Harvest Trail Contact Centre staff can provide a lot of guidance.  There is also an online publication – the National Harvest Guide – that provides calendars so you can check out which regions have seasonal work, and the time of year those jobs are available.  These, and other resources, are available at the Harvest Trail website, or by ringing freecall 1800 062 332.