Backpackers make up a large part of Australia’s seasonal horticulture workforce. If you hold a working holiday visa (subclass 417 or 462), you can extend it for two or even three years, by working on Australian farms. You can do a lot to make finding this kind of work easier. Well-prepared travellers will be welcomed by employers.

You will need to have 88 days of eligible work for a second-year visa and 179 days for a third-year visa.  Achieving your day targets needs a bit of planning. Make sure you know the rules. Check the Australian government website for resources to assist you.

1.     Start working early in your stay

If the second-year visa is important to you, or even if you are just considering it, doing the 88 days of work early in your stay is strongly recommended. The National Harvest Labour Information Service call centre frequently gets calls from backpackers who have been enjoying their stay in Australia so much they want to stay longer, but they only have a few months left to qualify for a second-year visa. Many can’t stay because an immediate, uninterrupted job for three months is hard to find.

Enjoy arriving in Australia, have a look around, party hard if that’s what you enjoy, but in the second month you should be preparing to accumulate the necessary 88 days work. Once you have achieved this target, you can relax in the knowledge your second-year visa is secure.

2.     Make sure your work qualifies

Only specific jobs qualify towards the second-year visa, so make sure you understand which ones to seek out. Most working holidaymakers get jobs in the horticulture industry on fruit and vegetable farms, particularly during harvest. These jobs qualify as does most agricultural work. Jobs must be outside of big cities to qualify. Eligible locations are defined by their postcode, listed on the Department of Home Affairs website.

Only paid work counts towards the 88 days. Volunteer work does not qualify. Keep payslips from your employer, as they provide the best proof that you have been working. It is compulsory for an employer to give you a payslip (printed, emailed, or even handwritten). If they will not provide one, seek work elsewhere!

3.     Beware of scams

Armed with the knowledge of which jobs count towards the second-year visa, you will then need to find where they are, and when they are likely to be available. Many websites promote vacancies – but be wary of scams. Numerous travellers have paid money to a website on the promise of a job, and often a transport and accommodation package, only to find it does not exist. Other websites may be legitimate but offer poor value – charging a fee to provide information that is freely available. Sometimes a money-back guarantee is offered, but getting your fee refunded is not certain.

4.     Use a reputable agency

There are reputable agencies which can assist you to find work. The government-funded Harvest Trail website lists current vacancies Australia-wide and there are no fees. The site includes a copy of the Harvest Guide which provides lots of information including a calendar that shows which crops and regions are busy and when. This is a valuable planning tool.

A phone call to 1800 062 332 can put you in direct contact with the farms advertising vacancies. The experienced and friendly telephone operators also provide valuable information about the jobs listed and the chance of getting a job once you arrive. Take advantage of their knowledge.

5.     Consider buying a car or van

Australia is a big country with a sparse population, so there is usually no public transport in the regional areas where farm work is situated. You may be able to travel to a town near where the work is available, but the actual farm may be many kilometres away reachable only by car. Having your own car gives you a big advantage. Consider sharing a vehicle. Many backpackers share a mini-van that can double as accommodation.

6.     Working hostels will help

Backpacker hostels in regional areas are often called ‘working hostels’ as their guests are all employed on nearby farms. Working hostels can also help with getting jobs. For travellers without their own car, these hostels may assist with transport to farms for a charge.

Always try to find someone already staying at the hostel to confirm that work is immediately available. It is not uncommon for a hostel to promise work, accept rent in advance and maybe a bond, but once committed the guest finds the work is not as promised. If work does not start for some weeks, or is only a few hours per week, this can leave the backpacker trapped at the hostel and unable to move on because they have run out of money.

Social media and rating websites are also great places to get this information.

7.     Convincing the farmer to employ you

Farms at peak periods such as harvest are generally not interested in résumés or written job applications. Just be prepared for a short phone conversation to convince the employer you are worth hiring. They are more interested in reliability and work ethic than your qualifications or employment history.

If you already have farm work experience in Australia, make sure you mention this. If you have agricultural experience or a trade in your home country, a short document showing this experience may assist you to compete with others. If you let the farmer know you are reliable, fit, can follow instructions and are keen to stay for a few months, you will almost certainly be considered.

8.     Make it easy for the farm

Someone who is organised with their documentation ready when they enquire for work will impress a busy employer. Getting a Tax File Number from the Australian Tax Office is recommended – this may be essential to secure work.

Have a copy of your visa ready. The government’s VEVO web page can provide both a hard copy for you and a PDF version you can provide by email to an employer.

Have a bank account established for your wages to be paid into and have the account numbers ready for the employer. These should preferably be printed from a bank document rather than hand-written so mistakes can be avoided. Disputes as a result of mistakes in bank account numbers are common.

9.     Know your employer

Once you get a job, it is very important that you know who your employer is. This can protect you in case of any problems or issues with pay or working conditions. If you have a problem or dispute, the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman is there to help – but if you don’t know who your employer is there will not be much the authorities can do to.

Make sure you know the name of the business or person who is employing you (this may be the labour hire company). Ask for their ABN (Australian Business Number). This number can be checked online to ensure it exists, although it cannot tell you whether the employer is good to work for. If you are uncertain, google them! Social media can be a big help as bad employers usually generate lots of negative comment.

10.   Keep your own records

To ensure you are being paid fairly for your work, keep your own records. If you are being paid on piece work, note the number of containers you pick as you go. Your phone camera is ideal for recording this information or use the Record My Hours app. Keep records of the hours you work. Check your pay against your records.

Picking fruit or vegetables or other farm work can be hard, but it can also be rewarding. It can provide both a genuine cultural experience of rural Australia as well as achieving the right to stay here a second year, or even a third. Good preparation will help you to make this experience one to remember for a lifetime.


Useful websites

Australian Department of Home Affairs (Immigration and Citizenship)

Australian Department of Home Affairs (eligible postcodes)

Australian Department of Home Affairs Visa Entitlement Verification Online system (VEVO)

Australian Fair Work Ombudsman

Australian Tax Office (tax file numbers)

Harvest Trail (National Harvest Labour Information Service)