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under holiday visas, migration policy – ​​Liberation

They are very popular with young tourists from rich countries dreaming of surfing, especially the French. The “working holiday visas” to Australia, however, hide a logic of selection of migrants linked to labor needs.

Grandstand. In December 2018, Australia had more than 15,000 French people staying on its territory under a working holiday visa. They then represented 11% of young people benefiting from this program behind the British, the Taiwanese and the South Koreans. Existing since 1975 and aimed at young people under 30, these Working-Holiday Visas were first opened by Australia to Commonwealth partners (Canada, Great Britain, Ireland). Regularly reformed, the program was modified on 1er July 2019 by the Australian Department of Home Affairs. This one-year visa is now renewable (under certain conditions) for a third year instead of two previously, and French, Canadian and Irish nationals can apply for up to 35 years of age. Young people who want to travel to Australia have obviously welcomed this reform. But the growing openness of this program by the Australian government also looks like a migration policy that does not say its name.

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From the birth of the system, its selective dimension is clear: the signatory countries of the first bilateral agreements allowing the stay of young people in Australia were former territories of the British Empire and Great Britain itself. Japan and South Korea took over in the 1990s, before a series of European countries, including France in 2004, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong got involved in turn. These rich countries grouped in a specific Working-Holiday Visa subclass have the privilege of signing a quota-free agreement with Australia: any national applying can obtain a visa. However, there is a not insignificant filter: the young person must have a sufficient sum in his bank account to meet his needs in Australia, set at 5,000 Australian dollars, or more than 3,000 euros. Since the agreement with Thailand in 2005, Australia has allowed a number of other countries to send their young nationals, but according to a strict quota per year: 1,500 Indonesians, 100 Peruvians, for example. Some European countries such as Spain, Portugal and most Eastern European countries are also subject to this restriction. The difference in treatment between young people based on their nationality ultimately clearly reflects the unequal access to international mobility, the very principle of visa arrangements in general.

Migration scheme targeted at a “desirable” population

By bringing together, as its name suggests, “holidays” and “work” on the same visa, this program has the particularity of establishing a blur between tourism policy and migration policy. These young ones working holiday makers, according to the official terminology, when they are French, or of another nationality without quotas, have the possibility of renewing their first visa for one year on the condition of having worked at least three months in a sector of employment said to be “specific”, that is to say in agriculture, fishing, mining and construction, which have the specificity of being short of labour. The July reform, by offering a third year of visa on the condition of having worked at least six months in one of these sectors, is in line with the same policy as the previous adjustments: allowing young people to work more .

While this system is presented on the various websites devoted to it (; for example) from the angle of youth travel and cultural experience, it is similar in made to a real migratory system targeted at a “desirable” population. The increased use of working holiday makers would not be unrelated to Australia’s reluctance to set up seasonal migration programs at the request of certain Pacific islands suffering from a high unemployment rate (1). In other words, while many States opt for “migratory circulation” by bringing seasonal workers to their territories for a specific task and for a short time, Australia seems to outbid the protection against “migratory risk” by selecting its seasonal migrants among young people from rich countries, who also face the risks of abuse faced by young people in this unskilled Australian labor market (2).

Since the 2000s, France has developed agreements with destinations other than Australia and young French people can now stay in 14 countries thanks to this type of visa. The site, in reference to the acronym PVT for Working Holiday Programme, had 10,000 members in 2008 and 280,000 in 2018. This phenomenon encourages us to question flows from rich countries, which have often remained in the blind spot of discourse on migrations (3), which also highlights the duality of the “desirable” or “undesirable” character of those who would like to travel the world today, depending on their economic usefulness but also on their origin. Thus, if it is difficult to call “migrants” the men and women who move from rich countries, their movements do not carry less political stakes.

(1) F. Allon, Anderson K., Bushell R., 2008, “Mutant mobilities: backpacker tourism in “global” Sydney, Mobilities”, vol. 3, no.1, p. 73-94.

(2) Alexander Reilly, 2015, “Low-cost labor or cultural exchange, Reforming the Working Holiday visa programme”, The Economic and Labor Relations Review, vol. 25, no. 3, p. 474-489.

(3) Fabbiano G., Peraldi M., Poli A. and L. Terrazzoni, 2019, Migrations from the Norths to the Souths, Karthala, Paris.


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