Australia gap year

Farming and picking fruit: Is this the end for regional work gap years in Australia?

The Tab asked backpackers how they felt about the big change to Visa requirements

Anyone who’s backpacked in Australia knows the key to extend their stay on a Working Holiday Visa: Regional work. You get dollars in your pocket, can remain in the country for up to three years and meet friends through the experience. It’s basically an Aus gap year right of passage. 

Sure, travellers often bonded over early mornings, sleepless nights, and tiresome manual labour in settings like farms, construction sites, and hospitality in very remote areas. But as countless Working Holiday Makers on TikTok explained, roughing it for 88 days in the name of more time in Australia was “the best decision” they ever made, with the hashtag “regionalwork” racking up 3.3 million views, and counting.

But with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recently announcing that the post-Brexit deal between Australia and the UK has come into effect, mandatory “specified work” for UK passport holders is virtually obsolete. From July 2023, British backpackers between the age of 18 and 35 are able to stay up to three years without having to meet any of these requirements. The Tab spoke to backpackers to see how they really felt about the change to gap year life: 

‘I want to see the more rural side of Australia’

Right of passage australia

One traveller that’s heading to the country known for tropical beaches, rolling wine country, and lush rainforests is Thomas Forsgate. The 26-year-old planned on making the move from Hampshire, England, to Melbourne back in 2020, but his plans kept being pushed back by the extended Covid restrictions in the UK. “I just entered my 20s, and I really wanted to enjoy them, but the fact that I was locked away for two years felt like the time was wasted,” the barber tells The Tab. “To make up for it in my late 20s, I wanted to do something quite big.”

Although three years have passed since Thomas’ initial travel plans, he’s looking forward to settling into the outdoorsy lifestyle and earning higher wages in Australia, especially given the current cost of living crisis in the UK. Thomas can jump straight into a new role in the hairdressing sector without doing “specified work”, but he still wants to undertake regional work of some kind. “I just want to absorb as much of the culture as I can,” he explains. “Obviously, I’ll live in the cities, but I also just want to see the more rural side of Australia, and live in a small town. It seems like quite a fun experience to me, and it’s also a good way of saving money, too.”

‘It’s kind of like being back at uni again’

Australia regional work

Although the rules are relaxed for Brits, other countries still fall under separate rules for the Working Holiday Visa. Ali Condon, a content producer from Ireland, is travelling to Sydney in July under previous visa rules – which means she’ll have to undertake regional work if she wants to stay a further two years. “I would like to avoid actual farmwork, because I don’t really want to be out in the field in 30 or more degree heat, picking things off trees,” the 24-year-old says. “I’ll do it if I have to, but I would rather bar work in less populated areas.”

For career-driven people like Ali, the requirement to move away from their industry to undertake a different role can be daunting. “I get that there is a very playful, fun side of regional work – like staying in a hostel, and even doing the whole bunkbed thing – it’s kind of like being back in uni again,” she says. “But at the same time, I’m not the same age that I was in university, so I don’t know if I’d appreciate that experience as much anymore. I’ve done the whole corporate thing, I’ve had a good career. I know what it’s like to have money now. I think it will be hard to go back to that.”

Although she may have to put in her 88 days, if Ali had the choice, she would prefer to move to Australia without the work requirement in “the same way that you can get a Visa for America or Canada and just get any job you desired”. She adds: “It is a little bit sore for me seeing the likes of the UK just being able to go over and not have the same kind of restrictions that we would have.”

‘It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget’ 

Australia gap year

That said, Jessica Mullin did regional work in Bundaberg, Queensland, under the previous visa rules in 2022 and wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Known as the “gate” to the Great Barrier Reef, the region is home to Bundaberg Rum Distillery, loggerhead turtles, and is responsible for producing 25% of Australia’s food. “Initially, I didn’t want to go because I heard so many horror stories…But I actually loved it and made a great little life there doing yoga, Parkrun, nights out, and beach days,” said the West Midlands native.

The 24-year-old has now been granted her second-year visa, which she’ll spend in Perth with her boyfriend, whom she also met whilst on the farm. Although it’s now easier for travellers to stay and work in Australia, Jessica, who documents her travel experience on TikTok, “absolutely” thinks that they’ll miss out if they don’t do any regional work. “I don’t regret farm work, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget,” Jessica says. “Being muddy, picking fruit in the sun, laughing about the situation, being in your own thoughts all day surrounded by other backpackers doing the same thing – you learn a lot from it, and I met some great people doing it.”

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