Farmers and employers in the hospitality and tourism sectors want to encourage more backpackers to visit Australia amid concerns that they will be put off by the new tax regime in 2017.

Already they are reporting a shortage of workers to take jobs over the busy festive season and are worried that when the new 19% tax on backpacker wages is introduced in January even fewer will be spending time in Australia.

hikers-backpackingOne of the attractions of the working holiday maker (backpacker) visa has been that young people can earn money during their time in Australia while paying minimum tax and also extend their stay by working in different regional locations.

On top of the tax change a new report has suggested that there are too many backpacker visas being approved and that Australia's migration programme should concentrate on increasing permanent migration for skilled workers.

According to Dr Anna Boucher, a senior lecturer in public policy and political science at the University of Sydney, the growth of working holiday visas and student visas has created a continuous, temporary, low skilled migration stream, which is potentially competing with naturalised citizens for job opportunities, particularly young people.

In an analysis for the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia Boucher says that the Government has expanded the working holiday visa programme by allowing visa holders working in a number of industries to work with their employer for 12 months, rather than six.

'This move will likely continue to support the "working" rather than "holidaying" dimensions of the visa remit, especially as the chosen industries include care work, where Australia faces a chronic domestic undersupply of workers,' she claims.

She also argues that the expansion, starting with a small number of young people from the UK and Canada for work and travel purposes in 1975 but has increased by 170% to 239,592 entrants in the financial year 2013/2014, has meant more young people are attracted from countries where they can earn more than they would staying at home.

She points out that a study by the National Institute of Labour Studies on the effects of working holiday maker visas upon domestic youth unemployment in Australia said that on balance it does reduce the job opportunities for Australians in local labour markets.

'We do not have direct evidence on this point. We do know that working holiday makers overwhelmingly worked in relatively unskilled jobs that most Australians could do. We also know at the same time that the unemployment figures of Australian youth remain stubbornly high,' she adds.

She acknowledges that more research is needed but suggests that it is 'inappropriate' to continue expansion of the working holiday maker visa programme until the distributional effects upon existing Australian-born and naturalised workers have been established.

But farmers in particular are concerned that this could discourage backpackers even more and recruitment agencies are finding it hard to fill positions. According to the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) young backpackers make up 25% of Australia's agricultural workforce but for seasonal harvest jobs it is much higher and close to 80% in some areas.

The NFF estimates that there has been a fall in applications for farm work of between 40% and 90% since the tax increase was proposed and this is having an effect on farming. For example one mango farmer in the Northern Territory has left 15% of his crop on the trees due to not having enough pickers and has shelved plans to plant 40,000 more trees.

All industries are appealing to backpackers to visit Australia and not desert the country for others such as New Zealand.