Backpackers in New Zealand are keen to return to Australia, in what could be a major boost for farmers desperately seeking labour ahead of the summer harvest.

Key points:

  • Many backpackers who left for New Zealand are reportedly keen to return to Australia
  • Some have already entered using COVID-19 visas
  • The federal government is offering fee-free applications for interrupted travel plans

While the border remains closed for now, options exist for entry under the COVID-19 pandemic visa, designed to maintain employment in important industries like food production.

French working holidaymaker James Godard is presently working on a North Island avocado farm and said, of the estimated 10,000 backpackers still in New Zealand, many would be keen to return to Australia.

“For backpackers who’ve been in Australia, we all say it was an amazing experience,” he said.

Backdoor options

A former picker of blueberries near Coffs Harbour, Mr Godard said a French-Korean couple who had been working in New Zealand had returned to Australia when the NZ-Australian travel bubble was still in operation.

“They went back to Australia under tourist visas and got the COVID-19 visa, so now they’re working on a farm,” he said.

“Most of us have already used our first and second-year visa so we’re not about to return as working holidaymakers because of age, or because we used our visas up.”

But the ongoing pandemic and options for international workers in key industries in Australia have many backpackers in New Zealand eyeing other options.

“The COVID-19 visa could be difficult to get, but some of my friends got it and are hoping to get permanent residency,” Mr Godard said.

Year 12 school leavers loading picked water melons on farm near Chinchilla

New Zealand and Australia have offered similar special conditions for backpackers to work in agriculture during the time of international border closures.(

Supplied: Murray and Wendy Sturgess


Flights remain limited

The ongoing shortage of hotel quarantine places in Australia looms as the biggest handbrake for sourcing NZ-based workers in the coming months.

Many Australians trying to return from New Zealand have been told it is likely their flights will be cancelled as limited spaces are available.

Air New Zealand has limited bookings available on its website until late October, with horticulture industry sources confirming it would be difficult for all but essential medical workers and returning Australians to gain places in quarantine.

New Zealand’s government is also grappling with a labour shortage and how to reopen for migrants while retaining workers temporarily in the nation for the duration of the pandemic.

Choices for backpackers

In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs acknowledged the disruption the pandemic had caused to the working holidaymaker program and said refunds were available to those who had paid the application fee but were no longer aged 18 to 30 as specified under the visa conditions.

However Canadian, French and Irish citizens are eligible for the program until the age of 35.

Both holders and former holders of a COVID-19-affected working holidaymaker visa can make new applications fee-free on the department’s website.

Packing at the Sweeter Banana shed in Carnarvon.

Backpackers have found farm work easy to find during the past 18 months with fewer than 30,000 now left in Australia, down from around 120,000 in December 2019.(

ABC News: Stephen Stockwell


The sectors of health, aged, disability and child care, agriculture, food processing, tourism and hospitality are designated as critical by the Australian government.

People on COVID-19 pandemic visas or bridging visas are entitled to count days working in healthcare and as specified work when applying for a second or third working holidaymaker visa.

The department will prioritise processing initial or second and third-year working holidaymaker visa applications for any travellers who are exempt from travel restrictions.

Mr Godard said he expected many fellow backpackers in New Zealand to attempt to re-enter Australia once the border reopened.

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Former working holidaymakers seek re-entry to Australia as harvest looms
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