South Australia working visa scheme: '10-pound Poms' set to return to Australia

Retiree Joan Beagley was one of about 1.5 million "£10 Poms" who flocked to Australia during the federal government's original Assisted Passage Migration Scheme (the £10 Pom nickname alludes to the £10 processing fee charged to migrants).

"We'd never have been able to afford to come over otherwise," Beagley, 81, recalls of her 1964 voyage to Australia on the SS Canberra, then the world's largest passenger liner. "We had to stay two years or else we'd have to pay back the full fare."

Those two years changed Beagley's life. She met her future husband, Ken (also from the UK), in Melbourne, and a seed was planted that would see the England native return to Australia in 1970, to migrate permanently.

Now as Australia moves to fill post-pandemic industry gaps and rebuild its tourism economy, South Australia is bringing back the scheme — with a few tweaks — as part of a tourism campaign to entice backpackers.

"When I saw that earlier this week, I thought, what a good idea if you can get the young people out here to help out," said Beagley, who lives in Bowral, in NSW.

As part of the revamped scheme, South Australia has partnered with Qatar Airways to offer a total of 200 prospective workers aged 18 to 30 in the UK, or 18 to 35 in Ireland, a £10 ($A17.40) return ticket to Adelaide on meeting certain criteria.

But the 2022 version of the scheme doesn't offer quite the same bang for your buck (or pound) as the original.

To be eligible, candidates must first pay $495 (about £284) for a working holiday visa, buy a package from South Australian tourism operator Trailfinders, and travel before September 30.

It's just one way state governments are addressing a shortfall of about 500,000 temporary migrants in the workforce since 2019.

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As of January 2022, there were just 1.5 million temporary migrants in Australia, compared to almost 2 million in 2019, says a Grattan Institute report.

In Victoria, the government is tackling these market gaps in a more targeted way via a Workforce Skills Pathway, whereby those with desperately needed skills, for example chefs, can be offered incentives to apply for a working visa.

A Victorian government spokesperson said: "We have built our talent pool by offering a state visa nomination pathway for highly skilled chefs and cooks."

The state, which has pledged $633 million towards its tourism strategy, also hopes to lure more travellers and working holiday-makers by offering more direct flights to Melbourne and investing in tourism, major events and cultural experiences in Victoria.

The expansion of international flight networks to key markets will be a key strategy across all states in coming months.

Last month, Qantas announced new Sydney routes to India and South Korea, as part of the NSW government's $60 million Aviation Attraction Fund.

NSW Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said: "Our focus has been supporting the return of aviation and getting international students back with our facilitated flights in partnership with education providers."

Despite SA's scheme's limited scope, at just 200 people, Australian Hotels Association general manager Ian Horne believes in practice it has the ability to reach a much wider pool of young people.

"[The 200] act as ambassadors for Adelaide and South Australia - telling their friends back home about all the great opportunities we have," Horne said.

Grattan Institute economist, data scientist and senior associate Will Mackey is more sceptical.

"Before the pandemic, there were about 130,000 working holiday-makers in Australia. There are now less than 20,000," he said. "In this context, the 200-person scheme proposed by SA is small and won't make much of a difference. And, given the cost - flights from Europe aren't cheap - a bigger scheme could get very expensive, very quickly."

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