Not claiming to be an expert on regional work, but I did serve my three-month sentence on a farm in Far North Queensland. Sun Scribes has received a lot of questions over the last year about farm work and obtaining the second-year visa, so I’ve decided to write up a short blog post, with some advice and a few tips I picked up over my time spent farming.
- 1 What is Regional Work?
- 2 88 Days versus Three Months
- 3 Looking for Regional Work – Dos and Don’ts
- 4 Misconstrued Information on Farm Work
- 5 What are Working Hostels?
- 6 How to Apply For a Working Hostel
- 7 How Much Will I Get Paid?
- 8 Facebook Groups
- 9 Applying For Your Visa
- 10 Is There Any Way Around Regional Work?
- 11 Regional Work – Worth It?
What is Regional Work?
As a way to help struggling rural farmers with their vast workload on their farms and ranches/cattle stations, The 417 visa was introduced by the government. In order to obtain a second-year visa for Australia, foreigners are required to complete 88 days/three months/13 weeks of farm work in a regional area.
88 Days versus Three Months
The required minimum amount of time to obtain your visa is 88 days or three months/13 weeks. These time frames sound similar but actually have different meanings.
If you choose to do your farm time in 88 days, this means you don’t have to complete your farm work consecutively. This is a great option if you’ve come to Australia to see the rural side of the country, and are willing to dedicate months to farm-life. Many people choose to do a stint of their farm work as soon as they arrive in Australia. A good way to take a “chunk out of the 88 days”.
With the 88-days route, only the days actually worked count. Take for example you are working on a farm for one month. The first week, you work as normal, Monday to Friday: five days counted. The second week, heavy rains hits (common) and the farm is closed for two days. You can only cross off three days of work here. The third week, the farmer is eager to make up for lost time so asks you to work Saturday; you have \worked six days of the week. The fourth week you are sick, and miss one day; only four days counted.
So while you are physically away living on a farm for a whole month, you actually have only completed 18 days out of your 88 days required.
However, 88 days can be long and complicated when trying to fill out your application forms for your visa. Unfortunately, sometimes people have no choice but to do 88 days. Some friends I know where in the thick of completing their 13 weeks, when all of a sudden all the work dried up and they were let go. Their nine weeks of 13 weeks completed, suddenly turned into 45 days of 88.
That is why trying to secure a farm that provides three months/13 weeks of solid work is crucial. If you work three months solid, you are considered “full-time”. Meaning if you miss a day due to weather, illness, public holidays, etc., it will not affect your time frame.
(FYI: I am saying “13 weeks”, rather than 12 because, as a rule of thumb, all farm workers always complete an extra week of work, in case immigration have a problem with one of your weeks counted.)
Looking for Regional Work – Dos and Don’ts
- Do NOT, under any circumstances, give a “deposit” to secure your place on a farm or hostel. Think about it, would you pay a rental bond without viewing the property? Definitely not!
- Do research different harvesting seasons in the different areas of work.
- Do NOT fall for Gumtree scams, do not pay to apply for a position, so not pay anyone to find you a job, do not pay someone to “sign you off” – it’s become too risky
- Do make sure your farm you’re working on is counted as a regional area and has the right postcode.
- Do make sure the work you’re doing qualifies you for your visa – plant and animal cultivation, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, mining and construction
Misconstrued Information on Farm Work
- Hospitality and tourism in a regional area no longer counts (unless you’re an American).
- WWOFFing (working in return for board and food) does not count. Pay slips must be collected as proof of payment.
- Although, it’s frequently ignored, nannying/au pairing also does not count. If you do want to au pair, make sure it’s for a farming family. The farmer will then have to tell a fib and fill out your forms, saying you undertook daily farming duties also.
- Only one in five applications are investigated, from my experience a lot of my friends were investigated. Better off not taking the chance.
What are Working Hostels?
Working Hostels are the most popular way to obtain farm work. These are hostels that organise regional work for backpackers. They take rent and also get a cut from the farmers for providing workers.
There are a few benefits of a working hostel. While the conditions are far from glamorous, people make friends for life in their hostels. There’s something very bonding about everyone being in the same crap situation together.
Also, the hostel generally looks out for your well-being and prevents farmers from screwing you over. They have a list of farm contacts, and will place you in a job opening as soon as it appears; remember it’s in their best interest to get you a job as well.
How to Apply For a Working Hostel
Farm work works on a first-come-first serve basis. This means, you’re not put on “the list” to work until you are physically in the building.
When I was completing my farm work, I also worked in the hostel bar for cash, where I answered the phones and took rent as well. Every single day, backpackers from all over Australia and the world would ring looking for work. They’d all ask the same thing: is there work? I’d tell them all the same thing, call back when you’re in the area and we can go from there. What they should be asking is: Is there work if I arrive tomorrow?
My advice? Don’t waste weeks and weeks looking for work, pick a working hostel in an area that is harvesting at that particular time of year. Make sure the hostel has decent reviews. Book a flight or get on the road ASAP. It’s better to be in the hostel on the waiting list for work, than sitting at home waiting for work to fall in to your lap (because believe me, it won’t).
How Much Will I Get Paid?
The wages on my farm were good and I was lucky to be paid an hourly rate of $22 something an hour. However not all are as lucky and get stuck with piece rate, i.e.: paid by the kilo.
Hourly wages on the farm are anywhere from $18-23 an hour for about an 8/9 hour day. You MUST be paid at least the national minimum wage for your work to qualify for the visa.
There have been horror stories in the past of backpackers slaving away, earning money “by the basket”, coming away with as little as $40 a day. Not only is this illegal, but if you find yourself in this situation, it will not count towards your 88 days.
The rate of pay, according to the Aussie government, should be such that an ‘average competent worker’ would be able to earn 15% above the minimum award hourly rate. For most farm work this would be $18.29 + 15% = $20.55 per hour.
Also, make sure your superannuation is being paid by your employer. The minimum contribution that must be paid is 9%.
Below are some useful Facebook groups to search for farm work for your second year visa. Keep in mind what was mentioned above, NEVER give a deposit to secure a place.
Applying For Your Visa
So you’ve done the three months of regional work, now what??
You must apply for your second-year visa through the government website here. Download the form, and give it to your employer to fill in. Currently, a second-year visa costs $440. If you are rejected this fee is not refunded. You can withdraw your application by filling out a 1446 Form, provided it has not already been decided on.
Important: Once granted, you have twelve months from the date your second year visa is granted to enter Australia. This period of time used to be longer, but has been changed.
This is an official government document, and all parties who sign it are agreeing that the work stated was undertaken by you and no one else. It is said that only one out of five applications get officially checked or “investigated”. The other four out of five are said to be given a quick look over to check in the ABN on the form is in a regional area, and then approved.
I’m not sure how accurate this figure is, as though I was never investigated, plenty of my friends were. This is why it is not a good idea to fake your farm work and apply for the visa. Many do get caught, resulting in future visa problems.
On the chance that you might be investigated, keep a record of your time on the farm. Payslips are a great piece of evidence. Also, rent receipts from the hostel/accommodation you are living in at the time help your case. Possibly one of the most effective form of evidence these days are pictures on social media. We used to take plenty of snaps throughout our three months on the farm, clearly proving we worked on a farm.
How long does the visa grant process take?
If you have applied for your visa while still in Australia, you will automatically be put on a bridging visa while your application is being processed. These applications are processed quicker than people who apply outside of the country.
It is worth noting that if you apply whilst you’re still in Oz, your second year will automatically follow directly on from your first. However, if you apply from elsewhere, the visa will begin whenever you re-enter the country.
Usually visas take three weeks to process, but it could be longer if there is a problem or concern with your application.
Is There Any Way Around Regional Work?
This is a question every WHV holder asks at least once. The answer? Legally, there is no way to obtain a second-year visa without doing the farm work. There are a few exceptions, in regards to sponsorship or a de facto partner visa. Some people opt to stay in the country via a student visa, but this limits your working rights and how many hours you are allowed to work.
Regional Work – Worth It?
It can be painful, tiring and sometimes boring beyond belief, but the general consensus is the work is worth it for another amazing twelve months of adventure in the Land Down Under.
Mostly, you get out of the experience what you put in. Treat it as a way to make new friends, experience a more traditional side of Australia and work on your tan!