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Furious backpackers slam Australia's border problem: 'How is it fair?'

Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison describing the reopening of the border for working holidaymakers as "very successful", the raw data appears to tell a different story.

Just over 2,000 backpackers have entered Australia since the mid-December reopening, with the number of backpackers in the country significantly down on pre-pandemic levels.

With major labour shortages across multiple industries, Mr Morrison has attempted to lure backpackers back by waiving visa fees for several weeks.

Many travellers say the desire to head Down Under is as strong as ever despite Covid, but there's a stumbling block preventing some from arriving in the country.

There has been a raft of backpackers complaining of extended waiting times for their visa applications to be approved.

Sophie Matthews, from Leeds in the UK, was forced to wait five months for her visa to be approved, putting her round the world trip in doubt.

Sophie Matthews pictured left at an airport wearing a big bag and on the right holding a glass of wine.
Sophie Matthews' trip of a lifetime was up in the air after her visa took five months for approval. Source: Supplied

The 26-year-old had quit her job as a mortgage broker and eventually headed on her trip with fears she'd be unable to enter the country.

"I was thinking I’m going travelling in January and still don’t know if I can make my way over to Australia," she told Yahoo News Australia.

"Stressful would be an understatement," Ms Matthews said, describing how she felt.

Even more frustrating for Ms Matthews and other applicants in the same position has been the approval of other applications almost immediately after submission.

"I had a friend apply in December and hers was approved instantly. In my head flags were being raised as I’m thinking it’s my first visa, why is mine not being accepted?" she said.

Getting nervously close to her planned arrival date in Australia, Sophie eventually put her fate in the hands of an immigration agent which paid off as her visa was approved shortly after.

A Qantas plane pictured at Sydney airport.
The numbers of backpackers arriving into the country are a far cry from pre-pandemic times. Source: Getty (Getty Images)

"I'm relieved now but I'm annoyed and frustrated with the Australian government as people like myself just can't ring them as it costs people a lot of money," she said.

She now plans to find work in either Sydney or Brisbane in March and is optimistic of finding employment due to the high demand for staff.

Backpacker groups on social media are rife with similar stories to that of Ms Matthews, with claims from some applicants their waiting time is reaching one year.

One tactic gaining popularity is removing applications which have not been approved after several months, and reapplying in the hope it will be one of the applications approved instantly.

"They're approving people who applied the same day but not approving people from months ago. That's something I'll never understand. How is that fair?" Sophie asked.

Government working through applications 'as soon as possible'

The Department of Home Affairs stressed to Yahoo News Australia it was working to clear through outstanding applications.

"Since the announcement that working holiday makers (WHMs) would not be subject to travel restrictions, the number of unfinalised applications with the Department has decreased by 42 per cent," a spokesperson said.

"The Department aims to finalise new and existing applications as soon as possible."

The spokesperson said previous restrictions on WHMs had meant lower numbers of visas being processed, explaining longer waiting times.

"Many applications finalised recently had been with the Department for some months while travel restrictions were in place for WHMs.

"Now that fully vaccinated WHMs are not subject to travel restrictions, many of these applications are being finalised."

The department says processing times of recently submitted applications may increase as it focuses on older applications.

From December 1 to January 31, 27,959 WHM visas have been granted.

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