Australia

Thousands are waiting for a visa refund. Some say it was an ’empty promise’

Working holiday visa holders are appealing to the Australian government to fulfil a promise to refund application fees, with only 5 per cent of applicants reimbursed to date.
Former prime minister Scott Morrison promised international arrivals on working holiday, and work and holiday maker visas a refund of between $495 and $510 if they arrived between 19 January and 19 April this year.

The promised refund was a strive to boost tourism after the sector took a hard hit throughout Australia’s lockdowns and to help address labour shortages in hospitality, agriculture and several other industries.

But SBS News understands that around 500 working holiday maker claims have been finalised to date, out of around 11,000 which have been lodged since January.
That means only around one in 20 applicants have actually received a refund, leaving thousands waiting for months with no response.

It also means as working holiday visas last one year, that some applicants have already waited longer than half the duration of their allowed stay before being refunded.

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Maria Fernandez is a 23-year-old Spanish student studying human rights.
She told SBS News she’s been waiting for over four months for her refund and says the $500 is important to her considering what she called Australia’s high cost of living.
“I applied on the government website on 12 March and it’s now 6 July and no-one has contacted me,” Ms Fernandez said.
“It’s around $500, meaning it’s a lot of money I count on.
“When the government said they would refund the money, I was really happy. I thought: ‘I can use this to pay rent or buy groceries this month’.
“The cost of living here is so much higher than in Spain, and wages aren’t as high as people say they are, so young people were really counting on this refund.

“The government made an empty promise.”

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Hugo Dupond is a 33-years-old from France on a working holiday visa and says he feels lied to by the government.
“I arrived in Australia on 15 February and had confirmation of the visa refund on 22 February,” Mr Dupond told SBS News.
“It’s now July and I’ve heard nothing from anyone.
“I feel like the government lied to us.”
Gregoire Blanc, also from France on a working holiday visa, said he asked for his refund, but months later “nothing has happened still”.
In January 2022, a joint statement by former immigration minister Alex Hawke and former treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the refunds would be processed “quickly”.
“The provision of refunds and priority visa processing, together with a Tourism Australia advertising campaign, will generate fresh interest in Australia from students and Working Holiday Makers who contribute greatly to our economy and fill vital skills gaps,” the statement read.
“These changes will also apply for new applications, which will be processed quickly so applicants can come to Australia during the refund window.”
There are around 18,000 working holiday and work and holiday maker visa holders eligible for the refund and checks for potential fraud and ensuring the refund goes to the right person add to the processing time for refunds.

Applicants have until 31 December 2022 to submit a claim for their refund.

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