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Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme: why has take-up been so low?


Author Info

  • Danielle Hay

    (Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University)

  • Stephen Howes

    (Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University)


The Australian Government introduced the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) in 2008 to allow Pacific Islanders to fill seasonal labour shortages in the horticulture industry, and announced in December 2011 that the scheme would be made permanent. Take-up of the scheme is increasing but has been very low. As of the end of March 2012, only 1,100 PSWPS workers have arrived since the scheme’s commencement. This study tries to explain why the PSWPS has not employed more Pacific workers. It distinguishes between different hypotheses that could explain the poor outcome, and uses quantitative and qualitative analysis to test each hypothesis, including a survey of growers. The study finds a number of reasons for the low take-up. Growers are largely satisfied with their current labour supply, in terms of both quantity and quality: 93 percent of growers interviewed said they had no trouble finding labour, and 81 percent were satisfied with the quality of their existing labour force. The scheme is not well known: half the growers surveyed had simply not heard of the scheme, and most of those who had lacked information about it. The scheme also suffers from perceptions of high levels of risk and costs, including excessive red tape. Despite its slow start, PSWPS might still succeed on the basis of the productivity gains it has already shown it can deliver. But this is by no means assured: even growers who are unhappy with their current labour supply arrangements are reluctant to try the PSWPS. For the scheme to expand, the Australian Government will need to promote the scheme much more vigorously, and reduce the scheme’s financial and compliance costs. The Government also needs to attend to illegal horticultural labour practices, and tackle the booming working holiday visa category. Most growers now rely mainly on backpackers, and their numbers have increased rapidly in recent years: we estimate the number of backpackers working on farms increased from 13,000 in 2001-02 to 37,000 in 2007-08. In particular, the special preference which horticulture receives under the working holiday visa category should be removed. The policy challenges involved in making the PSWPS work should not be underestimated. Other avenues should also be explored for promoting Pacific migration, including adoption of New Zealand’s quota-based Pacific permanent migration schemes.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University in its series Development Policy Centre Discussion Papers with number 1217.

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Date of creation: Apr 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:een:devpol:1217

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Related research

Keywords: migration; Pacific;

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Blog mentions

As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Why are seasonal immigrant worker programs so unpopular?
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2012-05-18 14:55:00
  2. Crawford School Working Papers in April 2012
    by David Stern in Stochastic Trend on 2012-05-03 11:44:00
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Cited by:
  1. John Gibson & David McKenzie & Halahingano Rohorua, . "Development Impacts of Seasonal and Temporary Migration: A Review of Evidence from the Pacific and Southeast Asia," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies 201412, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  2. Michael Clemens, 2013. "The Effect of Foreign Labor on Native Employment: A Job-Specific Approach and Application to North Carolina Farms- Working Paper 326," Working Papers 326, Center for Global Development.
  3. Michael Clemens, Colum Graham, and Stephen Howes, 2014. "Skill Development and Regional Mobility: Lessons from the Australia-Pacific Technical College - Working Paper 370," Working Papers 370, Center for Global Development.


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