Voluntary Underclass?: Globalism, Temporality and the Life Choices of Japanese Working Holiday Makers in Australia

The working holiday (WH) program is a cultural exchange program that offers youth ‘global experiences’ including short-term employment, travel, and/or study. Australia is the most popular destination for Japanese working holiday makers (WHMs): 11,933 Japanese WHMs were in Australia before the pandemic hit the country in March 2020. Despite the fact that most hold secure white-collar jobs in Japan, they move to Australia and voluntarily take precarious jobs in agriculture, hospitality and childcare. What makes them decide to accept such significant downward mobility and acquiesce to unfavourable conditions such as underpayment, non-payment, and sometimes harassment? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected their lives, and why did some decide to remain in Australia? Based on data from a survey and qualitative interviews, this presentation will analyse the factors behind Japanese WHMs’ migration, their decision to join the ‘underclass’ in Australia, and the ways in which they respond to the challenges upon arrival.

This presentation will advocate for the urgent need for institutional interventions to reform the current WH program and protect a particularly vulnerable group such as au pairs. It will also call for further research on the WH programs and other youth programs outside Australia to scrutinise the potential roles that they might play in channelling young migrants into the ‘global temporary underclass.’

Nana Oishi is Associate Professor in Japanese Studies at the University of Melbourne. Her research concerns migration and incorporation in Japan and Australia. She is currently working on projects that examine the linkages between nationalism and migration in Japan and the roles of migrant entrepreneurs in its regional development (funded by the Toyota Foundation).

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The ANU Japan Institute Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Government through the Australia-Japan Foundation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute