New visa rules encourage backpackers to help in Australia’s bushfire recovery

Britons who plan on taking a working holiday in Australia can now volunteer to help with bushfire relief as part of their application – and be eligible for a longer working-holiday visa. The aim is to direct larger numbers of workers to areas where help is most needed, especially on a long-term basis. The changes come a month on from devastating bushfires which killed 33 people and around a billion animals, destroying more than 3,000 homes and 19.4 million hectares since July 2019.

Prior to the change, travellers had to put in 88 days of paid – usually agricultural – work to be able to apply for a second- or third-year working holiday visa. Also known as 417 visas, these are open to travellers aged 18 to 30, or up to 35 for Canadian, French and Irish citizens. Now, unpaid volunteer work in bushfire-affected areas can count towards the total number of days.

The new rules also allow people to stay up to a year in a single job, instead of just six months as was the case before. And construction jobs have been added to the designated work activities travellers can participate in, to encourage young people with relevant skills and training to find work in affected areas.

In a statement on 17 February, Alan Tudge, acting minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs, said the new rules for working-holiday visas have been welcomed by farmers and regional businesses.

“Hardworking Australians have been hit by the recent bushfires, but from today they can employ backpackers for six months longer, helping them at a critical time in the recovery effort,” said Tudge. “It means working holidaymakers can help rebuild homes, fences and farms … and help with demolition, land clearing and repairing dams, roads and railways.”

Regions declared most affected by the fires include areas of eastern Victoria, south-eastern New South Wales and Kangaroo Island in South Australia. It is hoped that the new measures will also boost local economies, as travellers spend money in the fire-affected towns where they work.

“Every extra working holidaymaker we can get into these communities is one extra visitor to help protect local jobs and keep local businesses alive,” said Simon Birmingham, minister for trade, tourism and investment. “The more tourism dollars these working holidaymakers can inject into these economies, the quicker these businesses can get back on their feet.”

The UK is Australia’s largest market for working holidaymakers, according to Tourism Australia. Around a third of all backpackers and young travellers visiting the country currently take advantage of the second- and third-year visa.

Sam Willan, manager for travel booking site StudentUniverse, welcomed the move: “Australia has always been one of StudentUniverse’s most-searched-for (and booked) destinations,” he said. “Many young people were desperate to help in the recovery efforts and this extension gives them the chance to do so, on the ground, in the places that need it the most.”

Visit the Australian Government for more information

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