Backpackers offered special Australian visa to help with bushfire recovery
Backpackers will be granted special Australian visa benefits to help rebuild the areas hit hardest by the bushfire crisis.
Alan Tudge, the Acting Minister for Immigration, on Monday announced changes to working holiday visas that will encourage backpackers to move into 45 declared disaster zones in seven of Australia's eight states and territories.
Under the changes, backpackers working in bushfire-affected communities will be able to remain with the same employer for 12 months, up from the current limit of six months.
Tudge told The Australian that working holidaymakers will be able to help with "demolition (and) land clearing, and repairing dams, roads and railways."
"These 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," he said.
"This recovery will be driven locally, by local workers and communities. But this will be a massive recovery effort and we want businesses and charitable organizations to have as many boots on the ground as they need."
More than 3,000 homes have been destroyed and at least 33 people have died in bushfires that have burned across Australia since September 2019.
The visa changes were recommended by the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which was established by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in January with a 2-billion-Australian-dollar (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) budget.
Any volunteering work undertaken by backpackers in bushfire-affected communities will now count as "specific work" towards securing second and third-year visas.
In order to be eligible for a second-year working holiday visa, backpackers must do 88 days of "specific work" in regional areas, most commonly in the agriculture industry.
"We need young people with young muscles to do the hard yards. The bushfires hit hardest in some very rugged areas and these backpackers have the energy to do it," Kevin Butler, president of volunteer recovery organization BlazeAid, said.
"A lot of the backpackers are going up and down the coast and being turned away from jobs because of the drought and bushfires. This is an opportunity for them, and the farmers.
"We have 2,500 farmers signed up to BlazeAid for the help these volunteers are providing. It's just common sense and we should have done this a long time ago."