Backpackers will be able to help Australia rebuild after summer’s devastating bushfires under federal government changes to visa rules.
The changes mean backpackers living and working in bushfire zones can stay with the same employer for a year instead of six months.
Construction work in disaster zones will count as work under the new rules designed to support farmers and regional businesses.
Paid and volunteer disaster recovery work in fire-hit areas will count towards the specified work needed to apply for a second or third year visa.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge will confirm the changes on Monday in Victoria’s Gippsland region, where fires destroyed scores of homes last month.
Working holiday-makers would help rebuild homes, fences and farms.
“These hard-working 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,” Mr Tudge 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 organisations to have as many boots on the ground as they need.”
Backpackers will also be able to help with demolition, land clearing and repairs to dams, roads and railways.
BlazeAid president Kevin Butler, who has been pushing the government to change the visa rules, told The Australian he had been inundated with requests from backpackers to volunteer and support farmers.
“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,” he 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.
Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the visa changes would be a boost for fire-affected communities doing it tough.
“Every extra working holiday maker that we can get into these communities is one extra visitor to help protect local jobs and keep local businesses alive,” he said.
Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said those coming to help from overseas will be greeted with open arms.
“They’ll come as holiday makers but will leave as life long friends.”
The government will also waive the fee for access to the bushfire construction standard to support rebuilding.
The standard specifies requirements for the construction of buildings in bushfire-prone areas in order to improve their resistance to attack from embers, radiant heat and flame contact.