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Australia bushfires: Backpackers can stay longer if they help rebuild

Australian firefighters tackle bushfires Image copyright Getty Images

Backpackers in Australia on working holiday visas may now be able to stay longer if they help out on farms that were affected by the bushfires.

Previously, these visas let people work in the same place for six months - but that's just been upped to 12.

Australia's acting minister for immigration says the new rules are about getting "as many boots on the ground as they need".

And the new rules have been introduced with immediate effect.

"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," said Alan Tudge in a statement.

"It means working holiday makers can help rebuild homes, fences and farms, they can get onto properties and help with demolition, land clearing, and repairing dams, roads and railways."

'We need all hands on deck'

Australia often burns during its bushfire season, but its most recent summer was one of the most extreme ever.

A state of emergency was declared in November 2019 and there was no substantial rain until February 2020, when fires in New South Wales were put out - but it also brought floods to some parts of Australia.

The immigration minister's new rules will not only affect how long backpackers can stay in one place in their first year, it will also help them apply for a visa to spend a second year in Australia.

Previously this only applied to people doing paid work in regional areas - which Mr Tudge estimates a third of backpackers in Australia already do.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fires in Australia caused devastation in rural communities

He also told radio station 2GB that construction work would now count towards backpackers extending their stay.

"They're very practical measures just to get more people on the ground right now, because we need all hands on deck," the minister said.

He also added that getting more backpackers out to affected areas would bring benefits for wider communities, not just the farmers.

"It brings money into those local communities as well," he added.

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Media captionCarrots airdropped to wallabies caught in bushfires

"Backpackers tend to earn the money then go and spend it in a very short amount of time in those local areas as well so they're great for local communities on a number of fronts."

Australia's minister for trade, tourism and investment, Simon Birmingham, says that getting more holiday makers into these communities is essential to "help protect local jobs and keep local businesses alive".

"We know tourism businesses in fire-affected communities are doing it tough, and the more tourism dollars that these working holiday makers can inject into these economies, the quicker these businesses can get back on their feet," he says.

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