Irish backpackers in Australia can extend visas to help bushfire recovery
‘We need boots on the ground’: New rules on working holiday visas come into immediate effect
James Fitzgerald, director of the Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust, inspects his bushfire-scorched koala reserve on earlier this month in Peak View, Australia. Photogrpah: John Moore/Getty Images
A female koala recovers after bushfires in the Native Wildlife Rescue centre in Robertson, Australia. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
Irish backpackers in Australia on working holiday visas may now be able to extend their length of time they can stay if they help out in towns recovering from bushfires.
Australia has been battling hundreds of fires since September in an unusually prolonged summer bushfire season.
The fires burnt out an area almost 12 million hectares (29.7 million acres) of tinder-dry bushland, killed 33 people and an estimated 1 billion native animals. Recent rain has helped contain the fires.
The new changes will allow people from abroad on particular working visas to work in the same place for 12 months, up from the usual six months; allow construction work as part of the designated activities backpackers are allowed to participate in; and up to three months' voluntary work will now count towards eligibility for a second-year visa.
Danielle McLaughlin from Crosscare, an Irish information and advocacy service for immigrants and emigrants, said there are almost 8,000 Irish working holiday visa holders currently living in Australia
“Irish people living in Australia have developed a real connection with the country and their communities,” she said.
“Many will want to contribute to the recovery from the devastation they’ve witnessed from the bushfires. The announcement on the possibility of extending working holiday visas will be very welcome and an opportunity for Irish people to get involved and stay involved in the huge reconstruction effort.”
Acting minister for immigration Alan Tudge in Australia said the changes were to help farmers and regional businesses.
“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
“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.
“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.”
The Australian minister for tourism Simon Birmingham said every person who stayed on in a community would help protect local jobs and businesses.
“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.
For more details about the changes to working holday visas click here.
For people currently planning to apply for Australia Working Holiday Visas, they can find out more information at Crosscare here.