Australia is a traditionally warm and dry land. This means that every summer, large parts of its territory are at risk of fires — so much so that the time between November and February is called ‘fire season’ by locals.
However, the summer of 2019-2020 has been particularly harsh on the country Down Under, which has been consistently making the front page of international newspapers for the devastating effects that the fires have had on the territory and local communities.
As the bushfires have been contained, the focus is now on recovery. Thousands of Australian professionals and volunteers are working on rebuilding what was lost.
On the 17th of February, the government announced temporary changes to Australian visa policies that reward backpackers who decide to help in the reconstruction. Working holiday visa holders are now able to extend their visa by undertaking bushfire rebuilding work.
How to extend a working holiday visa with the new bushfire rule
The fires, originated in the state of New South Wales, have claimed the lives of 33 people and destroyed as many as 3,000 homes as they swept through 25.5 million acres of land. There is much work to be done and locals and firefighters can use all the help they can get.
For this reason, the Australian government has decided to implement a temporary new rule that allows foreigners who hold a working holiday visa to extend their permit if they help Australians recover from the effects of the fires. So far, the new rule does not apply to other visa types.
The below are some of the details of the new initiative:
- Foreigners can undertake volunteer or paid work
- The work must be carried out in communities affected by the bushfires
- Work may involve land clearing or rebuilding of homes, properties, and fences
- Working holiday visa holders can be employed for up to one year by the same company or entity for this purpose.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge commented:
“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. […] It means working holidaymakers can help rebuild homes, fences and farms, they can get onto properties and help with demolition, land clearing, and repairing dams, roads and railways.”
How does the working holiday visa work?
Those who wish to travel to Australia for leisure have several visa options available.
The quickest and most convenient Australian permits for tourists are the electronic visas: the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) and the eVisitor visa. Both can be applied for online in minutes, are inexpensive, and grant entry into Australia for short-term stays for tourism purposes and visiting friends of families. However, they do not allow foreigners to work while in Australia.
The working holiday visa (or WHV) was designed for those travelers who wish to visit Australia but don’t have a great budget at their disposal. It allows WHV holders to work while in Australia for a maximum of 6 months with each employer. This allows backpackers and other visitors on a budget to discover Australia as they fund their trip.
Can the WHV be extended without bushfire work?
Working holiday visas have a validity of one year from the first date of entry. They allow for multiple entries but these don’t affect the visa validity.
That is to say that a working holiday visa holder can leave and enter Australia within the one-year validity of their visa as many times as they want, but the validity period won’t ‘pause’ while they are outside Australia.
However, working holiday visas can be extended: the visa holder must take up specific employment in rural areas (eligible work includes fruit picking, farming, mining, and some types of construction work) for a certain amount of time.
By carrying out this type of work for 3 months, visa holders get an extension of one year. The WHV can be extended for a third year provided that the traveler undertakes 6 further months of regional work.
As mentioned before, WHV visitors cannot work for longer than 6 months for the same employer. The new bushfire regulations represent an exception to this rule.
Who can apply for a working holiday visa?
Working holiday visas are available to certain passport holders. Citizens of the below countries may be eligible for a WHV:
- Republic of Cyprus
- Hong Kong
- Republic of Ireland
- Republic of Korea
- United Kingdom
Working holiday visas are only available to eligible foreign citizens between 18 and 30 years of age. Foreigners who don’t fall into this category can apply for electronic visas for tourism purposes or a relevant work visa.
Eligible nationals can obtain a working holiday visa for Australia only once (and they can then decide to extend their visa). If you have traveled to Australia with a WHV in the past and the permit has expired, you cannot apply for a new one.
The new regulations regarding bushfire work apply to all working holiday visa holders. They are intended to be temporary until the emergency is resolved but no official statement has been made regarding the ending date of this special extension possibility.