National

Backpackers to help with bushfire recovery

By AAP Newswire

Overseas backpackers will be able to extend their stay in Australia if they help rebuild communities after the summer's devastating bushfires.

Under federal government changes to visa rules, 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 toward the specified work needed to apply for a second or third-year visa.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge confirmed the changes on Monday in Victoria's Gippsland region where fires destroyed 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 can also help with demolition, land clearing and repairs to dams, roads and railways.

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the measures 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.

Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley said given that the bushfires had attracted global attention, allowing visitors to be involved in the recovery would "create global engagement".

"The working holiday maker program has always been about supporting a young person to build a life-long relationship and this is an excellent time to be inviting more people to get to know the Australian way of life," he said.

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.