Backpackers in Australia can now join the national effort to rebuild bushfire ravaged communities. To attract the willing and able, the Government is offering special perks to Working Holiday visa (WHV) holders. The changes apply to both the Subclass 417 Working Holiday and Subclass 462 Work & Holiday visas. Let's go through them.
WHV renewal basics
Backpackers wishing to extend their initial 1-year WHV visa in Australia can apply for a second or third visa. A key part of WHV renewals is the farm work requirement (AKA 'Specified Work'). Applicants must have worked in agricultural and/or certain other jobs in rural areas in order to qualify for another WHV.
Backpackers can now count work undertaken in bushfire affected areas towards the farm work requirement of WHV renewals. Acceptable bushire recovery work means:
construction, farming, or any other work in association with the recovery of land, property, farm animals or wildlife.
providing support services or assistance to people living, working or volunteering in the affected areas.
To be eligible, bushfire recovery work must be undertaken in declared disaster areas after 31 July 2019. Specific postcodes are listed here and here (scroll down to find them). The work can be paid or unpaid.
The fine print
Construction work in burnt down towns would be a good example of eligible bushfire recovery work. The rest is not as clear cut. To help backpackers understand what bushfire recovery work means, the Department of Home Affairs has provided the following examples:
re-building fences destroyed in a bushfire affected community
caring for wildlife in a bushfire affected community
support work for volunteer organisations assisting victims of bushfires
demolition of buildings, trench digging, land clearing and earth moving
residential and non-residential construction or renovation/repair, including of roads, footpaths, bridges, parking lots, fencing, railways, dams, irrigation systems, sewage and stormwater drainage systems
The grey zone
Still not clear on what 'Support' actually means? Are hospitality and admin jobs excluded? And what about work at local businesses affected by the fires? The following examples of ineligible work provided by the Department help to clarify this (a bit):
hospitality, cleaning or administrative work in a business that was not damaged by bushfire
construction or renovation work in an area that is not a declared bushfire affected area
work carried out on or before 31 July 2019
Reading between the lines, it appears that Immigration can accept different kinds of jobs, so long as they are at businesses that were damaged by the fires. A cafe job or secretary position could satisfy this requirement, depending on the situation of the business. However, that is not clearly stated anywhere. Applicants seeking to rely on this 'grey area' should be cautious and weigh up their options.
The Australian Government is actively encouraging backpackers to engage in bushfire recovery work. In return, eligible recovery work will satisfy the farm work requirement of Working Holiday visa renewals.
There is some ambiguity on what kinds of jobs are acceptable. This leaves more room for Case Officers' personal views when assessing a WHV renewal application. In such cases, the particulars of the job duties and the context of the workplace will be a major factor when deciding to grant (or not to grant) the visa. You can search for Bushfire recovery jobs here:
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