Australia bushfires: Young Britons can volunteer in affected areas to be eligible for visa

Helen Coffey
An aerial view of bushfires burning south of Canberra on January 31, 2020: Getty

Australia has changed the rules of its Working Holiday Visa scheme to allow young Britons to count volunteering in bushfire-ravaged areas towards obtaining a second or third year visa.

The 417 visa allows all British passport holders from 18 up to the age of 30 inclusive to live and work in Australia for 12 months.

To apply to stay for a second year on the same visa, applicants are required to do 88 days of work (or six months when applying for a third year visa).

However, as of 17 February 2020, the Australian government has ruled that volunteering in areas affected by the recent devastating bushfires can also be accepted as “work”.

As an additional incentive, those choosing to volunteer can stay in the same position for up to a year – previously, it was limited to six months per post.

This is to ensure that communities in need of long-term volunteers can “take in young travellers willing to lend a hand”, according to the Australian tourist board.

For those with previous construction training or experience, this field has been added to the list of qualifying trades.

Volunteering gigs will be accepted as “work” as long as they’re in the regions most affected by the fires. These include areas in Eastern Victoria, South Eastern New South Wales and Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

Volunteers might be tasked with anything ranging from building new homes and land clearing to repairing dams, roads and railways.

The recent bushfires, the most damaging ever on record, ravaged an area the size of Iceland, claimed 29 lives and destroyed in the region of 2,500 homes.

The fires have also had a devastating effect on wildlife, with scientists estimating some 1.25 billion animals were killed in this season’s blazes.

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