SYDNEY - Australia hopes visa changes will encourage foreign backpackers to join the mammoth bushfire recovery effort. The working vacationers would be allowed to stay longer under new rules if they help in disaster-hit areas.
The scale of Australia's recovery from the bushfire crisis is immense. Since July, almost 16 million hectares of land have been scorched. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, along with thousands of homes.
The government says overseas backpackers will be crucial in helping to rebuild homes, roads and farms, as well as helping with demolition, land clearing and repairing railways.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge says young foreign travelers have a big part to play in the recovery effort.
"There is so much work to do," Tudge said. "We need all hands on deck and that includes the international backpackers who we know want to make their contribution as well."
Temporary visa changes will make it easier for working vacationers to stay longer in Australia if they work or volunteer in a disaster area. The measures have gone down well.
"I think it is wonderful because Australia needs this thing to reforest all the bushfires," one backpacker said.
"I am thrilled," a woman added. "I think it is a great idea. I just wished it would have happened sooner whether it is planting trees, helping the animals, something like that."
Australia's working holiday visa program gives young people between the ages of 18 and 30 the chance to take up short-term employment for up to three years.
The scheme is popular with travelers from many countries, including Britain, Taiwan, Germany, South Korea and France.