Obtaining a Visa to Live, Study and Work: Australia
This is the second in a series of articles concerning visa options. We cover the different types of visas and how to apply. The other regions in the series are the United Kingdom, Canada, the Schengen area, and the United States. Get ready to go abroad!
If you've ever wanted to live or work (legally) in Australia, you've come to the right place. Below you will find information on visa regulations for long-term visitors, students, and individuals moving to Australia to work or to join spouses, partners or other family members. This is the third in a series of five articles: in the coming weeks there will be installments that investigate visa requirements for permanent residents, students, workers and certain other visitors to the United States and the Schengen Area of western Europe. Each article will focus on how to meet the requirements for obtaining a visa and/or work permit for the country or region.
Every effort has been made to provide accurate information; however, you should consult with the appropriate consulate or embassy to obtain the most recent information and to discuss your specific circumstances. In addition, fees have been deliberately omitted because this information often becomes outdated very quickly.
Do You Need a Visa?
Everyone who enters Australia must have a valid passport or other acceptable travel document. Citizens and residents of all countries (besides New Zealand) must apply for a visa prior to entering Australia. Once you have obtained a visa and have entered Australia, you may apply to extend your visa for up to an additional six months if necessary.
Citizens of New Zealand who have New Zealand passports may enter Australia by presenting their passports and completed Incoming Passenger Cards. They will be issued a Special Category Visa (SCV) upon entry into the country.
Military personnel from certain designated countries, along with their their partners and their dependents may enter Australia without a visa by presenting their military ID cards and Movement Orders along with valid passports and completed Incoming Passenger Cards to border officials.
For questions about your particular entry requirements, research country specific information.
If you are a citizen or legal resident of any of the countries listed below, you are eligible to apply for a ETA (Visitor) (Subclass 976) visa online, which allows you to remain in Australia for up to 3 months. ETA visas are electronically stored records linked to your passport number and are accessible to airlines, travel agencies and Australian border agents. There is no charge for the visa, however, a service charge for processing the visa applies.
You will not receive a paper visa or a stamp on your passport, however, you will receive confirmation of the visa for your records. The visa is valid for 12 months after the date of issue or the expiration date of your passport, whichever is shorter, and cannot be extended. If you want to remain in Australia after your ETA expiration date, you must apply for a new visa at least two weeks before your visa expires. After you complete your application, you may remain in Australia legally until the processing for your visa extension application is completed, even if the date falls after the expiration date of your original visa.
Countries whose citizens are eligible for an ETA visa:
- Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region)
- South Korea
- United States of America
If you are not eligible for an ETA visa, you may qualify for an eVisitor visa. Individuals who hold passports from the European Union, Iceland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom as well as passport holders of several other European countries qualify for eVisitor visas. The eVisitor visa allows stays of up to three months and is free of charge.
All other visitors to Australia must apply for the e676 Tourist visa. The e676 Tourist visa allows stays of up to three, six or 12 months, depending on the purpose of the visa and the personal circumstances of the applicant.
Permanent Resident Visas
Certificate of Resident Status and Certificate of Status for New Zealand Citizens in Australia
If you are a permanent resident of Australia, you may apply for Certificate of Evidence of Resident Status (CERS) to verify your eligibility to live and work in Australia. CERS is useful as an alternative to the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) system for permanent residents who arrived in Australia prior to the mid-1980s. You may not use your CERS to apply for an Australian passport. Citizens of New Zealand may apply for a Certificate of Status for New Zealand Citizens in Australia (CSNZCA), however, New Zealand citizens who hold a SCV do not need to apply for a CSNZCA to work in Australia or remain in the country indefinitely.
Resident Return and Five Year Resident Return Visas
If you are a present or former permanent resident of Australia who lived in Australia during at least 9 of your first 18 years or if you completed at least 3 months of service in the Australian armed forces before January 19, 1981, you may qualify for a Resident Return visa to reside in Australia permanently. You may also include your spouse or de facto partner and dependent children under the same visa application. This visa allows you to work and study in Australia without restriction. You are also eligible to receive subsidized healthcare under Australian Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), draw social security payments and eventually earn Australian citizenship status. You may also sponsor other applicants for permanent resident status, subject to waiting periods.
If you are a permanent resident and plan to travel outside of Australia, you should obtain a Five Year Resident Return Visa (Subclass 155). This visa allows you to travel to and from Australia without restriction during a five-year period while retaining your permanent resident status. You should apply for the visa before leaving Australia.
Studying in Australia
If you wish to study in Australia, you must apply for a Student Subclass visa within one of the following categories.
- English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)
- Primary or Secondary School Course
- Vocational Education and Training (VET)
- Higher Education (Bachelor's Degrees and Post-Secondary Certificates)
- Postgraduate Research (Master's or Doctoral Degrees)
- Non-Award (Full-time Nondegree Granting Programs)
- AusAID and Defence
For all Student Subclass visa applications processed on or after April 2, 2011, visas will be assigned according to one of five assessment levels. Your assessment level is dependent on your country of residence and your planned study program. Nearly all student applicants from the United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan and western Europe, along with applicants from some South American countries will be assigned assessment level 1 visas. Applicants from the People's Republic of China, Lebanon, Pakistan and many countries within southern Asia, Africa and the Middle East will be assigned assessment level 4, 3 or 2 visas.
You may also bring immediate family members with you while you are studying in Australia. Immediate family members include unmarried, dependent children or stepchildren under age 18 and either legally-married spouses or de facto partners (heterosexual or same-sex partners). You must have been living with your de facto partner for at least 12 months prior to applying for your partner to accompany you to Australia under a Student Subclass visa.
If you were granted a Student Subclass visa on or after April 26, 2008, you will also be allowed to work up to 20 hours per week while your program is not in session. Work that is included in your educational program and most volunteer work is not included in this limitation. Family members traveling with you are also eligible to work up to 20 hours per week at any time while you are enrolled in school. If you are enrolled in master's or doctoral level studies and have submitted your thesis, you may work unlimited hours. Your family members may also work without weekly hourly limits.
As a student enrolled in an educational institution within Australia, you must have health insurance. If you do not have a policy that will cover you while you are in Australia, you may purchase coverage through the Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) scheme for up to five years, with the option to renew coverage if necessary.
Family Migration Stream Visa Rules
Although Australian citizens and permanent residents (as well as New Zealand citizens) may sponsor eligible family members for permanent resident visa status, the regulations involved are strict and waiting periods can extend for more than 10 years under certain circumstances. Visas for certain family member categories are subject to capping and queuing, or imposed limits with waiting periods for applications received after category limits have been reached. However, exceptions to capping and queuing visa limitations may be made in extraordinarily compelling cases on compassionate grounds.
Family Migration Stream Visa Categories NOT Subject to Capping and Queuing
- Partner (subclasses 309/100 and 820/801) temporary and permanent visas
- Child (subclasses 101 and 802) visas
- Dependent Child (subclass 445) visas
- Orphan Relative (subclasses 117 and 837) visas
- Adoption (subclass 102) visas
Family Migration Stream Visa Categories Subject to Capping and Queuing
- Prospective Marriage (fiancé ) (subclass 300) visas
- Aged Dependent Relative (subclasses 114 and 838 ) visas
- Remaining Relative (subclasses 115 and 835)
- Carer (subclasses 116 and 836) visas
- Parent (subclasses 103, 143, 173, 804, 864 and 884) visas
Visa Status for Children
Children born within Australia automatically receive Australian citizenship if at least one parent is an Australian citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child's birth. Children born outside Australia to parents who are not Australian citizens do not receive automatic Australian citizenship and must be hold an appropriate visa before being admitted into Australia. If one or both parents of a child born outside Australia holds permanent resident status, the child is eligible for a Child (subclass 101) visa. As of March 2012, approximate processing time for the visa is 14 months.
Eligible children must be under age 18, or under age 25 if enrolled as a full-time student in a post-secondary degree program. Dependent children who have disabilities that prevent them from working are not subject to age limitations. Children must also be single and not engaged to be married or involved in a de facto partnership relationship. They must not be employed full-time. Children must be the biological or legally-adopted offspring of one or both sponsoring parents. Stepchildren may also be eligible for inclusion under a family stream migration visa if the child is under age 18 and the sponsoring stepparent has legal responsibility for the child's care.
Australia has imposed especially stringent measures aimed toward the protection of children included in migrant visa applications. Specifically, Prospective Marriage (fiancé ) (subclass 300) visa applications where at least one partner is a minor are subject to police clearance before a visa will be issued.
Working In Australia
Most temporary visa holders are allowed to work legally while they are in Australia. However, a work visa is required to obtain the permanent right to work, unless you qualify for permanent resident status under another category. To qualify for a provisional skilled worker visa under most circumstances, you must be under age 50 at the time of your visa application unless you are sponsored by a specific employer within Australia or otherwise qualify under a specialized work visa category. To find what skills are recognized, consult the Australian Skills Recognition Information (ASRI).
The Skill Select program allows skilled workers to register an Expression of Interest (EOI) as part of an online database. Workers may submit an EOI before entering Australia or while legally present in Australia, which will remain on file for two years. Many Professionals and Other Skilled Migrants (PDF) are evaluated under a points system; applicants for provisional worker visa status must receive a minimum score to qualify. Skilled workers who hold provisional visa status may apply for their spouses or partners and dependent children or other dependent relatives to accompany them to Australia.
Workers who have held qualified provisional worker visa status for two years, and have worked full-time for at least 12 consecutive months may be eligible to apply for Skilled - Regional (Residence) visa (subclass 887) visa status which allows permanent residence in Australia. Skilled - Regional Visa status also allows workers to collect social security, received subsidized healthcare, sponsor other applicants for permanent resident status and be eligible for eventual Australian citizenship.
Categories Eligible to apply for Skilled - Regional (Residence) Visas (subclass 887)
- Skilled - Independent Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 495)
- Skilled - Designated Area - Sponsored (Provisional) visa (subclass 496)
- Skilled - Regional Sponsored (Provisional) visa (subclass 475)
- Skilled - Regional Sponsored (Provisional) visa (subclass 487)
Specialist Entry Worker Visas
Specialist entry worker visa applicants are not subject to evaluation by the points system, although in many cases applicants must be sponsored by an eligible Australian or New Zealand citizen, Australian permanent resident or Australian organization. Applicants under specialist entry worker visa categories may also be required to undergo a health examination, be required to demonstrate proof of adequate financial means of support while in Australia, or both.
Specialist Entry Worker Visa Categories
- Distinguished Talent visa (Offshore) (subclass 124)
- Distinguished Talent visa (Onshore) (subclass 858 )
- Domestic Worker (Executive) Visa (Subclass 427)
- Exchange Visa (Subclass 411)Entertainment Visa (Subclass 420)
- Foreign Government Agency Visa (Subclass 415)
- Government Agreement Visa (Subclass 406)
- Media and Film Staff Visa (Subclass 423)
- Religious Worker Visa (Subclass 428 )
- Special Program Visa (Subclass 416)
- Sport Visa (Subclass 421)
- Visiting Academic Visa (Subclass 419)
Working Holiday Visas
Young people between the ages of 18 and 30 may apply either for a Working Holiday Visa (Subclass 417) or a Work and Holiday Visa (Subclass 462), depending on their country of residence. Each working holiday visa allows the holder to work and travel in Australia for up to 12 months. Holders of holiday visas may enter and leave Australia multiple times during the validity period for the visa. Working holiday visas cannot be used to migrate to Australia permanently.
New Zealand Citizens Work Visas
New Zealand citizens who wish to work in Australia should apply for an offshore General Skilled Migration visa either before entering Australia or once they are in the country. New Zealand citizens who hold a Special Category Visa (subclass 444) automatically qualify for an offshore General Skilled Migration visa while they are in Australia. New Zealand citizens may qualify for one of the following four categories:
- Skilled - Independent (Migrant) Visa (Subclass 175)
- Skilled - Sponsored (Migrant) Visa (Subclass 176)
- Skilled - Regional Sponsored (Provisional) Visa (Subclass 475)
- Skilled - Recognised Graduate (Temporary) Visa (Subclass 476)
Other Specialized Visas
Other workers with specific skills, or workers who are willing to work in areas outside major metropolitan areas may qualify for specialized visas. In most cases, workers must be sponsored by a company within Australia. Business People, doctors and nurses, and workers admitted under regional initiatives are permitted to bring their spouses or partners and dependent children with them to Australia. However, workers admitted under the Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme are short term workers hired for harvesting and similar work and are not permitted to bring family members with them.
Other Specialized Visa Categories
- Air and Sea Crew
- Business People
- Doctors and Nurses
- Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme
- Regional Initiatives
Researched by Audrey Henderson
-- freelance writer based in Chicago