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Australian Visa and Citizenship Guide
Australia has a very strict immigration policy – so unless you hold Australian citizenship, you will need a valid Australian visa to legally live and work in Australia.
The first step to applying for a visa is choosing the right one that caters to your needs and circumstances. Between the visa application fees, expiry dates, and paperwork, applying for a visa should not be taken lightly. So in order for you to make an informed decision about which one you should apply for, here are a few key things you should consider:
- The purpose for your migration: Some of the most popular reasons people migrate to Australia include work, study, a business visit, or an extended holiday
- The length of your stay: Both temporary and permanent visas are available, so whether you intend to return home within one to two years, or plan to remain in Australia for longer, this will affect which visa you should apply for
- Your skillset: Skilled workers are always in demand in Australia, so those in an occupation under one of the Skilled Occupation Lists may be eligible for skilled work visas
- Sponsorship: If your company is sponsoring you to work in their Australian-based branch, or if a company in Australia is offering to sponsor you to work for them, you’ll qualify for a specific sponsored/nominated visa
- Your citizenship: Australia holds visa relationships with specific countries – particularly those in the Commonwealth and Asia Pacific. If you’re a citizen with a dual-visa relationship with Australia, this will open up different visa options.
Once you’ve decided on the purpose and length of your stay, you can then begin looking into your various visa options. For example, if your purpose is to work, you’ll likely be looking at the 457 Temporary Work visa or one of the regional work visas (187), if it’s for business, you’ll be looking at the 188 Business Innovation and Investment visa, for holiday the 417 and 462 visas are optimal, or for study, there are student visas.
Of course, if you’re only thinking about moving to Australia, you can freely browse you options and be inspired by the opportunities that lie before you.
Australian visas can be broken up into six categories: temporary work visas, sponsored/nominated work visas, permanent work visas, student visas, visitor visas, and bridging visas.
Temporary and provisional visas have a limited duration of stay, which can be as little as one-day or as much as four years, and can range from Working and Holiday visas to Temporary Work (Skilled) visas. Many temporary visas have a ‘no further stay’ condition, which means you cannot apply for this visa if you already hold a visa with a ‘no further stay’ condition written on it. Under certain circumstances, these visas can have this condition waived. You will be advised of this in your visa grant letter.
Holders of visas without this condition might be able to apply for a different visa in order to extend their stay. For more information, contact your nearest immigration office in Australia.
The most common temporary visas include:
- Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457): The 457 is perhaps the most common visa you can hold and allows you to work in your nominated field for your approved sponsor for up to four years. To be eligible for this visa, your sponsor must become an approved employer and nominate you for employment and your occupation must be on the prevailing Consolidated Skilled Occupation List. After two years, it is possible for your employment to be extended under the Temporary Residence Transition scheme.
- Temporary Work (Short Stay Activity) (subclass 400): The 400 allows for highly specialised, non-ongoing work, for up to three months and requires sponsorship by an Australian organisation. The main purpose of this visa is for an individual to participate in a cultural or social event, and involves four streams: exchange (e.g. staff/cultural exchange), sports, religious worker, and domestic worker (typically in the homes of senior foreign executives). Under extreme circumstances, emergency workers may fall under the 400 visa.
- Temporary Work (Long Stay Activity) (subclass 401): The 401 is similar to the 400 in that it requires sponsorship and caters to highly specialised workers. With this visa, you are permitted to stay in the country for the duration of the nominated period or two years, whichever is earlier.
- Skilled Recognised Graduate (subclass 476): Engineering graduates who’ve completed their studies in the past two years from a recognised institution can gain up to 18 months of work experience with the 476. During this time, visa holders can enrol in further professional studies, and are encouraged to study and improve their English skills. Applicants must also be under 31 years when applying for this visa.
- Special Category (subclass 444): This visa is specific to New Zealand citizens and passport holders and it granted automatically upon arrival so long as the candidate completes an incoming passenger card and meets all health and character requirements. Due to Australia’s Trans-Travel Tasman Arrangement with New Zealand, the 444 enables the bearer to visit, work, study, and stay in Australia from the day it’s granted (usually upon arrival) to the day of departure. Note: under certain circumstances, you may be allowed to apply for the 444 inside Australia – however, you will not be able to do this if you hold an Australian visa with a ‘no further application’ condition.
- Temporary Graduate (subclass 485): International students who have completed their studies in Australia can apply for a temporary graduate visa, which allows them to further their career with work experience here. Depending on which stream you apply for, this visa can be valid for as little as 18 months (graduate work stream) or as long as four years (post-study work stream). The validation length, if applying for the post-study work stream, depends on the level of studies undertaken. In order to be eligible for the 485 visa, you must meet the two-year Australian study requirement.
- Seasonal Workers Program (416): For those seeking a temporary cultural working experience, the 416 allows you to spend 14-weeks to six months working in horticulture, tourism, aquaculture, and agriculture. In order to be eligible for this visa, you must be invited by an approved Special Program sponsor. The best ways to find an approved Special Program sponsor is to research education institutions with overseas internship programs, backpacker and overseas-work organisations or even tourism agencies, who might have knowledge of particular programs available for you.If you are a student or a traveller wishing to participate in a Seasonal Work program you can turn to internship programs in Australia, as well as backpacker and outback work organisations or even government sites who advertise available rural jobs with approved Special Program sponsors.If you are a citizen of a country participating in our Seasonal Workers Program and are looking for seasonal work, the Department of Employment in Australia has a list of approved sponsors that you may wish to contact individually for employment opportunities. Specialists labour services such as Labour Solutions Australia and Harvest Work Solutions might also be beneficial to your needs.
For working-holiday makers:
- Working Holiday (subclass 417): Working Holiday visas enable young people between the ages of 18 and 31 the ability to work, study and holiday in Australia for up to one year. On the 417 you may work for up to six months with each employer and study for up to four months. It is only available to passport holders from eligible countries. It is possible to apply for a second working holiday visa if your first was accepted without a ‘no further stay’ condition. This can extend your stay by 12 months.
- Work and Holiday (subclass 462): The 462 is a 12-month visa that allows young passport holders (aged 18-31) from Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Indonesia, Malaysia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, USA, and Uruguay to work (six months per employer) and/or study (four months only) in Australia. For each of these eligible nations, there is a limited number of places offered per year.
Note: As of May 2014, Australia has signed Work and Holiday agreements with Greece, however this will not come into effect until a start date has been established.
For business/investor purposes:
- Investor Retirement (subclass 405): Self-funded retirees seeking to spend their days in the Australian sunshine can apply for the 405, so long as they are over 55, have no dependents, meet certain income requirements, and wish to make long-term financial investments in the country. On the 405, you can work up to 40 hours per fortnight, and remain in Australia for up to four years.
Sponsored/nominated visas rely on an approved sponsor/nominee to sponsor or nominate you for work in Australia. This sponsor/nominator could be your next employer who has sponsored you for your specialised skillset or could be your current employer, seeking to transfer you to their Australian-office. Alternatively, if you’re a business owner, a state/territory could be nominating you to establish/maintain/invest in an Australian business.
The most common sponsored/nominated visas include:
- Employer Nominated Scheme (subclass 186): Essentially, this visa enables permanent residence for you and your immediate family in Australia, as well as many government benefits including Medicare. It comprises of three streams: The Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream, Direct Entry stream, and Agreement stream.
The TRT is for anyone holding a 457 visa who’s been offered a permanent position with their nominated employer, after having worked for them in the same occupation for two-years while holding the subclass 457 visa. The Direct Entry stream is for migrants who have never or only briefly been employed in Australia, hold a 457 but don’t quality for the TRT, and have been nominated by an employer for this stream (or were nominated before 1 July 2012). The Agreement stream is for anyone sponsored through a labour agreement. To be eligible for the 186, applicants must meet a certain competency level of English (depending on which stream you’re applying for) and might have to take a skills assessment.
- Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 187): Skilled workers and their families can be sponsored by employers for work in regional Australia. As with subclass 186 (see above), this scheme is made up of the TRT, Direct Entry, and Agreement streams and work in the same way. This is a permanent visa, which allows you to stay in Australia indefinitely and, if eligible, obtain citizenship.
- Skilled Nominated Scheme (subclass 190): The purpose of the Skilled Nominated Scheme is to allow skilled migrants who haven’t been nominated by an Australian business the chance to obtain permanent residency. Eligibility is heavily based on your skillset and, on top of having to be nominated by a state or territory government agency, your occupation will need to be on this visa’s relevant skilled occupation list, you’ll need to obtain a suitable skills test assessment, be competent in English, and have achieved the points score specified on your letter of invitation. As this is a permanent visa, you’ll be allowed to stay in Australia indefinitely, with the chance to obtain citizenship, if eligible.
For business/investment purposes:
- Business Innovation and Investment (provisional) visa (subclass 188): The 188 is for migrants seeking to own or manage a new or established business in Australia or wanting to invest in an Australian state or territory. In both cases, you must be nominated by a state or territory government agency and invited by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. This visa comprises of the Business Innovation (for anyone wanting to establish, develop or manage new or existing businesses), Investor (for anyone investing at least AUD1.5 million into an Australian state or territory and maintain business and investment activity in Australia), and Significant Investor streams (for anyone investing at least AUD5 million into complying investments in Australia).
In addition to sponsorship, you may have to meet an age requirement (under 55) to qualify for most of these streams, score at least 65 on the points test, prove your commitment to investing in an Australian business, and provide proof of successful business ownership. This visa is valid for four years, however those under the Business Innovation and Significant Investor streams can extend their visa if they need extra time to meet the criteria to apply for a permanent visa (subclass 888).
- State/Territory Sponsored Business Owner (subclass 892): To be eligible for the 892, you must hold an eligible provisional visa (in business or investment) and have lived in Australia on this visa for at least 12 months over the past two years. The purpose of this visa is to further your business or investments in Australia, and therefore you must be able to show successful business operation and ownership from your time on your provisional visa. If approved, the 892 will grant you permanent residence for five years, after which you may be eligible to apply for citizenship.
Don’t have a nomination/sponsorship?
Skilled workers who want to migrate to Australia, but haven’t been able to obtain a nomination or sponsorship into Australia can apply for SkillSelect for a possible invite into the country. The purpose of SkillSelect is to ensure that Australia’s skilled migration program responds to and fulfils its economic needs.
To apply for a skilled visa (without nomination/sponsorship) you can submit an EOI (expression of interest) outlining your qualifications. You can then be nominated by valid sponsors or be invited by government agencies for a skilled visa.
Visas that you can apply for following your submission of a successful EOI are: Business Talent (132), Business Innovation and Investment (188), Skilled Independent (189), Skilled Nominated (190), Skilled Nominated or Sponsored (489). Following an invitation received through SkillSelect, you can also apply for: Temporary Work (457), Employer Nomination Scheme (186) and Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (187).
Permanent Work Visas
Where temporary and sponsored work visas might have expiry dates on them, requiring you to either cease work and leave the country or to apply for another visa in order to extend your stay, permanent work visas allow you to remain in the country for an indefinite period of time.
Due to the permanent nature of your residency, these visas also entitle you to many national benefits, including the ability to study in Australia, enrol in Medicare and, if eligible, apply for citizenship. (Note: those holding the 891 Investor Visa are not eligible for these benefits.)
The most common permanent work visas include:
- Employer Nominated Scheme (subclass 186): See above
- Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme visa (subclass 187): See above
- Skilled Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass 489): As this visa is only for four years, it’s not so much a permanent residence visa as it is a provisional visa that many use to obtain PR with the Skilled-Regional (Residence) visa (subclass 887). To be eligible for the 489, you must either be nominated to live and work in regional Australia by a State or Territory government agency or sponsored by an eligible family member living in the designated area. Your occupation must also be on the relevant skills occupation list to apply. This is a points-based visa and will require you to undergo a suitable skills assessment, and prove your competency in English.
- Skilled Regional (residence) visa (subclass 887): Once you’ve lived (min. two years) and worked (min. 12 months) in regional Australia on a skilled regional visa (489, 475, 487, 495, 496), you may be eligible for this regional residence visa, which will allow you to stay in Australia indefinitely.
- Skilled Independent Visa (subclass 189): Unlike the Skilled Nominated Visa (190), which requires nomination by a state or territory government agency, the 189 allows you to become a permanent resident without sponsorship from an employer or family member. This is a points-based visa, so in order to be eligible for the 189, your occupation must be on the relevant skilled occupation list, you must have obtained a suitable skills assessment for this occupation, and you’ll have to prove your competency in English.
For business/investment purposes:
- Business Talent (subclass 132): Individuals who are nominated by state or territory government agencies to establish a new or existing business can apply for the 132. In order to be eligible for this visa, you’ll need to meet specific business and financial requirements depending on which stream you’re applying for. For the Significant Business History stream, your net business and personal assets must be at least AUD$1.5 million and your annual business turnover must be at least AUD$3 million. For the Venture Capital Entrepreneur stream, you’ll have to have obtained at least AUD$1 million in venture capital funding from a member of the Australian Venture Capital Association Limited (AVCAL) for the development of your high-value business idea.
- Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 888): When the provisional Business Innovation and Investment (188) or special business category visa (444, 457IC) visa has expired, you may be eligible for an extension through the 888 visa. So long as you meet the eligibility criteria of this visa (which includes sponsorship and business requirements), with this visa you’ll be allowed to continue your business and/or investment activities in Australia.
- Business Owner (subclass 890): This five-year visa allows those who’ve owned and operated a business in Australia on a provisional business visa for two years to continue developing their establishment. You’ll need to meet specific business requirements to be eligible for this visa.
- State/Territory Sponsored Investor (893) and Investor (891): To be eligible for a permanent visa as an investor, you’ll have had to held a provisional investor visa and meet certain financial requirements.
For study: Student visas
Applicants wishing to study in Australia have their own set of visas for which they can apply. These include: higher education (573, 574), vocational education and training (572), English language courses (570), high schools (571), professional development (402, 485), DFAT/defence (576), and non-award (student exchange/study abroad, 575) visas. For students who are under 18 and require supervision, there is also a Student Guardian (580), to pertain to this need.
Which visa applies to you will depend on what level of education you’re seeking, as well as your acceptance and enrollment into a registered course at an Australian educational institution. Most student visas allow you to stay in Australia to study full-time for the length of your course, with many allowing you to work in Australia (with restrictions).
In the cases of professional development and SFAT visas, you will need to be sponsored by a training/development sponsor or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Department of Defence, respectively.
Higher Education visas (573, 574):
If you’re a student who’s enrolled in a registered higher education course, you’ll either be on one of two visas. The first is the 573 visa, which is for the award of a bachelor/associate degree, graduate certificate/diploma, masters degree by coursework or higher education/advanced diploma. The other is the 574 postgraduate visa, which is for the award of a masters degree by research or a doctorate. Both these visas are designed to allow you to reside and study full-time in Australia for the length of your course.
A special process called streamline visa processing (SVP) is in place to cater for student visas. This means that students are treated as a lower migration risk, regardless of their country of origin. If you’re ineligible for SVP, your immigration risk will be determined using student assessment levels; which is the calculated ability of students holding a particular passport and studying in a particular education sector to comply with their visa conditions. The higher the assessed risk of the applicant, the more evidence they’ll need to provide to support their application to study in Australia.
This visa is not only open to students, but to their family members as well. As part of this visa, both you and your family members may work while in Australia, with restriction. For the student, you may work up to 40 hours per fortnight while your course is in session, and for an unlimited number of hours (within work placement laws) when your course is on break. Similarly, family members on this visa may work up to 40 hours per fortnight once the student has commenced their course, or an unlimited number of hours if the student is studying a postgraduate course. If the family member is the student’s partner, he or she is allowed to study for up to three months, after which if they want to continue their studies they must apply for their own student visa.
As an aside, if the student was granted his or her visa before 26 April 2008, both students and family may need to apply separately for permission to work in Australia.
For visitors: Visitor visas
Visitor (600), Electronic Travel Authority (601), and eVisitor (651) visas all fall under the banner of ‘visiting for work’ visas. These are visas that allow for temporary stay for work purposes (enquires, renewing of contracts, visits), however, under certain circumstances, these visas may allow you to visit family and friends and tour the country as well.
Your three main visitor visas are:
Depending on how long your employer requires you in Australia, you can be granted a visa for up to three, six, or twelve months. There is a base application fee for nationals of certain countries to obtain the 600.
Electronic Travel Authority (601):
The ETA is a lot more flexible than the visitor visa and allows the holder to enter and exit Australia an unlimited number of times throughout a year, as long as no one trip is longer than three months. While only certain passport holders can apply for an ETA, applications can be processed in less than a day online for a service charge of AUD$20.
Like the ETA, the holder of an eVisitor visa can enter and exit Australia an unlimited number of times throughout the year, as long as no one trip is longer than three months. Again, only certain passport holders can apply for this visa, however there is no fee to apply. In some circumstances, it will allow the bearer to study in Australia for up to three months.
The main purpose of bridging visas is to allow migrants whose previous visa has expired (or is about to expire), to stay in Australia lawfully until their application for consecutive substantive visa is being decided. There are various bridging visas available, depending on your circumstances, including if you haven’t been able to secure an interview to apply for a substantive visa, and if you wish to leave and return to Australia while your application is being processed.
The Australian visa application process
Depending on which visa you’re applying for, you’ll have a specific application process to follow. Sometimes you’ll have to be outside of the country in order to apply, other times you’ll need to be inside. Some visas require you to post your application in, others require you to submit it in person at the Australian embassy in your country, while others require an online application.
To apply, you will also need to fulfil the requirements of your visa application. Here are a few important documents you may need to secure you that visa, and some tips and tricks on how to make sure you submit them correct;
A valid passport:
To be valid, your passport should not be expired and there should be at least one blank page available in your passport. To make things easier for you, it’s a good idea to make sure the expiry date lasts the length of your visa. If the expiry date is quite near, you may wish to renew it before applying for your visa.
To deliver your visa, you’ll need to provide personal documents such as a valid and recent passport-sized photo, certified copies of the biographical page of your passport, and any name change papers you might have. Additionally, if you’re also applying for family members, you will need to show proof of your biological/relationship with them.
Nomination by an approved sponsor:
Some visas allow you to lodge your visa application at the same time as your sponsor lodges your nomination, but a good number of nominations are valid for up to a year, so in order not to waste your application you may want to wait until your nomination is approved before submitting your visa application.
Completed skills assessment:
This is particularly relevant when applying for a points tested skilled migration visa, and requires you to nominate an occupation on the skilled migration list and provide evidence of your qualifications. All relevant assessing authorities who can assess your skills are found on the skilled occupation list.
Skilled workers will need to provide evidence of their skillset. This might include letters of employment and a copy of your CV detailing your employment over the past five years.
Documents to show proof of English competency:
Depending on what country you’re migrating from, you may need to prove your competency in English. This can be with an IELTS (International English Language Testing System, scoring at least a 6) or OET (Occupational English Test, scoring at least a B) test result, or through education undertaken in English.
Depending on which visa you’re applying for, you’ll have to pay a certain fee to process your visa. The amount will be advised during your visa application.
These are typically in the form of police reports and military service records or discharge papers (regardless of your country). At times you may be able to scan and submit copies of these forms electronically, other times you’ll need to submit a certified original with your application.
Points requirements are met:
Certain visas rely on a points test. This means you’ll have to be awarded a certain number of points to qualify for the visa. Points are awarded for age (the younger you are, the more points you can get), English language proficiency, skill-set and qualifications, and nominated-for-work status. Many points-test based visas require 60+ points to qualify. If you’re between 25 and 32 years of age, that already grants you 30 points, so you’re halfway there!
Migrants are strongly encouraged to take up health insurance before they enter Australia. This can be taken in their home country, or with an Australian company. If you’re entering on a permanent visa or hold a passport with a reciprocal health arrangement with Australia, you may be qualified to register with Medicare, Australia’s government health care system, which you can do before you leave your country or when you enter Australia. If you’re on a student visa, then you will be required to take out student health cover before you apply for your visa.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
IELTS is accepted by over 9,000 organisations as an indicator of English language proficiency and covers four components: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. To locate your nearest test centre, and take a sample test, visit the official IELTS website. Many migration websites as well as universities host tests and offer preparation courses to ensure you get the best IELTS result you can. In Australia, these include: Sydney University, Macquarie University, UNSW, and UTS.
Things to remember:
In most cases, only original documents will be accepted. You might be a little wary about posting original passports/birth certificates in the mail, but if that is what the visa requires, you will have to do this for your application to be valid. If you’re skeptical, post all your items by registered post and keep all your tracking documents handy.
Certify your documents:
Most of your documents will need to be certified before submitted. Make sure you understand what needs to be certified, and have these done together to save time.
Translate your documents:
If your documents are in another language, you will need to have them translated into English to be valid. Again, gather all the documents required to be translated and do all these together to save time.
Visas take time:
Sure, some visas take less than a day to process, but if you’re migrating to Australia for temporary or permanent reasons, it’s likely that you’ll need to give yourself some buffer time for processing – especially if you’re posting your application. If in doubt, ask how long your visa could take to process, as well as when it becomes valid (sometimes this could be three months after it’s processed, other times it won’t become valid until you land in Australia). Try to time it so that your visa won’t arrive so early you lose precious months waiting for your flight day, but not so close to the wire that you end up stressing over if it’ll make it in time.
What if I need help with my visa?
While migration agents can facilitate the processes involved with applying for a visa, it’s really not hard to do yourself online. In circumstances arise where you need to enlist the services of a migration agent, you should use an agent registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA) to avoid migration fraud.
For details on how to apply for your specific visa, visit the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection website.
While some migrants might choose to return home after their visas have expired, others might choose to become an Australian national. The good news is that Australia allows for dual citizenship, so depending on whether your home nation allows for dual citizenship or not, you might not have to relinquish your home country’s passport to become an Aussie citizen. This doesn’t mean you should take Australian citizenship lightly. Remember, by becoming a citizen, you are making a commitment to Australia, its people, its lifestyle, and its laws.
Who is eligible for citizenship?
Those eligible for citizenship are:
- A migrants with a permanent residence
- A spouse or partner of an Australian citizen
- A New Zealand citizen living in Australia
- The child of a former citizen
- A child adopted overseas by an Australian citizen
- A child born overseas to an Australian citizen
- A former Australian citizen
- Commonwealth Migration Scheme arrival
- Refugee and humanitarian entrant
- Person born in Papua before 1975
Migrants with a permanent residence must also be of good character, be likely/continue to reside in Australia or keep a close and continuing association with the nation, and satisfy a residence requirement. This requirement involves having lived in Australia for four years on a valid Australian visa, the last 12 months of which was as a permanent resident, and not having been absent from the country for longer than one year in total over the four years of residence. The applicant must also have not been absent from Australia for more than 90 days in the year before applying.
Applying for citizenship
Once all eligibility requirements have been met, the applicant should prepare for their citizenship test or interview, and gather all relevant proof-of-identity documents. They must then complete and lodge their application. Once received, so long as everything is in order, the department will contact the applicant to make an appointment for their test/interview. If the department grants you citizenship, you’ll need to attend a ceremony to make the Australian Citizenship Pledge and complete their citizenship.
For full details on becoming an Australian citizen, including application forms, contact details, and citizenship practice tests, visit the Australian Citizenship website.
Immigration and the law
Australia has a non-discriminatory immigration policy, so anyone can apply to migrate to Australia from any country. Processing arrangements for migration applications will vary depending on your situation, so it pays to do your research beforehand to make sure you’re applying for the right visa and to help you decide whether living in Australia is the right move for you.
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