Are you legally allowed to work in Australia?

by FindLaw eNewsletter

Do you know the rules about working in Australia?

It is crucial that you have permission to work, or you may breach your visa conditions. This is a serious offence you may be fined up to $10, 000 and you may be forced to leave Australia.

Make sure you get advice about the rules for working in Australia. Many visas have restrictions on the number of hours you can work, or the length of time you can work for.

If you are an employer, make sure that your employees are legally entitled to work in Australia. You could also be fined up to $10, 000 if you employ illegal workers. You may even be charged with a criminal offence.

New initiatives to catch people working illegally

The Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs has launched a number of initiatives to crack down on people working illegally. These include advertising, information packs and information phone lines.

Employers and community members are encouraged to "dob in" illegal workers. Employers can call the Immigration Department for information on an employee. And in November there will be a free online service where employers and labour suppliers can check the credentials of any non-citizen they want to employ.

This means it will be easier to catch people working illegally.

If you are an employer, it also means the Immigration Department will expect you to check that your employees are legally entitled to work.

Which visas have work restrictions?

There are a number of visas which allow you to work, but most have restrictions about the kind of work you can do. For example:

  • if you have a tourist visa, you cannot work at all;

  • if you have a student visa and a work permit, you can only work up to 20 hours per week while you are studying;

  • if you have a working holiday visa, you are not allowed to work for any one employer for more than 3 months.

Each type of visa has special conditions - make sure you get advice about your particular circumstances.

What if no-one knows I'm working illegally?

There are about 51, 000 people working illegally in Australia, according to government statistics. But these people are being caught all the time. Last financial year, over 20, 000 people were caught working illegally in Australia or breaching their visa in some other way.

If you have been working illegally, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. Even if you have not been caught yet, the longer you keep working illegally, the greater the risk that you will be caught. The "dob in" campaign and the new services for employers to check up on you make it even more likely you will be caught.

There are many advantages to gaining legal work. Apart from being able to stay in Australia legally, legal workers are entitled to:

  • minimum wages and salaries

  • basic work conditions - eg: leave entitlements, breaks, safety requirements

  • on-the-job training

What happens if I'm caught working illegally?

If you are caught, you may have your visa cancelled and be forced to leave Australia. You may also be fined up to $10,000.

You can even be placed in an immigration detention centre until the necessary arrangements have been made to deport you.

It will also be very difficult for you to get another visa to come to Australia.

What if I want to stay and work in Australia?

If you want to stay and work in Australia, you may be able to apply for a different visa, depending on your circumstances. The rules change all the time. So make sure you see a qualified immigration lawyer - they can advise you on options open to you.

If you have a special work skill - either a profession or a trade - you may be eligible to apply as a skilled migrant. There are certain skills Australia needs. It will be to your advantage if you have experience in one of these areas.

It will also help your application if you are willing to live and work in a rural area.

Sponsoring an employee

If you are an employer, you may be able to sponsor an employee as either a temporary or permanent worker, as long as the employee is less than 45 years old, has the required skills to do the job and meets health requirements.

Generally, you will have to show:

  • why it is necessary to employ someone from overseas; and

  • how Australia will benefit from that person being employed by your business.

To do this, you must undertake "labour market testing" for the industry and local area. You can then enter a "labour agreement" with the government to gain permission to employ someone from overseas to fill a gap in the labour market.

You must also provide detailed information about your business - financial statements, annual reports and other documents - to show you are able to support the employee.

It will help your application if you can show your organisation will gain new business skills, develop new processes or introduce new technology as part of the process of employing someone from overseas.

Don't risk illegal work

There are a number of ways you can apply to work in Australia legally - make sure you get advice about the best way for you to stay and work here. Don't risk it by working illegally.

This article was originally published as Thomson FirmSite's Immigration Law eNewsletter for October 2004. Publish the latest legal news, articles, Q&As and Newsletters relevant to your practice areas on your web site with our automated content services. For more information, please visit


We welcome your feedback

Hi there! We want to make this site as good as it can for you, the user. Please tell us what you would like to do differently and we will do our best to accommodate!

Protected by FormShield

We've updated our Privacy Statement, before you continue. please read our new Privacy Statement and familiarise yourself with the terms.