How to Live and Work in Australia

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Modeled on the now-famous Pulaski's Ways to the USA the following is a non-legal guide to living and working in Australia. It is not a definitive or even detailed guide but nevertheless shows the common starting points for the beginning of your journey. Note that it is not legal advice or immigration assistance; if you require such advice, the Migration Agents Registration Authority is a suitable place to search for a practitioner to assist you.

The descriptions shown below are necessarily brief. Most of the permanent, and some of the temporary, visa options are described in the Australian Government Migration Booklets. If researching your migration options, it is essential to read thoroughly the relevant booklet(s). Also read the Australian_Immigration_FAQ article.

This article does not cover visa options which may exist for those long established in Australia, such as absorbed person visas, bridging visas, ex-citizen visas, close ties visa etc. These visas are generally not applicable to those coming from overseas who have not been to Australia before.

Onshore vs. Offshore Australia maintains a distinction between "offshore" and "onshore" visas.

  • Onshore visas are for those admitted legally to Australia in another capacity (usually worker or student) to switch status onshore to a permanent visa.
  • "Offshore" visas are intended for those resident outside Australia. It is often possible to apply for these while in Australia, but if you do, you normally have to leave to be granted your visa. A week in New Zealand is commonly the solution.
  • Some offshore visas can in certain circumstances be granted onshore. This is limited to specific circumstances, however, and is not all that common.
  • Those arriving on tourist visas or ETAs are expected to be "genuine visitors" to Australia and not intending to switch status onshore.

In general

  • An applicant for migration may usually include spouse (de-facto partners acceptable) and dependent children on a visa application.
  • Standard health requirements apply for migrants, however a waiver may be available for some visas. As a rule this is limited to spouse/partner and child visas, but there are some other exceptions.
  • If one applicant fails health and character requirements, then all applicants fail.
  • Also see child custody and non-migrating children articles.
  • The definition of "Permanent Resident" is discussed in Permanent_Resident_(Australia). For this purpose, it also includes "Eligible" New Zealand citizens.
  • For parent and other family visas, sponsors must be "settled" in Australia. This usually means two years residence, although in some circumstances a shorter period is acceptable.
  • If an Assurance of Support is required, there may be residence and financial requirements to meet.

Close Family (booklets 1, 2)

These visas are intended for spouses (and equivalent) and children of Australian citizens and permanent residents.

Note that if you are a new migrant seeking to sponsor, you will be scrutinised to see if the relevant relationship existed when you migrated to Australia. If you did not declare it, you will be asked why not. If in this situation => get professional advice.


  • Persons legally married.
  • If together for 5 years (2 years with a child) when you apply, you get a permanent visa (subclass 100 offshore, 801 onshore)
  • Otherwise you get a temporary visa for 2 years (309 offshore, 820 onshore), with permanent residence to follow later if still together.
  • Relationship break-up while temporary can cause you in some circumstances to have to leave Australia.
  • You must prove a genuine relationship.
  • If sponsor is not an Australian citizen, sponsor may need to show that he or she is "usually resident" in Australia. Interpretation of this is up to individual DIAC offices, although refusals can be appealed.
  • There may be a bar in place if the sponsor has previously sponsored a spouse for permanent residence, or migrated to Australia that way. If so, there may be scope for waiver.
  • If a skilled visa option gives permanent residence more quickly, you are free to pursue this option.
  • Assurance of Support may be requested (unusual for British applicants).

De-facto Spouse

  • in some countries, known as "common law" or "conjugal" partners
  • same visa as for spouses except there is a requirement for at least 12 months cohabitation.
  • This can be waived in some circumstances.


  • Also known as Prospective Spouse (subclass 300), intended for those planning to marry in Australia within 9 months and subsequently remain.
  • No co-habitation requirement but applicants must have met.
  • Once married with a 300 visa, the expectation is to switch onshore to an 820 temporary visa (with a fee concession)


  • Mainly intended for same-gender couples, but open to other cases of genuine interdependency.
  • Similar requirements to de-facto visa.


  • Child migration visa (subclass 101 offshore, 802 onshore) for natural children of Australian citizens and permanent residents.
  • Child must be single, not engaged or in a de-facto relationship.
  • If child is aged less than 18, financial dependency is not required.
  • Financial dependency is required for those aged 18-24. Full time education normally ok, otherwise this can cause issues to many U.K. applicants.
  • Usually an upper age limit of 25th birthday.

Adopted Children

  • For adopted children, or children whose adoption will be completed in Australia (subclass 102).
  • Most applications must be approved by an Australian State/Territory welfare agency before being considered by Immigration.
  • An exception is cases of adopters resident overseas for 12 months or more.
    • Adoption must be full and formal, in line with Australian standards.
    • The 12 month residence period must not have been specifically to avoid Australian state/territory requirements.
  • If an adoption visa is granted, and one adoptive parent is an Australian citizen, an application can usually be made for Australian citizenship before child is 16 (18 in some circumstances). Child does not have to move to Australia.

Parents (booklet 3)

All parent applicants must meet the balance of family test and conform to standard migration health criteria. Occasionally, parents will find another visa to be more suitable.

Balance of family test

  • At least half of children (including spouse's children) in Australia.
  • Alternatively, more children in Australia than any other country (unusual).
  • Children on temporary visas in Australia usually do not count (complex area if children on certain classes of temporary visa).
  • Balance of family test becomes complex if there are any step-children or children adopted out.

Contributory Parent

  • High fees (over A$30k per adult applicant).
  • 10 year Assurance of Support mandatory.
  • Waiting time around 18 months.


  • Standard Family migration fees
  • 2 year Assurance of Support
  • Waiting time impossible to project exactly but likely to be 8-20 years.

General Skilled (booklet 6)

This category is for those aged less than 45 with an occupation at least equivalent to associate professional (diploma level) or tradesman.

  • Skill assessment is mandatory. Most skill assessments require formal qualifications, the main exceptions are IT and senior managers, but even in these cases formal qualifications make the process more straightforward.
  • Occupation must be on Skilled Occupations List. Not all occupations, even at the minimum level mentioned above, are acceptable.
  • All applicants must meet basic requirements (age, skill, English ability, and recent skilled work experience) and a points test.
  • A lower pass mark in the points test (100 vs 120) is available to those with sponsorship from a state/territory government or an eligible relative.
  • State and Territory governments set their own criteria for sponsorship.
  • Sponsored applicants who cannot reach 100 points may get additional points if sponsored by a regional government or relative in a regional area. In this case a temporary visa is granted, with permanent residence to follow later on.
  • Those who need maximum points for English must sit the IELTS test, even if from an English speaking country.
  • Additional points may be given to those with occupations on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL). The MODL changes regularly.
  • There is a variety of other ways to score points, outlined in the booklet.

Employment (booklets 5 and 11)

The key message here is that a job offer in itself is not enough to obtain either temporary or permanent residence in Australia. As a rule, a job offer must be in an occupation at least equivalent to associate professional (diploma level) or tradesman. However, the ENS visa in particular has more restrictive rules about which occupations within this category are acceptable.

Lower skill thresholds may be acceptable for jobs in regional Australia.

For all kinds of employer sponsored permanent residence, there is an age bar of 45. This can be waived in certain circumstances. Employer does not usually need to advertise the job to sponsor, although there are exceptions.

Temporary visa (subclass 457)

  • Temporary visa up to 4 years, renewable.
  • Employer does not have to advertise your job.
  • Skill assessment usually not required, but can be requested.
  • The 457 visa has been extensively discussed on-forum 457 Visa Restrictions

Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS)

  • Permanent visa.
  • There are three possibilities for the employee to be accepted for ENS:
    • if you have a skill assessment in your occupation (or accepted equivalent to a skill assessment) plus 3 years recent skilled work experience (can be waived in exceptional circumstances); or
    • if you are paid a cash salary over a specified threshold, currently around A$165k; or
    • if you have worked for at least 2 years in Australia on a 457 (or equivalent) visa, including 1 year directly for the sponsoring employer.

Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS)

  • Permanent visa
    • However, you do have to make a "genuine effort" to complete at least 2 years with your employer and your visa can be cancelled if you don't.
  • Only available in regional areas of Australia, ie, away from the Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney/Newcastle/Wollongong areas.
    • Note that ENS is available everywhere in Australia and may sometimes be a simpler option.
  • RSMS requires a "sign off" from a specified Regional Certifying Body (RCB). They may impose additional rules.
  • No skill assessment required, but evidence of formal qualifications is needed. Skill assessment is still discretionary. State/Territory licencing requirements must be met, if applicable.

Labour Agreement

  • Some employers or industry groups with a specific shortage of workers enter into a "labour agreement" to allow sponsorship of workers from overseas for temporary or permanent residence.
  • If this applies, your sponsoring employer will know about it.
  • An "Invest Australia Support Scheme" visa is a special type of labour agreement.

Special Temporary Visas

  • Entertainment : Entertainment Visa (subclass 420) and Media & Film Staff visa (subclass 423), for those in the media, movie and entertainment industries.
  • Educational visa (subclass 418) : Equivalent visa to subclass 457 for educational workers.
  • Medical Practitioner (subclass 422) : Doctors can also be employed on a 457, but this is an alternative visa.
  • Religious Worker (subclass 428)
  • Visiting Academic (subclass 419)
  • Occupational Training : The Occupational Trainee (subclass 424) and Professional Development (subclass 470) visas are for those receiving workplace based training in Australia. Occupational Training visas

Business Skilled (booklet 7)

This category of migration is for those who already have a business track record either as a:

  • business owner.
  • senior executive.
  • investor.

As a general rule, with one exceptions, these visas provide temporary residence for 4 years, convertible to permanent residence upon completion of commitments. Business owners are expected to successfully develop in Australia. Senior executives may either develop a business or seek permanent residence through employment. Investors are required to leave their statutory investment in place for the required period.

State/Territory sponsorship can allow for some concessions in the Immigration requirements, however States and Territories may have their own requirements for sponsorship. Age limit is 45 as a standard requirement, or 55 with State/Territory sponsorship. In exceptional cases, the 55 age limit may be waived.

Some applicants for this kind of visa may instead qualify for permanent migration in another stream, and this is usually preferable.

Franchised operations may or may not be acceptable as a "business."


Australia has an extensive student visa program. While many students intend to return to their home countries and not obtain permanent residence, since 1999 certain recent graduates from Australian institutions have been given preference in obtaining permanent residence if that is their preference.

The rules have changed regularly and overall, it has become a lot more difficult to obtain permanent residence this way since the height of the "study to PR" scheme in 2001/03. An Australian qualification does not guarantee permanent residence.

In a very brief form, the route to permanent residence is as follows:

  • study for at least 2 years full time in Australia;
  • on completion of qualification, obtain a skill assessment (often difficult)
  • apply onshore for (general skilled) permanent residence, if the basic requirements and points test are met. Points test is often a problem
  • since 2007, other options may be available to remain in Australia as a temporary worker and seek either general skilled or employer nomination permanent residence.

Some people do plan to obtain residence this way. There are some success stories, but even in these cases there was a lot of cost and heartache involved. For those with deep pockets, and a clear understanding of what qualifications will work to help deliver permanent residence, and an understanding of the risks, it remains as an option.

Bear in mind that fees for study are high, children may need to pay school fees if attending government schools, and health insurance will be required. Also note that standard health and character criteria apply for permanent residence. So if a family member is in poor health, prospects of obtaining residence may be close to zero.

Working Holiday & Exchanges

Working Holiday Visa British citizens (plus certain other nationalities) aged between 18-30, and without dependent children, are eligible for a Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417). While this visa is intended for those who wish to take a long vacation in Australia and then leave (this specific requirement exists for the visa), there may be options to switch to a sponsored employment visa onshore if intentions change.

There is a limit on the length of time one can remain with a single employer. The visa is for 12 months, but can be extended for another 12 months in certain circumstances.

Barring the specified exceptions, a person cannot use a working holiday twice and trying to do so, for example, those with dual nationality using their second passport, constitutes visa fraud.

Work and Holiday Visa The work and holiday visa is similar to the Working Holiday Visa, but with more restrictive conditions. The United Kingdom is not an eligible nation for this visa.

Other similar visas There are also Exchange and Special Program visas (subclasses 411 and 416) which allow temporary stay in Australia under specific circumstances. Special Activity visa options

New Zealand

  • Most New Zealand citizens are eligible for a Special Category Visa (SCV) (subclass 444) on arrival in Australia.
  • The SCV allows residence in Australia, but does not give full permanent resident rights. New Zealanders must apply for and be granted permanent residence under normal rules.
  • New Zealand citizens may sponsor family members for the New Zealand Citizen Family Relationship visa (subclass 461).
  • Options for New Zealand citizens and family members to obtain permanent residence are explained in the "Pathway to permanent residence" section of the 461 Visa article

Other Family (booklet 4)

These visas are relatively unusual to encounter, but sometimes provide an option.

Remaining Relative This visa is for the last remaining relative of an Australian citizen or permanent resident to migrate.

  • Sponsor can be a parent or sibling. Note that a child cannot sponsor a parent for this visa.
  • Applicant cannot have any parents, siblings or non-dependent children living outside Australia.
  • No specific obligation for applicant to be single, however married applicants are usually ruled out because spouse's relatives are counted.
  • Estranged relatives (parents, siblings, children) are counted, as are half-siblings, which causes problems for many U.K. applicants.

Aged Dependent Relative This visa allows an "aged" (at least 65 for men, around 62.5 for women) relative to be sponsored by an acceptable Australian citizen or permanent resident relative.

  • Full financial dependency must be shown, for a reasonable period of time.
  • For this reason, this visa is very unusual for British citizen applicants.
  • If the sponsor has recently migrated, questions may be asked why the relative was not shown as "dependent" on the migration application.

Carer This is also an unusual visa. It allows an Australian citizen or permanent resident with a serious medium to long term medical impairment to sponsor an acceptable relative to migrate to Australia in order to provide care for that person.

Orphan unmarried relative Again, this is an unusual visa which allows children aged under 18 to be sponsored by an Australian relative if they have no-one else to care for them. If you are living in Australia and a point is reached where a the parents of a young nephew or niece are deceased or otherwise unable to take care of them, then in certain circumstances the child could be sponsored to migrate with this visa.

Former Resident (booklet 8)

Former Resident A person may be eligible for Former Resident migration if they are aged less than 45, spent at 9 years before age 18 in Australia as a permanent resident, and have maintained close ties to Australia.

Former Defence Forces Service Those who served for at least 3 months in the Australian Defence Forces before 1981 may also be eligible for a Former Resident visa.

Returning Residents

Former permanent residents of Australia, as well as former citizens of Australia, may be eligible for a Resident Return Visa. Form 968i has details.

This option should in particular be investigated by spouses of Australian citizens, and parents of Australian children, who have previously held a permanent visa.


  • If you have a parent who was an Australian citizen when you were born, or a former Australian citizen, you may be eligible for either Australian citizenship by descent or a special grant of Australian citizenship.
  • People who migrated to Australia from Britain (and other Commonwealth countries, plus Ireland) before 26 January 1944, and were "ordinarily resident" in Australia from that date until 26 January 1949, may have become Australian citizens on that date.
  • If you get citizenship, you would be able to sponsor your immediate family for a spouse visa.
  • As a general rule, an Australian grandparent does not give rise to a citizenship claim, if your parent is not Australian.


A number of other visa options exist.

  • Distinguished Talent. May provide an option for those aged under 55 (age waiver available) who are at the top of their profession, sporting, artistic or cultural activity to migrate to Australia.
  • Sport. Temporary visa for those involved at a high level with sporting activities in Australia.
  • Investor Retirement. Allows those aged 55 or over to spend time in retirement in Australia. High costs. Temporary visa with no route to permanent residence.
  • Resident of Norfolk Island. If admitted to the Australian territory of Norfolk Island for permanent residence (Norfolk Island has its own immigration laws), you will be granted an Australian permanent visa on each arrival in Australia.
  • Ministerial Intervention. If you are refused a visa, you may in some cases have a right of appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal. This is usually limited to applications made onshore or with an Australian sponsor. If the MRT rejects the appeal, it is possible to apply to the Minister for discretion under section 351 of the Migration Act. This allows the Minister to grant a visa even if the requirements are not met. It is unusual, and difficult, to obtain a visa this way and professional assistance is almost invariably required. In addition, there usually needs to be some compelling, out of the ordinary reason for the Minister to act.
  • Humanitarian. Australia has an extensive refugee resettlement program and an onshore protection visa (asylum) system, however it would be virtually unknown for a British citizen to be eligible for any of these.