Work permits for employees in Australia: A complete guide for employers


Mar 13, 2024

Before hiring in Australia, you must ensure your prospective employee is allowed to work here. Foreign nationals living in Australia need visas issued by the Australian government before they can legally perform any kind of domestic labour. Employers who hire unlawful workers can face six-figure corporate fines.

So, it pays to learn everything companies need to know about Australian work visas, including the bevy of types, eligibility criteria, and how to sponsor an applicant.

What is a work permit in Australia?

A work permit (or work visa) in Australia is a document issued by the Australian government that allows foreign nationals to work legally in Australia for a specific period and claim Australia as a temporary residence. After the visa expires, the holder either reapplies for new authorisation or returns to their home country.

Work permits are issued by Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, which matches foreign workers with visas specific to their industry, provided they meet certain eligibility criteria.

Foreign workers can apply for skilled nominated visas, which Australian states or territories grant based on a points system that weighs factors such as age, experience, education, and English proficiency. Employers can also sponsor Australian workers themselves.

Who needs a work visa in Australia?

Foreign nationals who aren’t Australian citizens, and don’t have permanent residency in Australia, need to obtain a work permit.

When you send an offer letter to a new hire in Australia, it should include a clause stating that the offer is contingent on their eligibility to legally work in Australia.

How long does it take to get a work permit in Australia?

Processing times for getting a visa depend on a worker’s subclass. While applying for a temporary work visa typically takes one to three months, applications for skilled work permits may take up to 18 months. Foreign workers who want business owner visas may have to wait two years or more.

The Department of Home Affairs publishes an online list of all visa options, where you can view estimated processing times.

Types of work visas in Australia

Visa subclasses delineate Australian work permits and vary according to different skill sets, industries, and work timeframes. Visas for skilled foreign professionals who want to legally work in Australia include:

  • Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) Visa (subclass 186): This visa permits qualified workers, endorsed by their employing company, to reside and work indefinitely in Australia. It comprises three distinct pathways: the Direct Entry stream, the Labour Agreement stream, and the Temporary Residence Transition stream. Applicants must possess the requisite skills for their designated role to be eligible.
  • Skilled Independent Visa (subclass 189): This visa targets selected workers who qualify under the Points Tested stream, suitable New Zealand citizens, and certain Hong Kong or British National passport holders possessing the necessary skills. It allows them to permanently live and work in any part of Australia.
  • Skilled Nominated Visa (subclass 190): Employers invite prospective migrants to apply for this work permit. To qualify, the migrants must take a skills assessment. If accepted, the visa holder can permanently work or study anywhere in Australia and sponsor relatives to become permanent residents.
  • Skilled Regional Visa (subclass 887): This visa allows those who've lived for at least two years and worked full-time for at least one year in a specified regional area in a specified region of Australia to continue working there indefinitely.
  • Regional Sponsor Migration Scheme Visa (subclass 187): This visa enables skilled workers nominated by their employers in regional Australia to reside and work in the country on a permanent basis. It's divided into two pathways: the Direct Entry stream and the Temporary Residence Transition Stream.
  • Temporary Skill Shortage Visa (subclass 482): This visa allows businesses to address labour shortages by sponsoring foreigners to temporarily work in Australia for two to four years (or five years if the foreigner holds a Hong Kong passport). It replaced the Temporary Work Visa (subclass 457) in 2018.
  • Business Innovation and Investment Visa (subclass 888): This permanent visa is for Australian business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs who have an expired separate work permit and would like to continue living and working in the country.
  • Working Holiday Visa (subclass 417): This visa caters to young adults seeking a prolonged holiday in Australia with the opportunity to work to support their stay. Applicants must be between 18 and 30 years old (up to 35 years for certain countries) and hold a passport from a qualifying country or jurisdiction. Approved applicants can reside and work in Australia for up to three years.
  • Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist) Visa (subclass 400): This visa provides a pathway under the Highly Specialised Work stream for individuals to engage in short-term, highly specialised employment in Australia. It's designed for those who possess skills, knowledge, or experience that are uncommon within Australia.
  • Temporary Graduate Visa (subclass 485): This temporary visa is designed for international students, allowing them to live, study, and work in the country after their studies for up to 18 months. However, holders of Hong Kong and British National passports are permitted an extended stay of up to five years.
  • Distinguished Talent Visa (subclass 858): This permanent visa is for individuals who have an internationally recognised record of exceptional achievement in an eligible field such as sports, the arts, academia, or research or who have provided specialised assistance to the Australian government in matters of security.

Application process for Australian work visas

Each Australian work visa has separate eligibility requirements depending on the type of work, length of stay, and prior work authorisation. Requirements can include:

Below are the important steps to expect when applying for an Australian work permit:

  1. Identifying the appropriate visa type: An applicant starts by visiting the Australian Government’s Department of Home Affairs website to select the visa type they're interested in.
  2. Checking the skilled occupation list: It's crucial for the applicant to verify if their desired job is on the department's skilled occupation list, assessing eligibility for visas requiring skilled employment.
  3. Employer nomination (if applicable for sponsored visas):
    • An employer wishing to nominate an applicant must either have a Transaction Reference Number (TRN) or an employer ID to become an approved sponsor.
    • If applicable, the employer must demonstrate to the Australian Department of Home Affairs that they have been unable to find a suitable Australian citizen or permanent resident for the job, which may involve labour market testing and providing evidence of this effort.
    • After labour market testing is complete, the employer can nominate the visa applicant and provide them with a detailed job offer letter, which also acts as an employment contract. This letter should detail the role, salary, work location, and other relevant information.
  4. Expression of interest (EOI) through SkillSelect: The applicant should complete and submit an Expression of Interest through SkillSelect, the government’s application system for work visas. This step, which doesn't require a job offer, places the applicant into a pool for potential selection.
  5. Receiving an invitation to apply: If selected, the applicant receives an invitation to formally apply for the visa, which must be completed within 60 days of receiving the invitation.
  6. Submitting the visa application:
    • The applicant applies for the visa online, submitting necessary documentation, including the job offer (if applying via employer nomination), proof of identity, health and financial records, and biometrics.
    • An interview with a visa officer may also be required as part of the application process.
  7. Visa application assessment: The application will be assessed, often using a points-based system, considering factors such as skills, age, and other eligibility criteria.
  8. Receiving the visa and entering Australia: Upon meeting all eligibility requirements and gaining approval for the visa, the worker will receive an approval letter. This letter is presented at the port of entry in Australia, where the work permit will be issued.
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Are you uncertain about the type of visa required for your employee? Our Australian immigration services are supported by leading immigration advisers. Additionally, we sponsor work visas across various countries, ensuring tailored support for your global mobility needs. Enquire for more information.

Frequently asked questions about work permits for employees in Australia

What documents are required to apply for an Australian work permit?

When applying for an Australian work permit, an applicant will often need:

  • A valid passport
  • Photo ID
  • National Identity Card
  • Education certificates
  • Financial statements
  • A sponsorship letter from an approved sponsor (for employer-sponsored visas)
  • An invitation letter to fill out the visa application
  • A police clearance certificate
  • Evidence of temporary stay in Australia (possibly including an itinerary)

How much does it cost to get an Australian work permit?

The cost of Australian work visas depends on the subclass and age of the applicant. Costs for temporary visas are shown in the table below (all values are in AUD):

Type of visa

Base charge

Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist) Visa

AUD405.00 (except in limited circumstances)

Temporary Skill Shortage Visa

From AUD1,455.00

Skilled Nominated Visa

From AUD4,640.00

Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) Visa

From AUD4,640.00

Are family members included in work visa applications in Australia?

While the exact visa requirements vary among visa types, you can typically include family members in Australian visa applications. They need to qualify as a 'Member of the Family Unit,' which includes:

  • A spouse
  • A child or step-child younger than 18
  • A child or step-child younger than 23 who is a dependent
  • A child or step-child older than 23 who relies on the visa holder because of a physical or mental disability

How can you check your Australian visa conditions?

The Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) check is an online tool that gives you all the details of your current work permit, including:

  • Subclass
  • Expiration date
  • The 'must not arrive after' date
  • Duration of stay
  • Conditions for staying (including the kind of work you can perform)

How do you renew your Australian work permit?

It depends on the type of work visa you have. Some include a 'no further stay' clause, which means you can’t renew, barring any extreme circumstances (like a severe illness or natural disaster in your home country). If a visa doesn’t have this condition, the permit holder can apply for a new visa, provided the old one hasn’t expired yet. Before renewal, the government may issue a Bridging Visa A (BVA) as a stopgap work authorisation.

Hire and set up employees in Australia with Rippling

Whether you’re an Australian employer or based overseas, Rippling can help you hire, onboard, and set up employees in Australia within minutes.

  • Onboard employees and contractors in 90 seconds.
  • Sponsor work visas in Australia with Rippling’s immigration services, backed by top-tier legal advisers.
  • Manage HR, IT, and Finance in one unified system.

See Rippling

Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: March 29, 2024

The Author

Jackson Knapp

Jackson is a writer and editor from DC, based in LA. He covers HR trends for Rippling.