• Government Overhauls Visitor Visa, Introduces New Short-Term Work Visa
  • April 2, 2013
  • Law Firm: Fragomen Del Rey Bernsen Loewy LLP - New York Office
  • The Australian government has introduced a new visitor visa framework that prohibits foreign visitors from engaging in any work-related activity or participating in any event if paid by the event organizer. A new short-term visa has been created for specialized work and event attendance.

    The changes - which took effect March 23, 2013 - are part of an ongoing visa streamlining project.

    The New Visitor Visa Framework

    To simplify the visitor visa program, the government has created three new visa subclasses to replace nine previous visitor visa categories.

    The primary visitor category - Visitor (subclass 600) - is comprised of separate streams for business visitors, tourists and sponsored family members. The new subclass 600 visa will replace the current Business (short stay)(subclass 456), Sponsored Business Visitor (subclass 459) Tourist (subclass 676) and Sponsored Family Visitor (subclass 679) visas.

    Business visitors in subclass 600 are now prohibited from performing any work activities or from selling goods or services directly to the general public. Acceptable business activities are now limited to:

    • Making a general business or employment enquiry;
    • Investigating, negotiating, entering into, or reviewing a business contract;
    • Attending a conference, trade fair or seminar in Australia, provided that the person is not being paid by the event’s organizer for participation; and
    • Activities carried out as part of an official government to government visit.

    Previous rules permitted business visitors to work in limited circumstances.

    For visitors eligible for visa-free online travel authorization, a single Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) (subclass 601 visa) replaces three previous subclasses. The eVisitor (subclass 651) visa continues to be available to citizens of the European Union.

    In most cases, individuals currently holding visas in the eliminated subclasses do not have to take any action at this time. Their visas will remain valid until their expiration date.

    There are no changes to the visa eligibility criteria for tourists, sponsored visitors and applicants for medical treatment visas.

    New Short-Term Work Visa

    The new Temporary Work (Short Stay Activity) (subclass 400) visa replaces the limited work rights that were available under the prior visitor visa categories. The subclass 400 visa allows for a period of stay of up to three months, or a lesser period if specified by the Minister. Most foreign nationals will typically be granted a stay of up to six weeks.

    The subclass 400 visa is comprised of three subcategories or streams:

    • The Highly Specialized Work stream allows holders to perform short-term, non-ongoing, highly specialized work where the skills required are not otherwise readily available in Australia.
    • The Invited Participant stream allows foreign nationals to participate in a cultural or social event or events on a non-ongoing basis at the invitation of an organization lawfully operating in Australia.
    • The Australia’s Interest stream covers other very limited circumstances, where an applicant can show compelling circumstances affecting the interests of Australia - for example, to emergency workers assisting in a natural disaster.

    Applicants for the Highly Specialized Work or Australia’s Interest stream are required to submit a job offer letter or employment contract detailing their position, duration of work, role or duties, and reasons the individual is required in Australia. The work must involve skills, knowledge or experience that will benefit an Australian business and cannot be reasonably found in the Australian labor market. The work must be non-ongoing, meaning it is likely to be completed within three months, with no expectation of further work on the same matter. The foreign national’s work must not have an adverse impact on the employment, training opportunities or conditions of employment of Australian citizens or permanent residents.

    Invited Participant stream applicants must present a letter from the Australian organization directly responsible for the event or that has a formal role in preparing for or conducting the event. To show that their role in the event is not ongoing, applicants must evidence no plans to remain following the period relating to the event.

    Subclass 400 visa holders are not allowed to participate in any activity or work other than those identified in their visa application. The subclass 400 visa is not intended for work in the entertainment industry, unless the proposed activities involve work in a production that would not be shown in Australia.

    All subclass 400 visa applicants are required to apply from abroad and must demonstrate they have (1) an employment background and/or personal attributes that are relevant to their proposed work or activity in Australia; (2) sufficient funds to support themselves and accompanying family members during their stay; and (3) meet health and character requirements.