Hiring people from overseas (updated April 2020)

Australian workplace laws apply to overseas workers

Overseas workers are entitled to the same entitlements as Australian workers including pay rates which correspond to the classification in the Pastoral Award 2010, overtime and penalty rates and superannuation. Read more about pay rates

Unfair and unlawful dismissal laws also apply as do discrimination laws and work health and safety laws.

Australian taxation laws apply but there are differences which depend upon whether the overseas worker is defined as an ‘Australian resident’.  For further information about tax and overseas workers (inc. case study examples) see our overseas workers taxation fact sheet

Work rights

Employers considering employing non-Australian citizens or permanent residents (e.g. working holiday makers) should be aware that some visas prevent or restrict the right of a person to work in Australia. Every worker from overseas must have a valid Australian visa with work rights.

Illegal workers are non-Australian citizens who are working in Australia without a visa, or who are in Australia lawfully but working in breach of their visa conditions. Work means any activity that normally attracts remuneration. In other words, even unpaid workers will be considered to be working if their work would normally attract remuneration.

Employing an illegal worker is a criminal offence

Employers are responsible for checking all workers’ rights to work in Australia. It is an offence under the Migration Act 1958 to knowingly or recklessly allow workers to work, or to refer workers for work, where those workers are from overseas and either illegally in Australia or working in breach of their visa conditions.

Importance of checking work rights

People found working without a valid visa can be removed from the workplace without notice to their employers. To avoid the disruption and loss of investment caused by the sudden removal of an employee and the potential for criminal charges, employers should check the work entitlements of new employees.

Employers are responsible for checking all workers’ rights to work in Australia. If employees or job applicants refuse to cooperate, they should be told they will not be employed until such checks have been satisfactorily completed or until their entitlement to work can be verified.

Employers should check the work entitlements of all job applicants. If employers check the work rights of all employees and applicants, they will be in a better position to defend allegations of breaches of the racial discrimination legislation by prospective employees who object to questions relating to their origin.

Checking a prospective employee’s entitlement to work in Australia

Work rights can be checked by asking to see a person’s passport or other evidence of Australian citizenship, such as a birth certificate or certificate of citizenship, as well as appropriate photo identification.

The free Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service is the safest and easiest way to check work entitlements of all new workers from overseas, providing you with current visa information. You may also like to read the do your employees have a valid visa to work in Australia? booklet.

Employers who do not have immediate access to fax or email have a period of 48 hours in which to conduct any checks.

Providing these checks are initiated within 48 hours of an employee starting work and the employer does not know the person is an illegal worker, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has said that they will not be referred for prosecution, even if the employee turns out to be an illegal worker. Employers relying on the 48-hour checking period will need to have records of the date and time when the employee started work to enable calculation of the 48-hour period.

Employers who discover an employee is an illegal worker must end the working relationship immediately.

How often to check?

Australian citizens and permanent residents need 1 single check at the time of employment. Temporary visa holders must be rechecked to ensure that no changes to their immigration status have occurred. It is advisable for employers to check on VEVO every 3 months.

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Employer Sponsored Visas (updated April 2020)

There are a number of visa options for lawfully operating Australian employers to sponsor and employ skilled workers who have recognised qualifications and skills or experience in particular occupations required in Australia. These include:

Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (TSS Visa subclass 482)

Note: Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (TSS Visa subclass 482), previously subclass 457 – significant changes have been made to this Visa.

From 11 March 2019, the occupation of Dairy Cattle Farmer is on the Regional Occupation List rather than the Short-Term Skilled Occupations List (STSOL) which gives access to 482 visas with up to a 4-year term and possibility of renewal for up to a further 4 years.

A business can sponsor someone for this visa if they cannot find an Australian citizen or permanent resident to do the skilled work. Download: Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (TSS Visa subclass 482) fact sheet (Updated March 2019).

Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) Visa (subclass 494) – replaces 187 visa (as of 16 Nov 2019)

– Updated Nov 2019the Skilled Work Regional (provisional) visa subclass 494 visa replaces the 187 visa. Download the 494 fact sheet.

Dairy Industry Template Labour Agreement (Mar 2018): dairy farmers have the opportunity to recruit senior farmhands under the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa program (482). These people were previously ineligible for 457 visas because they were not regarded as being skilled workers. Note: that labour market testing for a period of at least 4 months is required for this visa.

Senior Farmhands can now be employed under a Dairy Industry Template Labour Agreement (Mar 2018) which is a formal agreement between the individual farmer and the Department of Home Affairs. The visa obtained under the Labour Agreement lasts for up to 4 years, with the possibility of an extension.

Updated April 2019: On 1 April 2019, the Dairy Industry Template Labour Agreement (DILA) was amended to provide a pathway to permanent residency for overseas workers who are engaged under a Labour Agreement for a period of at least 3 years. Effective immediately, existing Labour Agreement holders need to seek a variation to their agreements to sponsor current Subclass 457 or TSS 482 visa holders for an Employer Nomination Scheme (ENS) (subclass 186) visa.

Dairy Australia understands that labour market testing undertaken for 457/482 visa will suffice for a Labour Agreement stream 186 visa application. Dairy Australia understands that there is no requirement for further labour market testing for the application of the 186 visa. Note however that the IELTS score for the 186 visa is a 6.

Those that wish to vary their existing DILAs will need to complete a Deed of Variation request and return it to the Department of Home Affairs. Contact: [email protected]

Update April 2019:  Labour agreement fact sheet (need to know)

Updated April 2019: Labour Agreement FAQs

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Application for a Labour Agreement (updated April 2019)

Individual farmers who are seeking to engage overseas workers under the Labour Agreement must make a formal application to the Department of Home Affairs – contact [email protected]

Request for a Labour Agreement (March 2018) previously called Business case proforma
Updated April 2019: Labour Agreement FAQs and
– Labour Agreement – tips for completing the dairy industry labour agreement application form

We also have a skills assessment sheet and employment letter of offer template, plus the Department of Home Affairs Information about requesting Labour Agreement guide (booklet)

See below for more resources.


Once the Application for a Labour Agreement has been approved, you can proceed to nominate an overseas worker. You can complete this process online here

The worker will lodge a visa application separately online.
Fees apply. For more information, visit Department of Home Affairs

Working Holiday Makers (updated April 2020)

To meet the seasonal nature of work on dairy farms, it may be worth considering working holiday makers for short-term employment.

Note: COVID-19 has impacted on working holiday visas – stay up to date with the latest information at home affairs website

The working holiday maker program is a cultural exchange program which allows visa holders to supplement their holiday funds through short-term work. Working holiday maker visa holders working in the dairy industry can work full-time for a period of 12 months with the one employer.

From July 1 2019, second holiday year 417 and 462 visa holders (as below) may be eligible for a third year working holiday visa, allowing visa holders to stay in Australia and work for an additional 12 months if they have worked for 6 months in a specified field or industry in a designated area of regional Australia.

Updated Nov 2019Working holiday visa (subclass 417) is for young people who want to holiday and work in Australia for up to a year, encouraging a cultural exchange and closer ties between Australia and eligible countries. Working holiday visa holders who performed ‘specified work’, in an eligible regional Australian area for a minimum of three months (88 days) while on their first working holiday visa may be eligible for a second working holiday visa. Note: maximum of 12 months’ work with any one employer but can be extended to allow for return to a previous employer. From July 1 2019, second holiday year visa holders may be eligible for a third year working holiday visa.

‘Specified work’ includes (among other things) general maintenance crop work, harvesting and/or packing fruit and vegetable crops and immediate processing of animal products.

Updated Nov 2019: Temporary work and holiday visa (subclass 462) encourages cultural exchange and closer ties between Australia and eligible countries by allowing young adults (18-30) to have an extended holiday during which time they may engage in short term work or study.

Note: with both subclass 417 and 462 visas – 3 months of specified work means a period equivalent to three ‘calendar months’, which is taken to be a minimum period of 88 calendar days, inc. weekends or equivalent rest days during the period of employment. In the dairy industry, there are a variety of roster situations which can be considered standard practice due to the 24/7 nature of the industry with early morning and late afternoon work – read the fact sheets for each visa which include an example of how to calculate (look out for the boxes)

Special Category visa (subclass 444) is a temporary visa which allows New Zealand citizens to stay and work in Australia, as long as they remain a New Zealand citizen.

Read more about employing backpackers – download our backpackers – what to pay them fact sheet.

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Labour Agreement – updated as listed
Dairy Industry Template Labour Agreement (March 2018) PDF
Labour agreement fact sheet (need to know) (April 2019) PDF
Labour Agreement FAQs (April 2019) PDF
– Request for a Labour Agreement (March 2018) Word template
Employment letter of offer template (May 2018) Word
Skills recognition fact sheet (May 2018) PDF
Tips for completing the dairy industry labour agreement application form (April 2019) PDF
Position Description (Schedule 4 – Labour Agreement template) PDF
Information about requesting Labour Agreement guide
  (Dept. of Home Affairs booklet – April 2018)
Visa Subclass Resources (Updated Nov 2019)  
Updated Nov 2019: Skilled Employer Sponsored Regional (Provisional) visa (subclass  494) PDF
Updated March 2019: Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (TSS Visa subclass 482) (previously subclass 457) PDF
Updated Nov 2019: Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) PDF
Updated Nov 2019: Temporary Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462) PDF
Special Category visa (subclass 444) PDF