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#IMMIPROBS – An American’s Guide to Aussie Visas

Over the last six months, I’ve received a lot of questions on how I’ve been able to live/work in Australia. Anyone that has lived or worked in another country can understand the never ending ordeals of #IMMIPROBS.

Visas never come easy, and if you’ve gotten this far into the process to start comparing visas, you know there isn’t any clean cut answer.  No matter how simple the starting process may be, there are always complications. Just accept it now. There’s also few websites out there that answer the real questions. I had to pay $120 for THIRTY MINUTES with an immigration agent to leave with even more questions and empty answers.

Once I decided to move to Australia to live with Sam, I jumped on the Australian Immigration website, and filled out my application for a Working Holiday Visa (462). There are many options when it comes to Australian Visa Applications – but this seemed to be the best bet for me. I wish I knew more beforehand.

I wanted to outline my experiences in Australia in relation to my visa. Most of this information will only apply to American citizens. These recommendations, answers and prices are coming from my experience and knowledge only. If you want government verified information, I recommend heading over to the Australian Immigration website – as helpful as it is…

Short Term ETA
If you’re planning on a short stay/travel in Australia, the cheapest and most convenient visa to go after is the Australia ETA – Short Stay Tourist Visa. This allows you up to 90 days to travel, visit, etc within a 12 month period. You cannot in any way shape or form work or receive payments while in Australia. Once your 90 days are up, you have to leave the country. You can apply for another ETA once you’ve left the country. I know a few people who met Australian partners while on their ETA, and left the country and reapplied for the ETA three or four times before finalsing plans. It’s possible, but the unemployment factor often is a problem. At any rate, the ETA is a great option for a a short travel around Australia. The ETA costs around ~$20 for USA Passport Holders.

Student Visa
Australia is known for its strong international student population. The university system here in Australia is practically hinged upon the Asian influence of international students and the tuition they bring. But it’s not just restricted to Asia, many students from the USA come to Australia to study abroad in undergraduate and graduate programs. For most programs, the student visa allows you to study in Australia for 2 years. You are also able to work for up to 20 hours a week, as well. And you’re eligible to get some health coverage.  The average student visa costs: ~$500. If you want to finish your graduate degree, but also have the opportunity to live, work and travel abroad, this is a great option. Long term stay (2 years), partial health coverage and working rights.

Working Holiday – 462 Visa
If you’re planning on traveling through Australia long term and possibly working a bit to fund your travels, then the Working Holiday Visa (462) is your go-to visa. It’s one of the most common among young travelers around the world. With the Working Holiday Visa, you’re allowed to travel throughout and in/out of Australia for up to 12 months. You can be employed with one employer for up to 6 months – then you legally have to switch employers. It gets a bit tricky if you work as a contract worker for a staffing agency – it comes down to how many hours a week you’re working as a contractor. The clear cut line is you can not work more than 6 month full time with one employer.

If you’re looking to work as a temp, bartender, promotional staffer, etc, then the 462 is a great option. It allows you the stability to earn a real income (Minimum wage is $16; and you usually make between $20-25 with most jobs – I haven’t made anything less than $22 an hour since being here.) And it also allows you the flexibility to travel the country. Cons to the Working Holiday as an American citizen: You aren’t eligible to apply for a second year working holiday visa. You also aren’t eligible to apply for Medicare or private health insurance. Both of these are benefits to UK/Canadian citizens.  So like I said, if you’re planning on traveling around and making a bit of cash and not necessarily “settling down”, then go for the 462. It takes about 12 hours to get approved and costs around ~$420.

Sponsorship – 457 Visa
One way you can work around the 6 month limitation, is to find a company that is willing to sponsor you for the 457 Visa. If you find a company throughout your Working Holiday Visa or before you even move over to Australia that will sponsor you, that will honestly make your life so much easier – IF and only if your long term goal is to stay in Australia. A Sponsorship (457 Visa) allows you to stay in Australia for 4 years while being employed with the same company. After 2 years, you can apply for a Permanent Residency, which is a whole other ball game that I won’t dive into for now. A company that is eligible to sponsor has to demonstrate to the Australian government that it has adequately attempted to train, mentor and employ Australian citizens through various activities and expenditures. The role that the sponsorship is for has to be approved by the government as well. Long story short – the role you would be sponsored for has to be a role that the company has tried to employ locally first. You also has to be employed at a base salary comparable to the market for the same role.

The road to sponsorship usually is a 4-6 week process, and can cost for you anywhere from $0-1300 not including immigration agent fees, which can be an additional $3-6000+. It depends on whether the company offering the sponsorship will pay for the whole lot. Usually, they do. You also have to obtain private health insurance before applying for the 457 visa. If you’re goal is to work and live in Australia long term with potential to obtain a Permanent Residency, the 457 is a great option if you find a perfect fit within a company. A serious con is that if you decide to leave the company that sponsored you or if you get made redundant, you have around 8-10 weeks to find another company willing to sponsor you. That’s not a lot of time for a company to decide whether you’re worth the investment. But then again, that’s one of the only downsides to the visa.

Partner Visa – 820 Visa
So what if you meet an Australian, and you decide he or she is the one? You want to stay longer than your visa allows? The Partner Visa (820) is for a couple in a very serious relationship who are either married or are de facto. (De facto: A couple who have been living together for 12 months with proof of residency) You can cheat the system a bit if you Register the Relationship within the state you live in before you’ve lived together for 12 months . Once you register the relationship as de facto ($240), you can then immediately apply for the Partner Visa. It’s worth the extra money if you have quite a bit of time before you can prove 12 months of cohabitation. (Sam and I are legally de facto now in the state of NSW!) The application process is a grueling one. You have to prove records of living together. They ask to interview friends and family to verify your story. They want to see love letters and pictures. It gets very personal. No room for forgetting an anniversary or birthday!

Partner Visa takes between 12-15 months to get approved, and if you apply within the country of Australia you have to stay in the country for the majority of the approval period. If your substantive visa you hold at the time of logding your application expires before the decision is made, you can be put on a Bridging Visa. This visa gives you the same rights as your previous visa up until the decision is made for your Partner Visa. So for example, I am on a Working Holiday Visa from now until June 2015. If I applied for the Partner Visa today, I wouldn’t have an answer until early 2016. So from June 2015 (the exp. of my current visa) to early 2016 (the decision of my Partner Visa), I will be placed on a Bridging Visa with the same working rights as the Working Holiday – 6 months limitation with one employer. As an American with little to no flaws in our story, Sam and I would have one of the faster turn arounds in the approval process. It’s a long process, and an EXPENSIVE one. It’s around $5000 for the application – nonrefundable and excluding immigration fees which can be an additional $4000+. The cons of the Partner Visa is the incredibly long approval process and expensive fees. There is also the chance that you may want to relocate either home or somewhere else by the time you get approved. You have to be SURE of your relationship and of your decision to settle down. The pros is that you have 2 years on a temporary partner visa – where you have full working rights, full Medicare cover, etc. After 2 years, you get interviewed briefly again to ensure the relationship is still alive and well, and then you are well on your way to a Permanent Residency.

So as you can see there are many different options for many different scenarios. No matter what the situation, there pretty much will always be #immiprobs involved. If you can get pass the annoyances and fees, then you’ll find yourself traveling, studying. or working in one of the greatest countries in the world. Please feel free to comment below with questions, and I’ll do my best to answer from my own experiences.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Kailey @ The Blonde Travelista March 9, 2015 at 5:26 am

    I’ve literally pulled my hair apart stressing about the various visas! My boyfriend and I decided to apply for the prospective marriage visa while living in New Zealand then hopefully (if he proposes in a timely manner haha) by the time our visa in NZ is up, we can move right to Australia!

    Will you and your boyfriend eventually apply for a partner visa?

    • Reply KP Schwan March 9, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      That was the original plan, but then they upped the price a lot, and we weren’t entirely sure if we wanted to stay in Australia. So we decided to move away for a year, and make a plan from there! Good luck with all of your visa probs – it’s worth it in the end for sure 🙂

  • Reply Jonathan February 4, 2016 at 2:10 am

    How were you able to get health insurance. My girlfriend lives in Oz, and I’m planning on heading down on the 462 in a few months, but I’m a Type 1 Diabetic. I’m not chronically sick or anything, but just need some access to check-ups and pharmaceuticals. I was wondering if you had any suggestions?

    • Reply KP Schwan March 31, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      You can’t get private health insurance in Oz as a US citizen on a Working Holiday Visa. You have to be on a sponsored visa or permanent visa. I would look into travel health insurance?

  • Reply Bek December 1, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Are Americans able to apply for the visa subclass 820 while on a holiday visa? We’ve got proof that we’ve lived together for more than a year, but for the last 4 months I’ve been in the U.S. and he’s in Australia. We’re talking about marriage now. My only concern is the “no further stay” condition that’s imposed on a holiday visa. Our Aussie friends seem to know a lot of people that were still able to get a bridging visa and apply for the de facto marriage visa, but I want to make sure the risk is worth it before we do it. I’d hate to pay all the money and get rejected over a technicalities!

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