Work and play in Queensland, Australia: Visas

Australia is a tremendously easy country through which to backpack. It has superb infrastructure, seamless transportation systems that allow you to traverse its massive landscape and a surplus of affordable accommodations. It’s no wonder that so many European and American teens are delaying their entrance into college or the “real world” for a year and are working their way through extended Australian holidays. But before you defer your admission to Southwest State A&M Tech and head down under with visions of boomerangs and dingos dancing through your head, there are a few things that any young person needs to know about how to work and backpack through Australia legally. The last thing you want is to be deported. That’s just embarrassing.

American? I Have Good News & Bad News

So, you’re a US citizen (or from Chile, Thailand, Malaysia or Turkey) and you want to work and backpack through Australia. Are you between the ages of 18 and 30? Are you healthy and free of any criminal history? Can you speak English at a “functional level?” Then the Australian Work and Holiday visa (Subclass 462) is just the paperwork for you!

The good news is, you can visit Australia for twelve months, leave and enter the country any number of times during that period, pick up some temporary employment along the way and study for up to four months. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, this visa “is for you to holiday and travel in Australia. Any work should be temporary to supplement your funds. Periods of work should be broken up by periods of holiday and travel.” In other words, this visa is less about the work and more about making sure you don’t end up broke in Australia while traveling.

Holders of this visa may not work for the same employer for more than six months. Violating that rule may result in cancellation of your visa. There’s that embarrassment again. You can pick up any job that you’d like, however, so Australia is your oyster. But all you get is 12 months in the country, so make the most of it. No extensions or second visas are offered on the Subclass 462 Work and Holiday visa. And that, my friends, is the bad news.

The Luckier Countries

Australia offers another type of visa that is much more liberal and allows for significantly more time in the country. The Working Holiday visa (Subclass 417) is for people from Belgium, Canada, Republic of Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and United Kingdom. Once again, you must be age 18 to 30, healthy and not be a criminal. If you fit the bill, you can work and play in Australia for up to twelve months. But from there, this visa begins to provide a few more options for residents of these lucky countries.

You see, if you perform three months of specified work while on your Working Holiday visa, you become eligible for a second Working Holiday visa. In other words, you can double your time down under and explore Australia for up to 24 months. No too shabby. But what qualifies as specified work? I’m glad you asked.

Specified Work

Specified Work is very…um, specific. Before I get my high school English teacher too upset, let me explain to you the most important thing you need to know about Specified Work: It’s not easy. If you were dreaming about bartending for three months and improving your bottle twirling skills in exchange for a second visa, well, you’ve watched Cocktail too many times. Essentially, Specified Work benefits the state and gives back to the country that’s letting you roam around freely for 12 to 24 months. So, you’re going to get your hands dirty in exchange for that second visa. But it will be rewarding, help you meet both other backpackers and local Australians and allow you to see parts of the country that are even more beautiful than those more often visited by tourists.

Specified Work includes:

  • plant and animal cultivation
  • fishing and pearling
  • tree farming and felling
  • mining
  • construction

The most popular form of Specified Work is plant and animal cultivation. While the phrase may make the work seem overly daunting, in essence this category encompasses fruit picking and general farm work. For example, in Queensland, banana farming is a $200 million AUD industry. Those bananas aren’t picking themselves, so farmers employ backpackers from all over the world to pick, sort and box the fruit year-round.

After three months doing Specified Work, travelers on a Subclass 417 visa are eligible for a second visa and 12 more months in Australia. Australia gets a steady stream of young, healthy and eager workers to work in jobs that provide for the state and travelers get money to subsidize their lengthy trip through Australia. In other words, it’s a win-win.

Once again, travelers can leave and enter the country any number of times and cannot work for any one employer for longer than six months. And studying is limited to four months. In other words, work to put some money in your pocket and then get back to exploring Australia’s vast array of activities and wonder. Many hostels will typically partner with local farmers and other employers whose endeavors qualify as Specified Work to help backpackers find positions. These hostels cater to extended stay backpackers, so the accommodations are comfortable, clean and conducive to making people feel at home.

Know Before You Go

The good folks at Backpacking Queensland arranged for me to tour both a banana farm and a farm that specializes in training young people and assisting them with finding cattle farm work. Later in this series, I’ll profile both of those farms and go into more detail on what it’s like to be employed doing Specified Work.

Picking up and moving to another country for an extended period of time requires a fair amount of preparation. Do your research, speak with people who have been there before and understand what you want to get out of the situation. Australia is a very welcoming place and has created visa options that benefit the country and its visitors. Being informed before you get there will help you avoid any potential pitfalls that could result in visa problems or, even worse, deportation. Man, that would be really embarrassing.

For more information, check out the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship website.

Mike Barish spent a week in Queensland, Australia on a trip sponsored by Backpacking Queensland to see how backpackers find employment and entertain themselves down under. He’ll be sharing what he learned about the logistics of working in Australia’s Sunshine State and the myriad activities that young travelers have at their disposal. Read other entries in his series HERE.