Employers: how to hire international workers

For hundreds of years Australia has called up upon international workers to support projects and businesses. Hiring foreign workers helps businesses to be productive and competitive, especially in rural and remote areas. Even so, employers are expected to take reasonable steps to ensure they are hiring foreign workers who are legally entitled to work in Australia. Failure to do can result in hefty fines.

A single check confirming a worker’s citizenship or permanent residency is all that is required. If a worker has neither, employers should make further enquiries using the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s free, online system Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO).

This is because some Australian visas have work restrictions. Student visas, for example, allow visa holders to work up to 20 paid hours a week. Other visas, though, like the tourist visa (also known as the Electronic Travel Authority) don’t permit the visa holder to carry out any paid work.

Employers need to be aware that a tax file number, driver’s licence or Medicare card is not sufficient evidence on its own that a foreign national is allowed to work.

If a non-citizen is a bridging visa holder, and VEVO does not show a visa expiry date, it is best practice to check every 3 months that the visa-holder still has permission to work.

If you an employer engaging staff through a contractor or labour hire, you can still be held responsible for hiring illegal workers. You can avoid this by adding a clause in your contract with the contractor or agency or through an exchange of letters specifying that the supply of labour includes only legal workers.

The DIBP has some examples of contract clauses. However, employers may wish to obtain independent legal advice to ensure their contract complies with the Migration Act 1958.