Immigration is when people from another country come to Australia:

  • to live permanently
  • to visit here temporarily
  • for work or study.

People from other countries need a visa to stay in the country.

Find where to go for help on this topic with the Legal Aid Checker.

Most people wanting to migrate to Australia have to apply for a visa from their own country. There are strict rules about visas. There are three main ways of migrating to Australia.

Family migration

Family migration is when a person applies to move to Australia to join a family member here who is a permanent resident or an Australian citizen. This includes husbands and wives, de facto partners, parents, and children.

There are many different types of visas a family member overseas can apply for, and the process can be quite complicated. The rules change often, so get help. There are strict rules about visas.

Economic migration

Economic migration is for:

  • professional and other skilled workers looking for work or business
  • skilled people who are sponsored by an employer to work.

There are a number of ways you can get a visa based on your skills or qualifications. The Department of Home Affairs website lists the different skilled worker visas.

These visa applications are expensive and complicated. You may need help from someone who is qualified and experienced in this area. The Law Institute of Victoria can refer you to lawyers who specialise in immigration law.

Refugees through the Humanitarian Program

A refugee is a person who has good reason to feel at risk of serious harm in their own country. To be considered a refugee you need to be able to show that:

  • you face persecution because of either your race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, or membership of a social group
  • your own country is unable or unwilling to protect you.

If you are a refugee, you can get a protection visa to stay in Australia. The government lets a certain number of people migrate to Australia each year who have been found to be refugees overseas. You can also apply for a protection visa once you are already in Australia.

Getting a protection visa

To apply you must fill in an application form and explain why you cannot go back to your home country. The application fee is $35.

The Department of Home Affairs is the government department that will decide if you meet its rules about who is a refugee. If the department agrees that you are a refugee you will be given temporary protection. This means you have permission to stay and live in Australia for a period determined by the Department.

While you are waiting on the outcome of your protection visa application you may be able to work, but it's best to get legal advice first, as you can be put in detention if you work without permission.

Coming to Australia without a visa

If you arrived in Australia without travel documents, or with false documents, you are at risk of being put in detention. You may be held in detention until you get a visa or you are removed from Australia.

Get legal advice immediately. Contact Victoria Legal Aid or the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre for legal information and advice. See Get help.

If your visa application is refused​

If your application for a visa to visit, enter or stay in Australia is refused, you may be able to appeal against the decision.

Read more about Appealing a visa decision.

Mandatory visa cancellations​

If you are currently serving a prison sentence and are not an Australian citizen, you may be at risk of having your visa cancelled.

Read more about Mandatory visa cancellations.

Status Resolution and Support ​Services Program

The Status Resolution and Support Services (SRSS) Program provides support and assistance to people who are living in Australia whilst their application for a protection visa is being processed. 

For more information about SRSS payments, see the Department of Human Services website.

If you have been told by Centrelink that you owe money due to a SRSS overpayment, see Debts owed under the Status Resolution and Support Services Program.

Understanding immigration law

For more detailed information about these laws see the chapter on immigration in The Law Handbook.

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