Last updated 20 March 2020
Visitor visas are available to applicants seeking to visit Australia for a short period for holidays, tourism, recreation, business activities or to see family and friends. Visitor visas do not allow work in Australia.
Common criteria for visitor visas
All visitor visas share the criterion that the applicant genuinely intends to stay temporarily in Australia for the purpose for which the visa is granted. This is often referred to as the ‘genuine visitor’ requirement. The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) considers a number of issues that relate to whether the applicant is at risk of overstaying when assessing if this criterion is met.
Visitor visas are refused where applicants clearly do not intend bona fide (i.e. in good faith) visits in accordance with their type of visa. Sometimes a special condition is put on a visitor visa (i.e. condition 8503—no further stay). This condition (which is mandatory for sponsored visitor visas) means it is very difficult but not impossible to apply for, and be granted, permanent residence after entry for a temporary stay.
Possession of a visitor visa generally ensures that immigration clearance is granted on arrival. However, a significant number of people per year are turned around at Australian airports, because they are not considered to be genuine visitors.
Where a person wishes to visit a close relative in Australia but has difficulty satisfying the genuine visitor requirements, it is often better to apply for a Sponsored Family Stream or Tourist Stream. This is more likely to be granted given that the Australian relative/sponsor usually has to pay a bond to ensure that the visa holder leaves the country.
Extending a visit
Once a visa is granted and a visitor enters Australia, they may want to apply for extensions of stay. This may be possible where the applicant meets the criteria for a further visitor visa. It is important to note where the applicant needs to be at the time of the application. Of the visas for visitors described here, only the Tourist Stream and the Medical Treatment Visa allow for applications to be made while the applicant remains in Australia. In addition, those visas require that exceptional circumstances exist in order for an extension of stay of 12 consecutive months or more within Australia to be authorised.
It is not possible to apply for a further visitor visa in Australia if the former visitor visa had a ‘no further stay’ (8503 or similar) condition attached, unless that condition is waived (s 41(2) Migration Act 1958 (Cth)). This condition can only be waived if events of a compassionate and compelling nature that are beyond the control of the visa holder have occurred since the former visa was granted, and these circumstances necessitate a further stay in Australia. A waiver request should be lodged on a Form 1447.
Subclasses of visitor visas
There are four subclasses of visitor visas:
- eVisitor (subclass 651)
- Visitor Visa (subclass 600)
- Electronic Travel Authority (visitor) (subclass 601)
- Medical Treatment Visa (subclass 602).
An eVisitor (subclass 651) is an electronically stored 12-month authority for visits to Australia for tourism or business purposes for up to three months on each arrival. The eVisitor is available to passport holders from the European Union and a number of other European countries. An eVisitor is linked to the passport number an applicant has given in an application, so a visa holder must use the same passport to travel to Australia. If a visa holder gets a new passport, the details of the new passport must be given to DHA. An eVisitor comes into effect as soon as it is granted. If an applicant is holding any other visa to Australia, an eVisitor replaces this visa.
To be eligible to obtain an eVisitor, an applicant must:
- be outside Australia
- hold an eVisitor-eligible passport (see DHA website)
- meet character requirements.
A Visitor Visa (subclass 600) is a temporary visa allowing a stay in Australia of up to three, six or twelve months. This visa has five streams:
- Tourist Stream
- Sponsored Family Stream
- Business Visitor Stream
- Approved Destination Status Stream
- Frequent Traveller Stream.
A person can lodge an application for a Visitor Visa online. An application can be made from outside Australia, or from inside Australia if the person holds a substantive visa that does not have a ‘no further stay’ condition (8503) attached.
An application for a Visitor Visa must be accompanied by the required documents. A document checklist is available from the DHA website. That website also includes information about the application forms that need to be filled out for the different streams of the Visitor Visa.
A person can apply for this visa if they are intending to visit an Australian citizen or permanent resident who is their parent, spouse, de facto partner, child or sibling, or to travel to Australia for recreational purposes. An application can be made on shore or off shore, but the applicant must be in the same place at the time of making the application and at the time a decision is made on the application.
Sponsored Family Stream
A person can apply for this visa if they are intending to visit relatives in Australia. To apply for this visa, a person must be sponsored by a family member who is an adult (over 18 years) Australian citizen or permanent resident, who has been settled in Australia for a reasonable period (usually two years). An applicant can also be sponsored by a member of an Australian parliament, a local government mayor or an authorised person representing an Australian government, or Australian state or territory government department or agency. A sponsor cannot sponsor more than one person at the same time, unless the applicants are members of the same family unit. A sponsor might be asked to provide a security bond, which will usually be between $5000 and $15 000 per person. A sponsor must guarantee that the applicant will leave Australia before their visa expires. If the visa holder overstays, the sponsor is not able to sponsor another visitor in the same visa class for five years. The applicant must be outside Australia when applying for this visa and when a decision is made in relation to the visa.
Business Visitor Stream
This stream is for business people who would like to travel to Australia for a short business visit to undertake negotiations or participate in a conference. The applicant must establish their business background and that they have a good business reason for travel to Australia. An applicant must be outside Australia when they apply for this visa and when the visa is decided. A sponsor is not required.
Approved Destination Status Stream
This stream is for people from the People’s Republic of China who are travelling in an organised tour group. The applicant must be a citizen of China and must be in China when they apply for this visa and when the visa is decided. An application must be made through an agent registered under the Approved Destination Status Scheme as part of a group tour following an approved itinerary. A sponsor is not required. This visa has a mandatory ‘no further stay’ condition (8503) attached.
Frequent Traveller Stream
This visa is for people wanting to travel to Australia as a tourist or to engage in business visitor activities. This visa allows travel and entry to Australia on multiple occasions until a date specified by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs (which must not be more than 10 years after the date of grant of the visa) and to remain in Australia, after each entry, for three months. The visa applicant must not intend to engage in activities that will have adverse consequences for employment or training opportunities, or conditions of employment for Australian citizens or permanent residents. An application can be made on shore or off shore, but the applicant must be in the same place at the time of making the application and at the time a decision is made on the application.
Electronic Travel Authority
An Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) (subclass 601) allows citizens of certain countries to apply for a visa through their travel agent or at their nearest immigration office outside Australia. Citizens of some countries are able to apply online. An ETA allows for a stay of up to three months, or three months on each arrival if the ETA allows multiple re-entries to Australia over a 12-month period.
An ETA is linked electronically to the applicant’s passport. To be eligible to apply for an ETA, an applicant must:
- be outside Australia at the time of making the application and decision and
- hold a citizen passport of an ETA-eligible country.
Medical Treatment Visa
While not strictly a visitor visa, an applicant can apply for a Medical Treatment Visa (subclass 602) if they have a medical condition and want to travel to Australia for a medical consultation or medical treatment. An applicant can also consider applying for this visa if they want to donate an organ. This visa may also be granted to those who want to support the person who is having medical treatment in Australia.
An applicant can apply for a Medical Treatment Visa on shore as well as off shore. This visa is generally granted for three to twelve months. A document checklist on the DHA website outlines the evidence required to be provided with an application for this visa.