How Many Temporary Residents are Working in Australia?

temporary residents in Australia

Australian Government sources indicate that there were 2.2 million temporary residents in Australia as of 31 March 2018 – most of whom have some kind of work rights. However, this number excludes provisional visa holders (such as temporary partners, provisional skilled and business skills) and also unlawful non-citizens.

This article looks at the different types of temporary resident work visas and trends between 2012 and 2018.

The table below summarises the total number of temporary residents in Australia, including these extra categories. Our figures indicate that there are 2.4 million people in Australia who are not permanent residents or citizens.

The table also summarises the risk for employers who hire staff in each category:

Temporary Visa Holders in Australia March 2012 vs March 2018 By Visa Type


CategoryRiskMar-2012Mar-20182018 Share% IncreaseComments
OverstayersDon’t Hire58633%8%No visa or work rights
VisitorDon’t Hire22039516%80%No work – Business Visitor Activities only
BridgingExtreme1321958%47%Depart within 35 days on visa refusal
StudentHigh34453622%56%40 hours/fortnight work limitation
Working Holiday MakerHigh1431486%4%6 months only with each employer
Graduate TemporaryMedium28653%133%Visa change likely
Skilled Regional ProvisionalMedium20201%0%est Regional work restrictions
Other Temporary ResidentMedium43703%63%Little understood by employers
Employer Sponsored (457 + TSS)Low1601526%-6%Watch out for dependents
Temporary PartnerLow90904%0%est Relationship Breakdown
NZ CitizensLow61666928%9%Full work rights, cancellation on character
Business ProvisionalLow28281%0%est Generally safe


These are people who are in Australia without a valid visa. The Department of Home Affairs can estimate the number of overstayers in Australia based on the difference between people arriving in Australia and those leaving.

As of 1 July 2017, the Department estimates that there were 62,900 overstayers in Australia. Many of these have been living in Australia for a considerable amount of time and are presumably working to support themselves.

The risk for the employer is that a long-term overstayer may appear to be Australian – unless the immigration status of each employee is checked as part of the recruitment process, the business could easily employ an overstayer accidentally.


The number of visitor visas has increased by 80% since 20198. Visitor visas in the tourist stream do not allow any kind of work in Australia – these form the bulk of visitors in Australia with 384,487 holders in Australia as of 31 March 2018.

There is also a “business visitor” stream which allows certain activities, such as attending conferences, but do not allow employment in Australia. There were 10,252 business visitors in Australia as of 31 March.

Employers should be careful not to make employment offers to business visitors, and should also use caution when moving staff to Australia on business visitor visas as the work they can do in Australia is very limited.

Bridging Visa Holders

Bridging visas allow a person to stay in Australia lawfully whilst they are undergoing another visa application process – such as waiting for a visa application to be processed or an appeal to be heard, or departing Australia.

Often, bridging visas have work rights, but the Migration Regulations are more complex regarding this than for substantive visas. Often, bridging visa holders need to specifically apply for work rights.

The main risk for employers is that bridging visa holders are generally required to depart Australia within 35 days if their visa application or appeal process is refused.

The number of bridging visa holders in Australia has been increasing rapidly in the last few years and there are now more bridging visa holders than employer sponsored visa holders in Australia.

Student Visa Holders

There were over 530,000 student visa holders in Australia as of 31 March. This is an increase of some 56% from March 2012.

The biggest increase has been in the number of students in Higher Education, and these students now make up 63% of all international students in Australia.

Vocational education students make up 22% of all students. Numbers have also increased, but not as strongly as higher education students.

Students generally can work for 40 hours per fortnight, but PhD and Masters by Research students can work full time. Student dependents, of which there are some 56,000 in Australia, usually have work rights as well, but the amount of hours again depends on the type of course being taken by the main student.

Previously, 7 different student visa subclasses were issued depending on the type of course being undertaken. In 2017, these were replaced by a singled subclass 500 student visa – this makes it more difficult for employers to determine the type of course being undertaken and hence more difficult to determine work rights.

Number of Student Visa Holders in Australia by Course Type

Mar 11Mar 18Share as of Mar 18% Increase from Mar 11
Higher Education19833563%69%
Vocational Education and Training8011622%45%
Postgraduate Research20255%25%
Independent ELICOS15255%65%

Working Holiday Makers

The number of working holiday makers in Australia has not grown significantly since 2012. However, the composition of the program has changed.

Whilst the number of backpackers from the UK has stayed more-or-less the same, there has been a significant drop in the number of Irish and South Korean working holiday makers. Taiwan is now the second most common nationality for working holiday makers, followed closely by France.

Most are familiar with the Subclass 417 Working Holiday Visa. However, there is also a Subclass 462 Work and Holiday visa which has different requirements. A number of countries have been added to the list of 462 countries and this has meant a significant increase in the number of 462 holders in Australia. For instance, there are over 4,300 Chinese nationals in Australia on 462 visas as of March 2018, almost the same as US nationals. Other countries now contributing significant 462 visa holder numbers include Chile, Indonesia, Spain, Argentina, Thailand and Israel though there were 23 countries represented in total.

Number of Working Holiday and Work and Holiday Visa Holders in Australia by Nationality

Country20122018Visa TypeShare% Increase
United Kingdom27,31627,74441719%2%
Korea, South21,29815,59641711%-27%
Germany, Fed Republic of13,26115,54141710%17%
Ireland, Republic of19,6866,7574175%-66%
United States of America3,8184,8754623%28%
China, Peoples Republic of (excl SARs)04,3784623%New
Netherlands, Kingdom of The2,3003,6334172%58%
Hong Kong (SAR of the PRC)4,2552,1204171%-50%
Other 462851,2774621%New
Other 417851454170%New
417 Program137,931132,09341789%-4%
462 Program4,66816,03146211%243%

Graduate Temporary Visa Holders

The number of Graduate Temporary Subclass 485 visa holders has more than doubled since 2012. With 65,246 Graduate Temporary visa holders in Australia as of March 2018, this is a significant number of workers – all of whom have full work rights.

The Post Study Work stream (PSW) of the 485 visa was introduced in 2012. The PSW stream is only available to higher education students, but is more beneficial and more straightforward for most applicants. Along with the increase in higher education students in Australia, the new PSW stream may be contributing to increased numbers of 485 visa holders in Australia.

Number of Graduate Temporary Visa Holders in Australia by Stream

Graduate Temporary Visa Holders in Australia by Stream

The main risk for employers hiring 485 holders is that the visas are only valid for 2 years in general, and that holders generally move onto a new visa which may not have as favourable work rights during this time.

Employer Sponsored 457 and TSS Visa Holders

The number of 457 visa holders has actually declined since 2012. The 457 visa was abolished in March 2018, and replaced by the TSS visa which will probably be less favourable for most employers. Accordingly, we expect number of employer sponsored visas to continue to decline. As of 31 March 2018, there were only 5 TSS visa holders in Australia.

Sponsored visa holders often have dependents – as of March 2018, there were 66,918 dependent 457 visa holders in Australia. 457 dependents can work full time, but can face cancellation if the main visa holder finishes their employment in Australia or if a spousal relationship breaks down.

457 Visa Holders in Australia – Primary and Secondary

457 visa holders in Australia - primary and secondary

Other Temporary Residents

There are a wide range of temporary visa categories – with varying levels of work rights. These are generally called the “400 series” as the subclasses usually start with 4. Since 2012, the 400 series has been compressed into a smaller number of visas, making comparisons between 2012 and 2018 difficult, but overall this category has increased by 63% since 2012.

The table below gives details of the types of “other” temporary visas held as of March 2018:

Other Temporary Visa Holders in Australia

Visa SubclassMar 2018Description
988 Maritime Crew Visa20,201For crew of ships
408 Temporary Activity14,502Various activities – such as religious work, research, sport, entertainment, staff exchange, special programs, domestic work
461 New Zealand Citizen Family Relationship (Temporary)7,450Dependents of NZ citizens in Australia
403 Temporary Work (International Relations)5,374Various activities – seasonal workers, diplomatic/consular work
995 Diplomatic (Temporary)4,533International diplomats
400 Temporary Work (Short Stay Activity)4,144Short-term, highly specialised work
410 Retirement2,758Retirees – closed to new applicants
476 Skilled – Recognised Graduate2,573Work visa for Recent engineering graduates
590 Student Guardian2,497Parents of under-18 students in Australia
407 Training1,831Occupational trainees and Professional Development
580 Student Guardian1,269Repealed – Parents of under-18 students in Australia
401 Temporary Work (Long Stay Activity)1,036Repealed – replaced by 408 visa
402 Training and Research605Repealed – replaced by 408 visa
602 Medical Treatment592Repealed – medical treatment in Australia
771 Transit251Transiting passengers
405 Investor Retirement244Repealed – high net worth retirees
773 Border208Repealed – medical treatment in Australia
685 Medical Treatment (Long Stay)96Repealed – medical treatment in Australia
420 Temporary Work (Entertainment)9Repealed – replaced by 408 visa
416 Special Program7Repealed – replaced by 408 visa
430 Supported Dependant2Repealed – for dependents of Australian citizens


Overall, the number of temporary visa holders is increasing over time – there’s a 29% increase between 2012 and 2018.

However, employer sponsored visas have been in decline and we expect this trend to continue.

Numbers of working holiday visa makers have been steady – but there has been a bit change in the nationalities of working holiday makers.

There have been significant increases in unsponsored and largely open ended visa programs – such as student visas, bridging visas, graduate temporary visas and “other temporary residents”.

For employers, temporary visa holders are a rapidly growing pool of largely skilled workers. However, tracking visa work rights and visa expiries for these visas are much more complex as compared to employer sponsored 457 and TSS visas.

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References – Temporary visa holders in Australia