Fact Sheet 87 – Initiatives to Combat Illegal Work in Australia
On this page
- Who are illegal workers?
- Problems created by illegal workers
- What happens to illegal workers?
- Employing an illegal worker is a criminal offence
- Services to assist employers
- More information
- Do you have information about suspected offences or fraud against Australia's immigration and citizenship laws (such as persons working illegally?)
Only Australian citizens, permanent residents of Australia and New Zealand citizens who have entered Australia on a valid passport are allowed to stay and work in Australia without restriction.
All foreign nationals who want to travel to and stay in Australia must obtain visas before arriving.
If foreign nationals wish to work in Australia, they must also obtain a visa that gives them permission to work.
Example: People who come as tourists, or to visit family and friends, are not permitted to work in Australia.
Illegal workers are non-Australian citizens who are working in Australia without a visa or who are in Australia lawfully but working in breach of their visa conditions.
Illegal workers create a number of problems within the Australian community.
- reduce employment opportunities for those with permission to work in Australia
- place an additional burden on the taxpayer in terms of costs associated with locating and removing illegal workers, uncollected taxes and fraudulently claimed government benefits
- disadvantage employers who employ legal workers because they may not be able to compete with those who employ and under-pay illegal workers
- may be subject to exploitation and organised criminal activity
- may not meet the stringent health and character tests undertaken by holders of a visa with work entitlements.
Each year the department locates a significant number of people who have been working illegally.
As at 30 June 2012, it was estimated that 60 900 people were unlawfully in Australia.
Around 80 per cent of these people are estimated to be of working age (between ages 18 and 65 years). In addition, some people who are lawfully in Australia are working in breach of their visa conditions*.
*This information is provided as an estimate only and numbers are rounded. Some clients included may have since resolved their immigration status.
In 2011–12, the department located about 1900 people working illegally. The top three industries illegal workers were employed in included:
- agriculture, forestry, and fishing
- accommodation and food services.
People who work in Australia without immigration authority or who do not comply with the work condition attached to their visas, for example by working more hours than their visa allows, are breaking Australian law.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship takes seriously the issue of people working illegally or in breach of visa conditions. The department is committed to working with the community, employers, labour suppliers and industry to combat illegal work in Australia.
The department requires visa holders to comply with their visa conditions. Action against those who seriously breach these requirements can lead to possible visa cancellation, removal from Australia and re-entry bans of up to three years.
The department undertakes a broad range of activities to address illegal work. Employer awareness information sessions are conducted to educate employers, industry peak bodies and unions about immigration status checking with the aim of reducing the number of illegal workers.
The department also works with the Fair Work Ombudsman, Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, Australian Federal Police and state police authorities to locate and identify illegal workers.
It is a criminal offence under the Migration Act 1958 to knowingly or recklessly allow an illegal worker to work or to refer an illegal worker for work.
These offences apply to employers, labour hire companies, employment agencies and anyone who allows illegal workers to work, or refers illegal workers for work.
Individuals convicted of these offences face fines of up to $20 400 and/or two years' imprisonment while companies face penalties of up to $102 000 and/or two years’ imprisonment per illegal worker.
Penalties are even higher where an illegal worker is being exploited through forced labour, sexual servitude or slavery.
It is also an offence under the Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 for an employer or labour supplier to aid or abet foreign nationals working illegally in Australia.
The department provides a number of services to help employers and labour suppliers to check if a prospective employee has permission to work in Australia:
Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) service
VEVO is a web-based service that allows employers, labour suppliers and other organisations to quickly and easily check if non-citizens they wish to employ have permission to work. This service is free and is available to registered users 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
To register for VEVO
See: Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO)
Employers' immigration hotline
This telephone service provides information about employing workers from
overseas and general information about visa conditions. This service is
free and operates from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Friday.
Telephone: 1800 040 070
Further information for employers, labour suppliers and recruitment companies is available on the department’s website.
Do you have information about suspected offences or fraud against Australia's immigration and citizenship laws (such as persons working illegally?)
You can report information about people living or working illegally in Australia, and suspected offences or fraud being committed against Australia's immigration and citizenship programs, to the Immigration Dob-in Service.
See: Immigration Dob-in Service
Further information is available on the department's website.
The department also operates a national general enquiries line.
Telephone: 131 881
Hours of operation: Monday to Friday from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm. Recorded information is available outside these hours.
Fact Sheet 87. Produced by the National Communications Branch, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Canberra.
Last reviewed 17 April 2013
© Commonwealth of Australia 2007.