Below are the questions most frequently asked by asylum seekers
about looking for work and working in Australia.
It is almost impossible to get a permanent job without Australian experience. Your first job is likely to be ‘casual’ . You can be casual and work every day, or just work ‘on call’. Working casually can be difficult but it gives you a chance to build your experience across different work places and to get references.
Forty percent (40%) of Australian jobs are casual, which means that you do not know in advance when you are going to work – it depends on how much work there is. Casual work is often through labour hire/recruitment agencies, who send you to different employers depending on the work.
Some employers will offer you ‘unpaid training’ with the offer of paid work after a certain period of time. Unfortunately, unpaid training very rarely leads to paid work, as employers keep ‘training’ new people. Some cafes, 24h shops and service stations are particularly guilty of this practice.
It may be OK to be asked to work unpaid for two or three hours, or even a whole day to be ‘tested’ before being offered work, but not for anymore than this.
If you want to know more about this and other ‘traps’, there is a special section of the JobWatch website with further information.
You may be offered work ‘cash-in-hand’, which does not require a Tax File Number as you do not pay tax. It is not illegal for you to work cash-in-hand as long as you declare your income to the Tax Office at the end of the year (when you need to do your ‘tax return’); however it is illegal for the employer to employ you cash-in-hand.
Cash-in-hand work is not recommended. Your employer does not tell the government you are working for them, and therefore you are not protected in case of an accident. Also, the employer may not want to give you a reference as they may want to hide the fact they employed you cash-in-hand.
It is always better and safer to work ‘on the books’ and pay tax. Read the Cash-in-hand fact sheet for more information.
Employers (for instance in the construction sector) may ask you to get an Australian Business Number (ABN) so that they can employ you as subcontractors instead of employees. Be careful around this, because in order to get an ABN you need to lie on the application to the Tax Office – they will ask you if you are starting your own business. This can have serious consequences.
We recommend that you always take jobs where you are paid with a Tax File Number.
However, if you are really working as an independent contractor, for instance as a translator/interpreter, or as an accountant or a trades person, then you need to get an ABN. You can learn more about how to get an ABN by visiting the Australian Taxation Office website.
Starting a business
When you are struggling to find work, it is tempting to want to start your own business. Many asylum seekers used to run a business in their country of origin and would like to do the same in Australia.
If you are considering starting a business, you need to think of the following issues:
- Opening up a business in Australia is very complicated and about 80% of businesses fail in their first year.
- You need ‘start up cash’ and you need to be prepared to lose it if things don’t work out.
- Running your own business is very stressful, much more stressful than working for an employer. If you have anxiety or stress issues, you need to consider this.
Our advice is that if you want to open a business, you start by working for someone else in your field to get Australian experience. It will help you understand how to run a business yourself and the regulations around it.
If you want more information, you can check the Business Victoria website and the ‘Is Running a Business for You?’ information.
To work legally in Australia, you will pay tax to the government. Therefore, you need a Tax File Number. You can apply online for a Tax file number (or TFN) on the Australian Tax Office website.
If you do not have a passport you may not be able to apply online and you may need to print the form and drop it at the Tax Office.
Getting a Tax File Number is FREE.
Even though you are not a permanent resident of Australia, you may be a ‘resident for tax purposes’. When you start a new job you will be asked to fill in form for the Tax Office, and you need to know to know if you are a resident for tax purposes when you do this.
The Tax Office will consider the following ‘behaviours’ when assessing whether you are a resident for tax purposes:
- You are residing here with your family
- You have assets such as a motor vehicle and a bank account in Australia
- You have lived in Australia for a ‘considerable time’ (generally more than 6 months)
A Bridging Visa holder who intends to live permanently in Australia and can point to one or more of the above
points can claim to be a resident of Australia on the relevant ATO forms.
Disclaimer: This information should not be regarded as professional advice. If you are unsure of your obligations on these matters you should seek professional advice from an accountant or solicitor.
You will need a bank account so that you can receive your salary/pay from work.
It is free to open a bank account in Australia, but you need to provide identification, generally 100 points. This can be difficult if you do not have a passport, so ask the bank about what they will need from you (rental lease, bills, Medicare card, driver’s license).
You may need to get a key pass, which costs $55 and can be used as a piece of identification. Check the Keypass website for more information.
Some banks make it easier for asylum seekers to open a bank account if you can show a letter from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Ask your bank or your caseworker about this.
Superannuation is money that your employer contributes for you into a fund to provide you with income when you retire.
Before your employer (the person who pays you to work) gives you your salary, he/she must first take out part of the money (generally 9% of your salary) and set it aside. They do not keep this money for themselves; instead they will put it into a special account set up for you.
Although this account is yours, you cannot take the money out of the account until you either:
- Stop working for good (retire); or
- Leave the country permanently.
This money is called superannuation, and is the government’s way of making sure you have money for food and other necessities even when you can no longer work.
For more information on superannuation, see the Job Watch Superannuation Information Sheet.
Employers and recruitment agencies will want to know about your visa. What they really want to know is that you have work rights and that your visa is not a short-term one.
We suggest the following responses to the ‘visa question’:
“I have applied for permanent residency and I am on a Bridging Visa until my application is processed. I have full work rights.”
Make sure you got a Job Seeker ID Number from a local JSA agency (see next question: ‘Will Centrelink Help me?’) as it will reassure the employer that you have work rights (only people with work rights can get one).
If you are receiving case management from organisations such as the Red Cross, AMES in Victoria or Life without Barriers (there are many more), you are also receiving SRSS (Status Resolution Support Service) payments from Centrelink.
If you are not receiving SRSS, you are not eligible for any other payment from Centrelink.
As an asylum seeker with work rights, if you are on SRSS, you can also receive some support from Job Services Australia agencies. Those services are limited and include:
- a Job Seeker ID Number
- help to prepare a resume
- information on job opportunities in our area
- advice on what types of industries need more workers
- access to a computer to help you with your jobsearch
- an interpreter if you need one
It is important that you get a Job Seeker ID number as you can use it as proof that you have work rights when approaching employers.
If you want to get a Job Seeker ID number, go to a Job Services Australia (JSA) agency and apply at the counter. You can find a list of JSA agencies in your area on the jobsearch website.
If you are not receiving SRSS, you can print this letter and take it with you to support your request.
Your registration with a JSA will expire after three months but you can get it renewed if you are still not working.
The Fairwork Ombudsman’s office provides information about rights and responsibilities at work. You can watch a video about their services.
The Fairwork Ombudsman offers translated information about working in Australia in the form of videos in different languages, including Farsi and Dari, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese (as well as English).
Australia’s minimum wage is $15.96 per hour (or $606.40 per week for someone working full-time).
A full-time job is 38 hours/week.
Remember though, when you start looking for work you will often start by getting casual work and work part-time before you can get full-time work. It is almost impossible to get a permanent job on a Bridging Visa, but casual work means you get experience, referees and an income.
If you work as a casual you often get more than the minimum wage as you also receive ‘casual loading’. This is to make up for the fact that you do not get sick leave or annual leave (holiday pay).
If you do not have a valid passport, it will be hard for you to do things like get a Tax File Number of open a bank account, and you may need to get a key pass. A key pass costs $55 and can be used as a piece of identification. Check the Keypass website for more information.
If you are in Victoria on a temporary visa (such as a Bridging Visa), you can drive on your overseas driver licence for as long as it is current providing it is in English or accompanied by an English translation or International Driving Permit. There is no requirement to get a Victorian driver licence.
If you hold an overseas driving licence and hold a permanent visa you will not be required to get your Learner Permits and can drive on your overseas licence for six months from the time you got your permanent visa. Depending on how long you have held your overseas licence since your 18th birthday, you can either get a Full Victorian Licence or a Probationary Licence. Your overseas licence must be translated into English at your own cost.
You may come from a country where unions have been made illegal, and where workers can be imprisoned for belonging to a union.
This is not the case in Australia. It is your decision whether you want to belong to a union or not and we do not encourage you either way, but in any case, it will not get you in trouble with the government or the law.
A union is an organisation that represents workers in their workplace and industry sector. Because they represent groups or workers rather than an individual, unions give employees a stronger voice at work and in the community.
There are 46 major unions in Australia, representing every industry, and about 1.8 million Australians are union members.
If you want to know more about unions in Australia, check the ACTU website.
You can also find further information on unions on the JobWatch website.
OH&S stands for Occupational Health and Safety.
Occupational Health and Safety is a set of rules and guidelines to ensure the safety, health and welfare of people at work. The goal of all occupational health and safety programs is to promote a safe working environment for all employees.
Occupational Health and Safety is an important part of all Australian workplaces.
You will most likely be informed of OH&S procedures in your workplace. If not, ask your supervisor about OH&S. An example of OH&S: in a warehouse or factory setting you must wear closed toe shoes, or work boots.
If you do not find the answer to your questions, there are some excellent websites
that could help. In particular, we recommend:
- Job Watch: An employment rights legal centre which provides assistance to
Victorian workers about their rights at work.
- The Fair Work Ombudsman: This website gives advice and helps you
understand your workplace rights and responsibilities. The role of the Fair Work
Ombudsman is to work with employees, employers, contractors and the community
to promote harmonious, productive and cooperative workplaces. The Fair Work
Ombudsman investigates workplace complaints and enforce compliance with
Australia’s workplace laws.
- The ACTU Worksite: this website of the Australia Council of Trade Unions provides
information for young people entering the workforce. This information is also very
useful for people new to the Australian workplace. In particular, we recommend
the glossary and the Frequently asked First Job questions.