In order to enter Australia lawfully, it is necessary for non-citizens to obtain a visa. The requirement to obtain a visa applies to everyone, regardless of whether the purpose of the visit is tourism, study, work or migration. However, there are many different types of visas each with specific conditions regarding study, work and duration.
Overstayers are non-citizens who lawfully entered Australia but failed to depart before the expiry of their visa. Currently more than 99% of visa holders do not overstay their visa. For example, in the 2007-2008 financial year, there were approximately 4.5 million temporary entrants to Australia. Of those, approximately 14,000 people overstayed their visa. The vast majority of people who overstay their visa enter Australia on a temporary visitor visa. The total number of overstayers currently in Australia is less than 50,000 people.
Many people who overstay their visa simply seek to extend their stay in Australia by a few days or weeks, and leave of their own accord within a short period of time. Others overstay for a longer period, often out of a desire to live and work in Australia.
If you are in Australia and your visa will be expiring shortly, it is very important to resolve your immigration status before your existing visa expires. Depending upon your reason for wanting to extend your stay in Australia (ex. for study purposes as opposed to work purposes), you may be eligible to extend your visa or apply for a different class of visa. You may wish to consider obtaining legal advice on how to regularise your immigration status.
Non-citizens may also obtain temporary lawful status through the granting of a bridging visa. A bridging visa enables individuals to organise their affairs in Australia prior to their departure, to make arrangements for their departure from Australia or, if eligible, to seek a further visa.
Overstaying your visa can have significant consequences if you wish to return to Australia in the future. If you overstay your visa by more than 28 days, you cannot obtain a temporary visa to travel to Australia for a three year period. This three year period applies whether or not you leave on a voluntary basis. After this three year period has finished, you cannot obtain a further visa unless you repay any debts you owe to the Commonwealth Government. This can include the costs of previously removing you from the country.
Most people who overstay their visa leave voluntarily. The Commonwealth Government uses a range of sources to locate unlawful non-citizens and people who have breached the conditions of their visa.
If you refuse to leave Australia voluntarily, you may be detained and removed from Australia. The Commonwealth Government has increased its focus on immigration compliance. In the 2008-09, there were 1231 people located while working in Australia illegally.
It is a serious offence to employ or refer a person for employment where that person is not entitled to work in Australia. Employers convicted of illegal worker offences face fines of up to $13,200 and/or two years imprisonment per illegal worker. Companies face fines of up to $66,000 per illegal worker.