Working on an Australian student visa: The dos and don’ts

students in australia
Students can work part-time in Australia, but are restricted by a few rules. Source: William West/AFP

Are you an international student in Australia looking to make some extra cash on the side? If so, you’re in luck — you’re perfectly well within your rights to work under your student visa, and there are many roles out there for you to choose from. 

However, these come with a certain set of conditions, and it’s imperative you abide by them, because not doing so can risk your student status. The worst that could happen? Losing your student visa — and getting deported from the country. Because of this, it’s important that you know exactly what you can and cannot do as an international student in Australia.

Here’s a guide on what you need to know about working on your student visa, the types of jobs you can take on, and everything in between. 

What should I know about working as a student in Australia?

The first thing you should know is that under your student visa, you’re only allowed to work 40 hours per fortnight. A work week in Australia is considered from Monday through to Sunday. 

It doesn’t matter how you divide this time — you could work more hours for one week and less on the next. It’s up to you, but you must not cross this restriction. If you want to work for longer periods of time, this is possible — just wait for your holiday period. 

A total of 40 hours may seem like a short period, but remember, the reason for your stay in Australia is to pursue your studies. These hours are put into place to ensure that you have enough time to dedicate to your coursework, exams, and programme-related work. This is quite a common stipulation across higher education countries.

Student visas only allow you to work 40 hours per fortnight. Source: William West/AFP

Does volunteer work count towards my visa?

One common question from international students is if they’d be allowed to work before the start of term. Although your visa states that you’d be granted entry into Australia up to 90 days before your programme begins, unfortunately, your work rights don’t kick in until after that. 

What you can do, however, is participate in any volunteer work. This is specifically categorised as any activities you carry out for an organisation, be it private or non-profit, that is unpaid or would not be otherwise taken up by an Australian citizen. Since volunteering doesn’t count towards your visa, many students opt to go down this path — it’s a great way to gain work experience during your studies without compromising your status in the country.

Will I have the same work rights as Australians?

Yes, you will. 

As a student in Australia, you’ll be granted the same workplace protections as anyone else working in the country. If you’re unsure about these, you can approach your university — they’ll tell you exactly what rights you’re granted. 

You’re also guaranteed to earn at least a minimum rate of pay per hour, regardless of your job title. This is currently at 20.33 Australian dollars per hour. 

For more on your work rights, read this.

Students can get jobs in hospitality, retail, services, and more. Source: William West/AFP

What kind of work can I do?

As mentioned above, if you want to work more than 40 hours per fortnight, you can take up any volunteering work. You are similarly not restricted by specific categories for paid work — you’re free to take up any job you’d like, provided that it meets the conditions of your visa. 

However, because of the limited hours you’re able to work, you might have a narrower option of roles. Some common industries for students include: 

  • Retail (supermarkets, department stores, boutiques)
  • Hospitality (cafes, bars, restaurants, delivery)
  • Farming and fruit-picking (depending on the season)
  • Services (childcare, aged care and cleaning)
  • Administration and clerical work
  • Tutoring

Finding a job can be tough, but not impossible. Reach out to your friends — perhaps they have connections they can put you in touch with. Otherwise, be sure to check out your university or student union careers page — you’re bound to come across some part-time job advertisements there. 

Whatever you choose to do, you should remember that it’s your responsibility to ensure that your employer knows about the work conditions of your visa. If they’re asking you to work overtime, you should let them know that you are not legally allowed to do so. If you’re ever in doubt about your work rights as an international student in Australia, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman

Can I start a business on a student visa?

Yes, you can!

One exciting aspect of certain Australian temporary visas is that they don’t restrict you from creating your own business venture. There’s no limit on what you can do, here — you might want to open an online retail business, for example. With this, you’re given the flexibility to decide on your own work hours and more appropriately manage your time. 

However, it’s important to remember that as a student in Australia, you are still limited by the 40 hour fortnight cap. This is usually easier to calculate when you’re physically travelling for your work, but setting up your own business means that it’s more difficult to determine exactly how many hours you’re working per fortnight. Be sure that you have a way to keep track of this to show that you’re complying with the rules of your visa. 

Setting up your own business also means you might be required to pay taxes, or need an Australian partner. Check the exact conditions of creating your own business on an Australian student visa here