Plan your working holiday wisely

 The Working Holiday in Australia has been a rite of passage now for almost 20 years. The ritual of a few days in South East Asia, a couple of weeks in Sydney, buying an ancient Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore to travel north with your mate(s), do a bit of fruit picking along the way to pay for the parties on Fraser Island or Airlie Beach and then a week or two in Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam before returning to the real world and starting a career is the stuff of legendary stories.

The trouble now, of course, is that the prospect of jobs back home isn’t what it used to be. The working holiday year passes by very quickly - especially when you are having so much fun - and with less than a week before your visa expires you decide you would like to stay on. Unless you have given this some serious thought in advance you might well be very disappointed and frustrated. 

There are a number of visa categories that will enable you to remain in Australia but in nearly every case you will need a sponsoring employer and you will need at least a year’s relevant work experience and often postgraduate qualifications. A good honours degree from an Irish or UK university but without the experience won’t cut the mustard with Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Unfortunately those two months as a barista in Sydney or fruit picking in Queensland are unlikely to get you over the line.

So what kinds of strategies are available right now? 

Well the first, if you want to extend your working holiday for a further year, is that you spend at least 3 months working in a specified industry in regional Australia - essentially anywhere outside the major metropolitan areas. Specified work is defined as:

plant and animal cultivation

fishing and pearling

tree farming and felling



There is plenty to choose from within these main areas but you will need to provide hard evidence that you have been employed for those three months before you apply for the second year’s visa. The authorities do check these applications pretty thoroughly and woe betide the individual who puts in a dodgy claim. 

If during that time you do find an employer willing to sponsor you you can consider what is known as a 457 temporary business visa. On this visa you can stay for up to 4 years and work full-time but you will need to have an Australian company or organisation sponsor you.  You will need, however, to plan for this well in advance and not wait until your existing visa is about to expire before you apply. In my day to day work I see too many people who have left it too late and have no option but to leave the country and start the process from home.

Another increasingly attractive option is to consider investing in a postgraduate course in Australia for a year or more before you commence your working holiday. The downside is that you will have to pay tuition fees and these will vary according to the course but would average about $22,000 a year. There are a number of positives to counter this though. Remember you are likely to face similar costs  at home given the latest round of budget cuts and fee increases. To offset the expense you can work part time while your course is in session and full time during vacations. How much you will earn will, naturally, depend on your own initiative but it is worth noting that unemployment here is at historic lows and well skilled individuals are in high demand.

The major advantage is that the Australian qualification coupled with your home degree adds a significant sparkle to your cv. What’s more is that you will have an opportunity to develop an Australian network and scout the scene for potential employers. So just by adopting this approach, according to the current regulations, of combining a student visa with a working holiday you can potentially remain here for  3 years. During that time you should be able to develop the contacts and the experience you will need to apply for a longer term visa or even in some cases permanent residency under the Employer Nomination Scheme. You might even meet your life partner - but that’s another story.

The take home message is that you do need to do some serious homework and consider your options very carefully. The world has changed and with it the global labour market. It will also pay you to talk to a Registered Migration Agent because, as we know, the regulations can and do change. Certainly do not listen to rumour or urban myths unless you want to have your dreams and ambitions well and truly shattered.

About the writer: Kieran O’Brien is a Registered Migration Agent based in Brisbane. He has had many years experience of working in international education in Australia and maintains close connections with universities and colleges throughout the country. He has also worked a lot with young working holiday makers so knows the scene pretty well. Kieran can be contacted via his website at


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