Technology is continuing to change our work practices and company cultures. The idea of working remotely on a tropical beach was once a fantasy for most, except for a small number of tech workers. But today, more and more businesses are able to offer work to people located anywhere, to be performed at any time. What most businesses and remote workers don’t know is that taking a laptop and working from a remote location has legal implications. Read on for the latest updates.
If you’re a HR manager or business owner in Australia, you are responsible for what your employees do in other countries on behalf of the company. Also, if you are an overseas business and would like to have an international employee work for you temporarily in Australia, there are legal considerations. These include immigration, tax, employment and others.
What happens when someone comes to Australia as a remote worker
Unlike Spain, Norway, Dubai and other countries, Australia does not have a dedicated ‘digital nomad’ visa. However, our immigration laws do support remote work in certain circumstances.
When someone comes to Australia as an employee of an overseas business to work remotely for that company, it may be possible for them to use a visitor visa. However, this is only provided that their main purpose of stay is tourism or a business visit.
If your main activity is tourism and you do a small amount of work, such as logging in to check your work emails, this is generally not considered to be a ‘work’ activity.
However, if more substantial work is being done – for example, if you are consulting, delivering a workshop, servicing equipment – under Australian immigration law, you would need a work visa.
Visitor visas: The small print
The visitor visa (subclass 600) can be suitable for someone who is employed outside of Australia and their primary purpose is to stay here for a holiday or business visit for up to 90 days. However, the visitor visa has a ‘no work’ condition. This refers to an activity that a worker would normally be remunerated for.
However, the Department of Home Affairs also states that workers undertaking limited work activities online are not in breach of this clause. Activities that are not considered work include:
- some volunteer work
- doing work online for your job in your home country
- activity related to study
- seeing how people work in an industry
- short-term domestic or caregiving activities for your family member.
Know what your employee is actually doing
Legal language aside, the key question is: what is the worker actually doing? Are they sending a few emails, or are they doing extended activities that generate revenue in Australia? While this is a good place to start, in an increasingly online world – say, if one’s whole job is online work and the commercial outcomes are indirect – the rules can get blurry.
If remote work makes up a big part of your business, it’s best to seek professional advice. The Migration Agency focuses on employment-related immigration to Australia and New Zealand.
If you are an Australian business with employees working in overseas locations, we can also connect you with immigration lawyers who can provide advice in most jurisdictions.
With more companies implementing ‘work from anywhere’ policies, it will be interesting to see how Australia’s immigration system will reflect the evolving realities of the global workforce.