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Moving to Australia as a Business Owner – Visas and Other Legal Aspects

Australia business visaAustralia welcomes new businesses, and encourages people who have innovative business ideas. It can be scary setting up a business or taking over an existing one in a new country, because there are so many things to consider. The first step is obtaining the right visa so that you can get started.

The Australian government has recently made changes to its business visa scheme, so if you have already lodged an application or have a business/ investor visa, it may be worthwhile checking back with the Department of Immigration to ensure that you continue to meet their requirements.  If you want to come to Australia to conduct an existing business or establish a new business, there are several different options to explore.

Short Term Business Visitors

If you need to come to Australia for a business visit of less than 3 months there are a few different visa options, that vary depending upon which country you are from and what type of business you are planning on conducting. Most people apply for a 977 or 956 visa, that allows you to attend business meetings, seminars and network, but you must apply for this visa before arriving in Australia. Unfortunately the visa does not automatically let you bring your family along, but you can apply for them to come with you under their own individual visitor visa.

If you are from Europe, the eVisitor visa allows you to attend business meetings and conferences, but it also must be applied for before arriving in Australia. The process is relatively simple, but you may need to provide some documentation about the actual business you will be conducting during your visit.

If you have an Australian who is willing to sponsor you, then a 459 visa may be appropriate for you. This means that an Australian citizen sponsors your visit and guarantees that you will abide by your visa conditions during your stay.  There are several requirements that must be met by both the sponsor and yourself, covering personal attributes, business background, health and finances. It is a big responsibility for someone to sponsor a visa, but is useful if you have a business partner or company that you work with in Australia, as it may make for a smoother visa application process.

An initiative introduced by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is the Travel Card, that makes it much easier for regular business travellers in the region to carry on with their work.  Eighteen countries are party to the scheme including Australia, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.  A travel card is issued that allows the holder to make multiple short visits (of up to 2-3 months) to APEC countries over 3 years.  To apply for an APEC Business Travel Card, you must go through the relevant authority in your country of citizenship.

Setting Up a Business As a Provisional Visa Holder

If you would like to establish a new business or develop an existing one in Australia or make an investment, you can apply for a Provisional Visa under the Business Innovation and Investment stream (188).  This is a path to Permanent Residency, meaning after you have fulfilled the requirements of this visa you can then apply for Permanent Residency in Australia.

There are three streams under this visa depending on the type of business you are in. First the Business Innovation stream, which is appropriate if  you want to own and manage a new or existing business in Australia. The Investor stream is for those who wish to make a specific investment with a State or Territory and want to maintain the business or investment, and the Significant Investor stream is where you have at least $A5 million to invest in Australia and want to maintain the business or investment activity.

To apply for this visa (in any stream) you must be nominated by a State or Territory government and receive an invitation to apply from them. To obtain this, you must submit an Expression of Interest, which will be reviewed by the States and Territories.  It is worthwhile speaking to the one you are interested in beforehand, as each have their own specific requirements.  There are also a range of health and character requirements that must be met, along with specific business experience and qualifications. You must also have between $A800,000 and $A2.25 million (depending upon which stream you are applying for) worth of assets that can be legally transferred to Australia within 2 years of the visa being issued.

For this visa, you can also include some members of your immediate family members on the application so that they can also join you in Australia.

Once you have fulfilled the requirements of this visa, you can apply for permanent residency (visa 888).  You will need to meet not only specific health and character requirements, but also demonstrate your ongoing involvement in the business in Australia, a history of employing Australian workers and must meet certain financial requirements.  Generally you can apply for permanent residency between 2 to 4 years after receiving your provisional visa.

When compared to other options available in the region, the Business Innovation stream whilst reasonable, is a bit more financially onerous, with New Zealand offering business visas for an initial investment amount of NZ$500,000, however given Australia’s larger population and economy there are arguably more opportunities for a new business in Australia. The Investor Stream is comparable in financial outlay to the New Zealand visa, but you will have only one year to transfer your assets over to New Zealand, so it is worth keeping that in mind when deciding between the two countries. The complying investments in Australia are slightly more restrictive than New Zealand, with property not allowed as an investment to satisfy the visa requirements.  So if your preference is to invest in property it may be worth taking a closer look at New Zealand. You can find out more about New Zealand’s investment visas here.

Obtaining a Permanent Business Visa

Business people who have significant business history can apply for a Business Talent 132 visa.  This is specifically for affluent people who have some ownership in a business outside of Australia, and wish to have a major management role in a new or existing business in Australia. Alternatively, for those who have obtained funding of at least A$1 million from an Australian venture capital firm, they may be eligible for the Venture Capital Entrepreneur stream of the 132 visa.

The minimum requirements for the Significant Business History stream include having net assets of at least $A 400,000 in a qualifying business and annual turnover of at least $A3 million for at least 2 out of the last 4 years, and must also have total assets of at least $A1.5 million that can be legally transferred to Australia within 2 years of the visa being granted.  You must also have very specific ownership levels in a business already, and be able to demonstrate your experience as a business owner outside of Australia.

The minimum requirements for the Venture Capital Entrepreneur stream include showing that you have obtained at least $A 1 million funding from an Australian venture capital firm to start-up, commercialise or develop a promising high value business idea. The Australian Government doesn’t help you co-ordinate with a venture capital firm, and this would need to be done independently.

To apply for both the Significant Business History and Venture Capital Entrepreneur stream, you must lodge an Expression of Interest and nominate a State or Territory in Australia of your preference (or if you are interested in all of them). Your expression of interest is then reviewed by the State or Territory who decide whether to nominate you to apply for a visa.  Each of the States and Territories in Australia have their own specific interests and criteria, so it is worthwhile contacting the one you are interested in before lodging your Expression of Interest to make sure your business fits into their requirements.

Once you receive a nomination from a State or Territory, you can then make a formal visa application.

When assessing your migration and investment options in the region, Australia has the upper hand in this category, with neighbouring New Zealand not offering a comparable permanent residency visa. New Zealand’s Entrepreneur stream is a provisional one, that is a path to permanent residency, whereas for those with experience and / or capital, Australia offers permanent residency up-front. 

The process may seem rather detailed, but it is comforting to note that the process is aimed at ensuring that good quality business people are granted residency in Australia, and that they have the necessary experience and means to support themselves and their business.  The process is stringent to ensure that your business has the best chance of success in Australia, and enables you to build a good life for yourself and your family in your new home.