15 May 2020
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Social Policy Section
This Quick Guide provides information on
residency requirements for social security payments in Australia, particularly
how they apply to temporary visa holders. It sets out the basic residency
qualification requirements; exemptions from these requirements; eligibility for
Special Benefit; and residency and waiting period criteria that apply to
certain payments. The residency requirements and waiting periods that apply
specifically to New Zealand citizens who hold a Special Category Visa (SCV) are
set out in the separate publication, New
Zealanders in Australia: a quick guide
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly in terms
of travel restrictions, lost income and employment—have led to community
sector groups raising concerns over the limited eligibility people on
temporary visas have to social security. The Australian Government’s temporary wage
subsidy scheme, the JobKeeper Payment, also has residency
requirements and, with an exception for some SCV holders, makes use of the
definition of ‘Australian resident’ used in the Social Security Act
As at 31 March 2020, there were 2.17
million temporary visa holders in Australia. Of these, around 672,000 were
New Zealand citizens on SCVs. The other major categories of temporary visas
include Visitor (206,025), Student (567,924), Temporary Skilled (139,331),
Temporary Graduate (96,819) and Working Holiday Maker (119,266). There were
17,223 holders of Temporary Protection visas, and 281,179 Bridging visa
holders. The remainder is made up of other visas for specific employment or
other purposes. This does not include provisional visas, which form part of the
Family or Skill streams of the Migration Program.
Generally, only Australian citizens, permanent visa holders
and some New Zealand citizens are eligible for social security payments such as
pensions and allowances. Special Benefit is an exception and provides
eligibility for some temporary visa holders in certain circumstances.
Residency period or waiting period requirements apply to
most payments. Refugees and former refugees are exempt from these residency
period and waiting period requirements. Exemptions can be granted to other
individuals in certain circumstances but this varies by payment-type.
Eligibility for social security
There are a range of criteria that an individual must meet
before they can be paid a social security payment—these include residency
requirements, means tests and payment-specific criteria such as age or
disability requirements. Eligibility requirements can be placed into two
categories: qualification requirements and ‘payability’ requirements. Qualification
requirements are the criteria a person must meet before payability can be
considered. Residency requirements are a type of qualification requirement. Payability
requirements are the criteria that must be met before a person can receive
a payment. Payability requirements include waiting periods, means tests or the
requirement that a person not receive more than one income support payment at
the same time. A person can be qualified for a payment but it may not be
payable. For example, an individual meets all the qualification requirements
for a pension but their payment rate calculated under an income test is
zero—this means the payment is not payable.
Residency requirements for social
It is a basic
qualification or claim requirement for almost all pensions, allowances and
benefits that the individual must be an Australian resident. Under subsection
7(2) of the Social Security Act 1991, to be considered an Australian
resident, a person must reside in Australia and be:
- an Australian citizen
- the holder of a permanent visa, or
- an SCV holder who is considered a ‘protected’ SCV holder.
before the Parliament seeks to include holders of two provisional skilled
regional visas as Australian residents for social security purposes.
The SCV is a
visa subclass issued specifically to New Zealand citizens. It is issued on
arrival and there is no need to apply prior to entering Australia. It allows
New Zealand citizens to stay in Australia indefinitely but is classed as a
temporary visa. For information on who is considered a ‘protected SCV holder’
and social security entitlements for New Zealand citizens in Australia see: New
Zealanders in Australia: a quick guide.
Qualifying residency exemption
residency exemptions apply to specific groups but the exemptions apply
differently for different payments. A qualifying residency exemption means that
the person does not have to meet the Australian resident requirement and also
means they are exempt from any waiting period or residency period requirements
applicable to that payment (see below).
Refugees and former refugees have a qualifying residency
exemption for the following payments: Age Pension, Disability Support Pension
and Parenting Payment. Family members of refugees have a qualifying residency
exemption for Widow Allowance.
Refugees/former refugees are defined as those who hold or
previously held a permanent protection visa or a visa specified by the Minister
for Families and Social Services in a legislative instrument—currently:
Refugee and Humanitarian (Class XB)
(a) Subclass 200 (Refugee);
(b) Subclass 201 (In-country Special Humanitarian);
(c) Subclass 202 (Global Special Humanitarian);
(d) Subclass 203 (Emergency Rescue); and
(e) Subclass 204 (Woman at Risk);
Resolution of Status (Class CD)
(f) Subclass 851 (Resolution of Status).
These visa categories are permanent visas so current holders
would meet the residency qualification requirement. The qualifying residency
exemption does, however, provide exemptions from residency and waiting period
requirements for all payments (see ‘Waiting and residency periods’ section
Other visas with qualifying
Under paragraph 7(6AA)(f) of the Social Security Act 1991,
the Minister for Families and Social Services can determine other visas
eligible for a qualifying residence exemption for allowances (excluding Special
Benefit), Parenting Payment Single, Carer Payment, Carer Allowance, Mobility Allowance
and certain concession cards. The only visa determined for this
exemption is the Subclass 852 (Referred Stay (Permanent)). This visa may be
granted to ‘eligible victims or witnesses of trafficking who have
contributed to an investigation or prosecution of a human trafficking related
offence, and as a result would be in danger if they returned to their home country’.
Benefit is an income support payment for certain groups who are unable to
receive another social security pension or benefit. It is paid at the same rate
as JobSeeker Payment, Austudy or Youth Allowance (depending on the person’s age
To be eligible for Special Benefit, an individual must be an
Australian resident (as above) or the holder of a visa specified in a determination by the
Minister for Families and Social Services:
- subclass 820‑Partner
- subclass 309‑Partner (Provisional)
- subclass 785‑Temporary Protection
- subclass 786‑Temporary (Humanitarian Concern)
- subclass 790‑Safe Haven Enterprise
- subclass 449‑Humanitarian Stay (Temporary)
- Criminal Justice Stay Visa (ZB 951)—issued specifically for the
purpose of assisting in the administration of criminal justice in relation to
an offence of trafficking in persons, slavery or slavery like practices
- subclass 060‑Bridging F, and
- subclass 070‑Bridging (Removal Pending).
The temporary visas specified here are currently the only
non-permanent visas eligible for income support other than the SCV. However, as
noted above, a Bill
before Parliament seeks to include holders of two provisional skilled
regional visas as Australian residents for social security purposes.
Permanent visa holders and subclass 309 or 820 visa holders
claiming Special Benefit are subject to a newly arrived resident’s waiting
period of four years (see ‘Waiting and residency periods’ section below). There
from this waiting period, including for those who have experienced a
substantial change in circumstances. Holders of other eligible visa subclasses
are not subject to the Special Benefit newly arrived resident’s waiting period.
Special Benefit for the children of
In limited circumstances, Special Benefit may be paid to a
child under 16 years who is an Australian citizen or permanent visa holder and
whose parent/guardian is not a permanent resident of Australia (and is
therefore ineligible for income support). Special
Benefit can only be granted where the family is in genuine hardship and it
has been established by a social worker that the parent/guardian has no means
of adequately supporting the child.
Possible extension of Special
Benefit eligibility in response to COVID-19
Concerns regarding temporary visa holders’ ineligibility for
social security were
raised during the debate on a Bill which provided additional support to social
security recipients in response to COVID-19. On 23 March 2020, during debate on
the Bill, Minister
for Finance Mathias Cormann indicated the Minister for Families and
Social Services would extend Special Benefit eligibility to some additional
temporary visa categories: temporary resident (other employment) and temporary
resident (skilled employment). At the time of writing, no determination
had been made to expand eligibility to Special Benefit for these temporary visa
Residency requirements for family
Family assistance payments, including Family Tax Benefit
Part A and Part B, and Child Care Subsidy, have similar
residency requirements to social security payments. To meet the
requirements, an individual must reside in Australia and be an Australian
citizen, holder of a permanent visa or an SCV holder.
Those who hold one of the temporary visas eligible for
Special Benefit (listed above) are eligible for family assistance payments
under an exception to the residency criteria.
Further, Child Care Subsidy allows for exemptions
from the residency criteria for:
- individuals undertaking a course of study in Australia for which
they receive direct financial assistance from the Australian Government and
- individuals who are taken to be Australian residents in cases of
hardship or due to special circumstances (this is a discretionary decision).
and residency periods
Newly arrived resident’s waiting
response to COVID-19 the newly arrived resident’s waiting period has
been suspended from 25 March to 24 September 2020 for the following payments:
JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Parenting Payment, Farm Household
Allowance, and Special Benefit.
The newly arrived resident’s waiting period (NARWP) is an
additional criterion those qualified for a payment must meet before it becomes
commences from the date the person arrives in Australia, or the date the
person is granted permanent residence—whichever is later. Generally, the NARWP
ends when a person has been an Australian resident and in Australia for the
Table 1 sets out the relevant NARWPs for each payment.
Table 1: Newly arrived resident’s
waiting period duration
||Newly arrived resident’s waiting
|JobSeeker Payment (formerly
|Farm Household Allowance
|Parental Leave Pay/Dad and
|Family Tax Benefit Part A
|Family Tax Benefit Part B
|Child Care Subsidy
* Applies to permanent and temporary partner visa
(subclass 309 or 820) holders.
Source: Services Australia
(SA), ‘Newly arrived resident’s waiting period’, SA website, last updated 24 April 2020.
Waiting periods for many payments were recently extended as
a result of amendments in the Social Services
and Other Legislation Amendment (Promoting Sustainable Welfare) Act 2018,
with effect from 1 January 2019. Some visa
holders were grandfathered under the previous arrangements if their visa
was granted prior to 1 January 2019.
A range of
exemptions from the NARWP are available including for those who are
Australian citizens at the time they make their claim for a payment and for
refugees, former refugees, and family members of refugees. There are also
payment-specific exemptions. For example, those who become single principal
carers of dependent children after becoming a permanent resident are exempt
from the NARWP for Parenting Payment, JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance.
Residency period requirements
Note: in response to COVID-19, the residency period
requirement for Parenting Payment has been temporarily
suspended from 25 March to 24 September 2020.
Residency period requirements are qualification criteria
that apply to certain payments.
To qualify for the Age Pension
Support Pension, individuals must have been Australian residents for ten
years or more (including at least five of those years in one continuous
period). The Disability Support Pension can be accessed immediately if the
impairment causing inability to work (one of the payment’s other qualification
criteria) occurred while a person was an Australian resident. Exemptions from
these residency period requirements apply to refugees, former refugees and
family members of refugees.
Parenting Payment has a two-year
residency period requirement (as well as the four-year NARWP). The
residency period requirement and the NARWP can be served concurrently. Those
eligible for a qualifying residency exemption are exempt from both the
residency requirement and the NARWP. Those who become a single principal carer
of dependent children after becoming a permanent resident are also exempt from
both the residency period requirement and the NARWP.
International social security
Australia currently has 31
bilateral international social security agreements. These agreements affect
how residency period requirements apply to those from an agreement country.
International social security agreements are intended to
close gaps in social security coverage for people who migrate either to
Australia or to another country from Australia by overcoming barriers to
receiving pension payments under the relevant country’s domestic legislation.
Barriers can include requirements for citizenship, contributions (most
countries require contributions to pension funds or social insurance schemes to
be made during a person’s working life), past residence record and current
of Social Services website offers a brief explanation of how these
agreements generally work:
Under these agreements,
Australia equates social insurance periods/residence in those countries with
periods of Australian residence in order to meet the minimum qualifying periods
for Australian pensions. The other countries generally count periods of
Australian working life residence as periods of social insurance in order to
meet their minimum qualifying periods for payment. Usually, each country will
pay a part pension to a person who has lived in both countries.
Agreements are negotiated bilaterally and differ in many
ways due to the significant differences in social security systems. The Social Security
(International Agreements) Act 1999 sets out how to calculate residency
under an International Agreement. The Act contains the substance of various
Agreements which Australia has entered into. In addition, newer agreements or
variations of existing agreements are given force by regulation.
Generally, the Australian payments covered by the agreements
are the Age Pension and Disability Support Pension. In some cases, Carer
Payment is included.
Financial assistance for those ineligible
for social security
Temporary visa holders who are ineligible for income support
may be able to receive assistance through community service organisations or
state and territory government programs. This can include assistance with
living costs and housing. Some community service organisations receive funding
from the Australian Government through programs other than mainstream social
security payments—particularly the Department of Social Services’ emergency
Temporary visa holders may be able to access
their superannuation early and new
early release conditions have been implemented in response to COVID-19.
Some bridging visa holders may be eligible for assistance
Resolution Support Services (SRSS). SRSS payment rates vary
by category with some groups receiving payments set as a percentage of
JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance (pp. 52–55).
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