The Federal Court has ruled that some foreign workers on the $43 billion Gorgon gas project in WA will not need to apply for Australian work visas.
In a legal technicality the court ruled that because the workers were on boats floating above Australian land and in no way attached to it, they were not part of the country's migration zone.
"The practical question arising is whether employees … have entered Australia," the court said.
In his ruling Justice Neil McKerracher said a person on board a resources project was deemed to enter the migration zone if the development was attached to the Australian seabed.
McKerracher said because the Allseas employees were on board boats laying pipeline they did not need to apply for work visas.
The decision was worded narrowly to only apply to the Allseas workers in question, not to the broader use of international talent on resources projects.
The use of foreign employees in WA, and particularly on the Gorgon project, is a hot issue for unions and resources workers in the west.
It has been the subject of significant protests, including one late last year that drew around 4,000 to 5,000 people.
Unions say Chevron's use of foreign workers comes at the expense of jobs and training for locals.
They've also raised concerns about international workers being paid less than Australians for the same work.
Chevron has denied the accusations and says it's stuck many deals with local businesses for work on the development.