In March 2000 I fulfilled a life-long dream to live and work in Australia, initially moving on a working holiday visa, along with my girl-friend.
After three months I landed a job with a small start-up telecommunications integrator company who sponsored me for a temporary four-year business visa.
I was a senior software engineer before leaving the UK developing in C++ for a major telecommunications equipment manufacturer. It being the height of the tech boom I managed without a problem to find a short-term contract in Sydney with a similar manufacturer.
The IT sector in Australia has traditionally been focused in Sydney and Melbourne, although recently the prospects in Brisbane and Perth have been looking up.
Unfortunately as the tech bubble burst I was made redundant, which meant I also lost my visa and had 30 days to leave the country. The main problem at that time was that most large businesses only had regional offices in Australia and when things started to go pear shaped, the first offices to close were those regional ones. However, I believe that the IT market in Australia is now more robust as a result of the IT downturn in 2002-3, and the lessons learned.
We arrived back in the UK in June 2002 but the Aussie dream never died. After some months of procrastination we decided to take the step of applying for a permanent residence (PR) visa for Australia; this time we didn't want to be reliant on employer sponsorship.
It's difficult to get employer sponsorship
Employer sponsorship is not impossible but it is difficult from the UK, due to the fact that any potential employer would probably not actually meet you until you arrive in Australia. However, it can still happen.
Generally employer sponsorship will be for a temporary business visa (know as subclass 457). Employers are able to sponsor someone for permanent residency, which makes the process much easier. However, they tend to prefer the temporary visa as you're tied to them, whereas with permanent residence you are only morally obliged to stay with that employer.
A temporary visa can be quite restrictive, not just from an employment point of view, but also because getting credit can be difficult, buying a house as good as impossible, no access to Medicare (although emergency reciprocal treatment is available for British citizens) and you may have to pay for you children’s education, whatever their age.
Being a temporary resident does have some tax advantages though, but in general this doesn’t outweigh the negatives, which is why we decided to take the permanent residency route.
Points make immigration possible
Australian immigration is based on a points system ensuring that only people with the skills in demand can easily (I use that word reservedly) emigrate there.
The current pass mark is 120 points for an independent skilled visa with the majority of the points coming from age, skills and English language ability points.
Other points are available for:
- recent work experience in your profession;
- being in an occupation in demand, holding an Australian qualification;
- your spouse having a skill that is also in demand, work experience within Australia;
- the ability to invest A$100,000 in an approved Australian government investment for a term of at least 12 months;
- fluency in one of Australia's community languages.
Most jobs within IT are 60 point occupations, the maximum one can get for an occupation unless it's listed on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL).
Occupations on the MODL attract 15 bonus points and priority visa processing. Until recently only security related IT occupations were on the MODL and there had been extensive talk that IT occupations would be reduced to 50 point occupation.
However, in the last few weeks many more IT occupations have been added to the MODL, which, take it from me, makes the whole process much easier.
IT practitioners need to have their qualifications and experience assessed by the Australian Computer Society (ACS). Only once the ACS are satisfied that an applicant has the necessary skills and experience can one then proceed to applying for the skilled independent visa from the Australian Departments of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA): www.immi.gov.au.
My problem was that I didn't hold an Australian-recognised degree or diploma in IT. The highest qualification I have is a HND in electronics and communications engineering, and although some subjects touched on IT, these weren't enough.
Fortunately the ACS provides an avenue for people like me - Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) aims to recognise the professional experience that one has and equates that to subjects that would be covered if studying for a formal IT qualification.
In all, from start to finish, my ACS RPL application alone took 17 months. This was mainly due to a lack of confidence in what I'd produced, compounded by the near impossibility of finding examples of others' applications.
Finally I enlisted the help of an immigration agent and in November 2005 finally got my positive assessment from the ACS. I applied for my skilled independent visa in December 2005 and am almost there. It's certainly not a process for the faint hearted, but I guess that's the point.
We're planning a visa validation trip in the first half of next year where I hope we can get a good idea for the current IT job situation, particularly in Sydney and Brisbane, the two places we liked most.
After months of working and waiting and many hundreds of pounds we finally feel like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and are looking forward to starting our new life in 'the lucky country'.
One invaluable resource on the internet which helps many people with many different aspects of immigration to Australia is a forum on BritishExpats.com.