Dear friends & family,
Many of you have asked us by mail or Facebook how things are going on the job and visa hunting front in Australia and it’s been a while since I posted an update, so here goes. It’s a long one again so if you’re not that interested or short of time, I advise you to jump to the text below the picture… 🙂
When we arrived in October, we had no idea what our opportunities were and how to go about it. Now, more then four months later, we have learned a great deal and also had a lot of fun along the way. We are leading what resembles a sedentary life and are enjoying it. Finally, after years of living in the desert or in the middle of the ocean, we have access to all possible cooking ingredients and are making dishes we haven’t tasted in years. We can drink nice beers and great wines. I own my first car and we have driven more miles in the past four months than we have in the past four years (our previous trip to Australia excluded). Stefano is fishing all over the place. Yesterday he had the biggest catch since his arrival: a fully equipped fishing rod, in perfect condition! 🙂 I’m doing yoga regularly and am super grateful for all the time I get to spend with Nicole and her family. And I could go on.
One thing is clear: yes, we would love to settle in Australia for the foreseeable future. And no, we don’t want to work in diving while here: too cold, too many sharks and much too hard work for too little pay. So that’s off the table. It would anyway have been very hard to obtain a work permit in that industry.
Indeed, the bottleneck in our quest is getting a work permit. Jobs are available, everywhere and of all sorts, but since we are looking to settle here permanently (whatever permanent means), it is not an option for us to accept black, cash in hand jobs such as admin jobs, waitressing, handy man, casual farming jobs, etc…. They are easy to find and it would pay good money. We could do three months stints in the country for as long as we don’t get caught – the tourist visa allows us to stay in the country for three months at the time – but the risk of immigration getting suspicious after a while is present and that would earn us a big red stamp in our passport and make us persona non grata in Australia for at least five years. Not what we would want at all of course.
So legal is the only way. There are dozens types of visas that allow foreigners to live in Australia, ranging from temporary to permanent, from study to sponsor employed. The younger you are, the more certified skills you have, the better English you speak and the more you have work experience and qualifications that are in shortage in Australia, the better your chances. We match many of those criteria, but not all, and not necessarily in the right combination. After speaking to a migration agent in Perth back in November, we came to the following conclusion:
My education profile, age and English proficiency give me a lot of points to qualify for Permanent Residency (PR) but I don’t have skills that are in high demand. Also, applying for a PR visa, takes a long times (lead time minimum 5 months). I could however, try to find a sponsor for a job that doesn’t require much qualifications or experience, but is in the category of “sponsored occupations”, such as in the hospitality industry (horeca). In banking they don’t need extra labour, so no sponsoring available. If I would have been a nurse, a baker or an electrician, I would probably have 79 job offers and a PR invitation by now. Alas…
Stefano however, has a skill and qualification that is highly in demand in Australia: welder/metal fabricator. Yes, for those who only know him as the tireless dive guide and entertainer, he actually used to punch holes in metal plates and handle explosive blowtorches in a previous life. Unfortunately, he is over 40 and his work experience in that industry is a little outdated so he does not qualify for PR. Finding a sponsored job for him therefore seemed the best, short term realisable option and would give us two years in Australia at least.
Our focus for the first months therefore, was aimed at trying to find a sponsor for Stefano. Why not also for me? Simply because over the past few months, I have thought hard about what I want and the only thing that keeps on popping up and pushes away any other option, is my strong desire to do a Yoga Teacher Training course and become a yoga teacher. The thought of having to work full time in an office or anything else that I’m remotely qualified for just makes me unhappy. I want to give this yoga thing a shot and I don’t want to postpone this again for years.
Because that’s how it works: when you find an employer that wants to sponsor you, you need to stay with him for two years before you can apply for PR. Once you have your PR, you can do pretty much want you want. But if you lose your job before those two years are over, you lose the right to stay in the country. And since I don’t have any yoga teaching experience, heck, I’m not even a qualified teacher yet, there is no way I would find a sponsor in that field. Which leads us back to Stefano. Even though his experience as welder is a little outdated, it was deemed easy according to all sources, for him to find a sponsor. While applying for his working visa on that basis, we would simultaneously lodge an application for me, as his de facto partner, to have the right to live here. I would be able to work when, where and how I want.
However, despite our relationship being very serious and obvious to us and to all those who know us, the Australian immigration requires hard core proof and that is more complicated than it seems. We have no common possessions (who buys a house together when leading a nomadic life like we have been?), we have never held a lease for a house together (thanks to employers providing accommodation and friends and family who have housed us all over the world), we have no joint bank account (hmmm, why not?) and quite obviously, we are not married… So how to prove you have been together for over four years? Here the hunt for all sorts of “circumstantial” evidence starts: passport stamps and flight tickets to prove we’ve travelled together all over the world, work contracts to prove we’ve worked together for several seasons, references from employers that they hired us as a couple, statutory declarations from friends that they know us as a couple, credit card statements to prove that we were at the same place at the same time, email correspondence between us to prove that we have been maintaining our relationship even when we were apart, pictures of us together throughout the years, and so forth… I’ve already started on this document called “proof of relationship” and it’s like writing a novel, reconstructing our whereabouts, digging and researching for the tiniest details that will convince the authorities that we have loved each other for years, still love each other and plan to love each other for the foreseeable future. I might publish it one day… 😉
Anyway, for months now, Stefano has been replying to job posts online, has been talking to friends and friends of friends trying to find a sponsor. We printed dozens of his CV and went knocking on doors of all the metal fabricating companies that we could find in the yellow pages in Perth. You have to start somewhere. After a while it became slightly demotivating: the demand for welders/metal fabricator doesn’t seem to be as high as we thought. Many companies are actually sending people home and almost all of them are telling us to come back in a couple of months, because there are no projects happening now. The fact that his experience is from 15 years ago and that it’s not only a job but also a sponsor we are looking for doesn’t make it any easier.
A week ago, we had another meeting with the migration agent in Perth and she didn’t really offer us any comfort. Time and options seemed to be running out. Honestly speaking, we were about to formulate a plan B, or an exit strategy as someone described it. Somehow we felt we needed to start thinking about what to do if no concrete prospects would pop up by 21 April, the date that our second three month tourist visa runs out. Staying here for another three months without at least some guarantee of a job in the near future is not a financially attractive option. We haven’t worked since June last year and Australia is not a cheap country. Unless one of us wins the jackpot in the lottery, some form of income generation soon would be kind of nice…
Then, a week ago, I found another migration bureau via the internet: run by a Dutch couple, good reviews by clients and they gave a swift and professional reply to my initial mail. We decided to invest another sum and engage them to make an assessment of our situation, despite the discouraging results from the other agent. A second opinion if you will. To our delight, their assessment of our chances and more importantly the assistance they seem to be able and willing to provide suddenly make things looks much brighter. Yay to the Dutch!
There is actually a small chance that, with some creative thinking, I may qualify for PR, based on my experience as a diving cruise director and dive centre manager. Though it may require some careful formulation in CV and reference letters by my ex-employers, it is possible that I may get a positive skill assessment by the Australian authorities, which would make me eligible for a sponsorship by the state of Western Australia, which in turn would give me a high chance of getting the PR status. Advantages of getting the sponsored PR: aside from the restriction that we will have to live and work in Western Australia for two years, which is hardly a punishment for us, we can take on whatever job we wish, full-time, part time, as a yoga teacher, gardener, farmhand, fisherman, dog trimmer, open our own business, run a B&B, sell tupperware door to door, anything we want, even bum around if we do win that jackpot. We will be permanent residents and will have the right to stay here until the end of time. Cost of this whole procedure: thousands of euros (4 zeros kind of thousands). But hey, what is a little money in return for the life of your dreams?
And suddenly, the tide seems to have changed. Not a week ago, Stefano’s CV was passed on by one of those workshops we visited but didn’t have a job for him, to another business in the neighbourhood. Not a metal fabricating business, but a company that builds commercial cold rooms (like the ones where you keep your meat frozen). And yes, Stefano would actually be interested in that kind of work, although working as a gardener suddenly seemed to have sparked his interest and of course fishing is still his biggest passion. More importantly, the owner might be interested in sponsoring him. Might, because also in this case there are quite a few hurdles to tackle.
But still, from no options at all one week ago, we suddenly have two slivers of hope. I emphasise that it’s way to early to pop the champagne and that we still have a lot of things to sort out, but compared to a couple of weeks ago, the outlook is much brighter. And we are chuffed. The Australian sun seems to shine brighter (or maybe it’s the skin cancer coming through) and spending a little more of our savings to stay here now seems justified.
Either way, it looks like we will be going to Europe soon. If we don’t succeed here, Italy is on our list of priorities, as Stefano’s mom has been diagnosed with bladder cancer and, although it is not a critical situation as we speak, Stefano obviously wants to see his parents as soon as possible. After that, well, plan B is on hold for a while, so who knows… However, if Stefano succeeds in finding a sponsor, it will take a couple of months before the visa is processed anyway, so we’ll have time for a quick trip around Europe and Egypt, to visit friends, family and pick up some of our belongings scattered here and there. If we decide to go for my PR application, which will take five months at least, I’ll have to go to The Netherlands anyway to dig up my original diplomas, birth certificates, etc… so a tour d’Europe/Egypt will be on the agenda too.
Then, it looks like I will finally have the opportunity to do a yoga teacher training course, probably in India or Thailand, either because the Australian dream will come to an end or because I will have time to kill before the visa is processed. Remember that little seed that I have been writing about in several of my blogs over the past couple or years? I believe it may start sprouting soon… 🙂
Dearest reader, if you’ve managed to plough through our entire migration procedure adventure, I congratulate you and thank you for your interest in our funny little life down under.
A final word: never give up fighting for your dream and make sure you have many dreams to fight for.
Love you all and hope to see you soon, somewhere on this planet full of dreams!