Immigrating Down Under – Starting a New Life in Australia
by Sarah Muxlow
It was a big move to leave Europe; home, family, friends and ties. We decided to do it and two years on we are enjoying the new life we have here, on the far side of the world.
We moved because we wanted to give our children the opportunity to appreciate space, safety and some quality time with us. Originally from England myself, and my husband from France, we were enjoying living in Switzerland. We had our secure jobs, family and friends and we didn’t know anyone in Queensland, so we had plenty of reasons to put off the ‘Big Move’. We even eventually timed our move at one of those times when it could have been best to stay put – I was 3 months pregnant!What we longed for, though, was a home we could afford on one salary, an interesting international job, safety to walk in a park, space away from crowds, less commuting and the rarity of a bit more quality time together. So we left Switzerland and headed to Brisbane, hoping for a balance between work and lifestyle possibilities.
According to the Australian immigration department, people go primarily to Melbourne or Sydney for work or family reasons, with Brisbane listed as the third most popular settlement destination. As the third most booming city, cost of property and lifestyle-wise, Brisbane is still affordable.
Visas & Agents
There are several paths possible to take when thinking of applying to immigrate or relocate ‘Down Under’. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMA) (www.immi.gov.au) can provide detailed information on types of visas. In brief, there are four basic possibilities:
1)A Family Migration, meaning the applicant has a relative in Australia willing to sponsor them.
2)Skilled Migration, which is where the applicant must have skills or special abilities which will contribute to the economy of Australia and other areas of Australian life.
3)Job Sponsored Migration, which is when an Australian company sponsors your move.
4) Refugee, Humanitarian and special assistance programs.
Since the process of applying can present many individual questions, and the forms ask for various types of evidence and information, it can be worth enlisting the help of a local or overseas immigration agent. It is a very do-able and not-so-daunting process, once you get started and take on guidance.
We applied for a skills migration permit and arrived here with no prearranged job. This, of course, is not the only way. Whilst still based in Switzerland we tried to get sponsored by a company to move. The Information Technology companies (my husband’s profession), in our experience at this point in time, weren’t very forthcoming. They seemed to find it too hard to recruit from overseas, even though there was a local skills shortage here in many professions. Since being here we’ve seen the shift by major companies to outsource their overseas recruitment to immigration recruitment companies.
With a ‘Skilled Migration’ visa, we submitted an application to immigrate and filled in forms, giving information about our education, level of English language, work history, health, marital status and finance. At this point in time, the work skills of accountants, nurses, IT Professionals, midwives, teachers, and pastry chefs are among those of interest to the country.
We gathered and submitted a lot of detailed paperwork to an agent to check all our forms. In total the application cost 3500$US. Our immigration agent only worked with us on our visa. We realized the limitations of this, once we had arrived and needed to run around a lot to research and set up life unaided. An alternative is a one-stop immigration specialist who can work with you on all steps of the immigration process – visa, jobs/job sponsorship, moving, selling up a business, purchasing property, businesses etc.
A skills based immigration application file is valid for two years, and if the file doesn’t reach the top of the pile of immigration applications by this date, it goes in the bin. We heard we were to be granted a visa just as the two-year deadline arrived. This is the risk; gather a lot of paperwork, pay 3500$ and wait for two years in hope.
When we did get our visas and permission to immigrate, we were given roughly 8 weeks to enter Australia and have our passports stamped. Normally there is more time, anything up to a year is common, but short notice does happen. The day after we were granted our visas we started to sell furniture, pack, buy plane tickets and get organized for the ‘BIG MOVE’!
Shipping Luggage & Passing by Customs
During our preparation time we discovered that the expense of shipping a container from central Europe to Australia is more than the items we planned to take. So we only took sentimental items and small items and sent several small boxes by airfreight.
Something we became aware of upon arrival is that the Australian Government is very protective of the Australian eco-system. The list of goods you must declare at customs can be a surprise. It ranges from outdoor boots or clothes which may have soil on them, to camping equipment, food, seeds and plant matter and many types of wood. The entire luggage we took with us on the airplane was checked and inspected in detail.
Having arrived after a long flight we checked into a youth hostel for a week to sleep, visit Sydney and wait for our boxes to arrive. It was in a way a bit of a non-event. No big signs saying ‘You’ve Arrived’ or ‘New Immigrants this way’.
Once our freight arrived we waited once more, whilst customs did a thorough check of all that we had brought (this time for a fee), and then we were on our way.
This is again is when you could check in with an immigration specialist, even if up until now you’ve obtained your visa independently or from a different agent. After you’ve slept off the jet lag, decided where you want to live for now, they can talk through the stages and steps you will go through within the first twelve months (cost of living, banks, mortgage brokers, the excitement & concern you experience, reality of the new start etc) and help establish a realistic plan of action to help you enjoy, adjust and survive!
12 Months in Brisbane…
The first 3 months for us were blissful. We drove from Sydney to Brisbane stopping off overnight along the way.
Once in Brisbane I found a casual teaching job within weeks. Working only 3 days gave me the time I needed to check in at a midwife/doctor birthing center to monitor my pregnancy and prepare for the birth. We rented a house in a green, friendly suburb and made friends with our neighbours.
My husband found work within 6 months of being here, a typical length of time it takes to have interviews, network and be given a position. He has since worked for 3 different companies, changing by choice to step his way back up to the same position he was in whilst in Switzerland. Each move has been to improve his position and the length of contract, from 3 months to 6 months rolling, to a 5 year permanent IT Project Management position.
Our son arrived well and my experience with the healthcare system here has been on the whole very positive. Queensland Health is going through a big re-structuring to increase the number of healthcare professionals in the state, improve the care in the districts and all general communication between the two.
18 months after arriving we bought a house not far from the sea. Living near to transport means we can continue to work in the city in our chosen careers with less commuting, giving us time to have a life.
It is possible to live close to the water, or close to the city for work, or fairly close to the city on acreage, in an affordable home (3-500 000$AU), depending on expectations.
We’ve been here two years now and haven’t looked back. The move has been made easier by the helpfulness of Australians. The positive relaxed attitude they have about themselves, their country and life tends to rub off after a while.
Brisbane, the capital city in Queensland, is a growing city with a vibe. There are a lot of attractions and inexpensive things to do in Brisbane. BBQ and picnic areas litter the national parks, beaches and numerous green open spaces. There are city festivals virtually every month to celebrate anything from the river life to a new show opening.
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