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IMMagine Australia Blog

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. 

Understanding Australia is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our regular blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.

Victoria goes to the polls

Posted by Anka on Dec. 5, 2014, 5:07 p.m. in Lifestyle

How many parliaments does Australia have? This may sound like an easy one to answer. Most countries would have either one (unicameral) or two (bicameral). Now, brace for it. We have a total of 16 parliaments in Australia! We have two at federal level, two each in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia and one each in the ACT, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Norfolk Island. Now, that’s a lot of parliaments.  

 

As you know, IMMagine Australia is based in Melbourne which is the state capital of Victoria. Last weekend, we had state-wide elections for the two houses of parliament in our state. By the way, in Australia, only citizens can vote (permanent residents cannot) and voting is compulsory, both at federal level and at state/territory level. After each election, the Australian Electoral Commission will send a letter to all apparent non-voters requesting that they either provide a valid and sufficient reason for failing to vote or pay a $20 penalty. The matter may be referred to court if you fail to reply, cannot provide a valid and sufficient reason or decline to pay the $20 penalty. In short, voting in this country is serious business!

 

This seriousness is further complicated by the fact that a different electoral system is used to determine the make-up of the lower and upper houses of parliament both federally and at state-level in Victoria. As a good citizen, I did my homework prior to the election day and tried my best to understand it all but I’m not sure if I succeeded. I won’t bore you with details but it can and does get complicated with preferences, ‘how to vote’ cards, voting above the line vs voting below the line etc. All I can say is that I’m not entirely convinced that the way the electoral system(s) work is fully accessible to the general public. I am a political science major and I struggle with it so I’m not sure how Joe Public handles it.

 

Out of the two houses of parliament in Victoria, the lower house is dominated by the two major parties which are Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition. As a result, the so-called minor parties do not generally field candidates for the single-member districts which make up the lower house. They do campaign for seats in the upper house though and in this election, we had a large number of single-issue parties in competition. These included Animal Justice Party, Australian Cyclists Party, Australian Sex Party, Family First Party, Shooters and Fishers Party and Voluntary Euthanasia Party. While the results for the upper house are not known yet, the preferential voting system means that one or more of these parties may well be represented there.

 

By this stage, you may have heard that the election was won by the Labor Party, which is the biggest win for the party since its win in the nationwide polls in 2007. In a two-party dominated system, a swing of 2-3% can make all the difference and actually did in this case. The swing to Labor was around 2%.

 

The results were not surprising given the resurgence the Labor Party has enjoyed in Victoria recently and the unpopularity of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. In winning this election, the Labor Party became the first opposition party since 1955 to be returned to government after only one term. The Green Party also won a lower house seat (i.e. a district) for the first time in history.

 

As with any election, there is no single reason for Labor’s win or the Coalition’s defeat. However, several issues played a key role in the way this election turned out. These included the unpopular budget measures of the current federal government, the controversial East West Link (freeway), cuts made to vocational school (TAFE’s), concerns with ambulance response times, jobs, health, transport and infrastructure in general.

 

Immigration is the domain of the federal government so does not feature at all in a state election. That doesn't mean that state governments do not play a role in migration. The allocation of places to skilled migrants through occupational lists is the responsiblity of state governments. In some cases, the election of a new government may mean a revision of priority occupations and the selection criteria. At this stage, there is no update on whether this will happen in Victoria but we will be monitoring any developments and you can watch this space for updates.

 

Well, now that the people have spoken, it is up to the newly elected government of Victoria to deliver on its promises which include investing further in infrastructure and the creation of jobs. The latter is of key importance for our industry as well because Victoria is the most popular migration destination when we consider internal as well as external immigration.

 

With Melbourne being voted the most liveable city in the world several years in a row, it’s clear that governments in this state have a very high standard to aspire to.


New tests mean new hope

Posted by Anka on Nov. 26, 2014, 5:14 p.m. in Immigration

Some weeks ago, we did a blog article on what we called the dreaded five-letter word: IELTS. For years, IELTS was the only English language test a prospective skilled migrant to Australia could do unless they were in the medical field in which case they had the option of sitting the Occupational English Test (OET). The purpose of this article is to highly a very important development in this space. A significant change that had been flagged by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and that we had also announced in the news section of our website has come into effect.

 

As of 23 November 2014, the Department has started accepting The Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) and TOEFL internet-based test (TOEFL iBT) along with IELTS and OET for the purposes of General Skilled Migration as well as permanent employer sponsored and business visa applications. From 1 January 2015, Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) will also be accepted for migration purposes.

 

Notably though, IELTS remains the only English test accepted for the purposes of obtaining a work visa in Australia. This could, however, change as well very soon because a large-scale review of the work visa program is currently underway.

 

All English test results remain valid for 3 years and you can use a PTE Academic or TOEFL iBT score obtained before 23 November 2014 so long as it’s less than 3 years old at the time you use it.

 

Earlier this week, we at Immagine Australia had a meeting with representatives of Pearson here in Melbourne with a view to finding out more about PTE Academic and how it compares with IELTS. Over the years, our clients have always sat the IELTS test and we have developed an understanding of it as a result. Having said that, the availability of new tests is a welcome development both for us and for our clients as it means that they have other options if a particular test format or date or availability does not suit them.

 

Because of its greater acceptance for migration purposes, IELTS continues to be more widely available around the world but we understand that the recent decision of the Australian Department of Immigration has led to heightened awareness of the new tests and more centres and test locations are being launched all around the world.

 

The representatives from Pearson advised us that many of their tests are full but that they are equipped to increase capacity as required so that test takers do not need to wait for months to get a test date.

 

Some of the differences between IELTS and PTE Academic that we could observe based on our research and the information we received from Pearson staff are as follows:

 

- PTE aims to match availability with demand so if a test date is available, a place is almost guaranteed. IELTS tests can only sat on the scheduled days

 

For groups of 5 or more, PTE can organise a test on demand. It’s possible to do this with as little as 24 hours’ notice.

 

- IELTS is a written (i.e. paper-based) test. PTE Academic is done on a computer so it may suit those with touch-typing skills better. We were told that the spellchecker is turned off though so don’t think that you can misspell and get away with it!

 

- In the speaking test, you have a two-way conversation with an examiner if you are sitting IELTS. In PTE Academic, you speak into a microphone to complete the tasks.

 

- IELTS is marked by a person while PTE Academic is marked by an intelligent computer program.

 

- PTE Academic marks results over a narrower continuum resulting in a more precise outcome. In IELTS, the difference between a 6.5 and 7.0 for instance may be vast and the test taker doesn’t always know how close or far they are from the next band.

 

- PTE Academic results are often out in 48 hours although it may take up to 5 days. IELTS results take 14 days to be released.

 

All English tests for migration purposes mark applicants on Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening and a minimum score is required in each of the 4 bands (as opposed to an overall band score) in order to claim points in a migration application.

 

In the end, which test you end up taking is for you to decide. We are happy to provide guidance and support to you in this process and the availability of several tests is particularly good news for people who have taken IELTS before and were not able to get the results they wanted.

 

It is our understanding that PTE Academic and TOEFL iBT tests may suit computer savvy invidviduals who are fast typists and totally at home in front of a computer. On the hand, IELTS may be better for those who are not as technologically strong and those who may have special needs. We are led to believe that special needs cannot be easily accommodated in a compute or internet-based exam situation.

 

You can find out more about each of the tests at:

 

http://www.ielts.org/test_takers_information/what_is_ielts.aspx

 

http://pearsonpte.com/test-takers/test/

 

http://www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/about


A Singaporean in Australia

Posted by Myer on Nov. 13, 2014, 3:32 p.m. in Lifestyle

Migrants choose to leave Singapore for Australia for a number of reasons however lifestyle and education for children tend to be two of the most popular reasons.

My son David (19) has a Singaporean girlfriend. He met her in high school in Melbourne and although she had to return to Singapore for tertiary studies for financial reasons (she was studying in Australia on a student visa, not a resident visa), I took the opportunity of interviewing her on one of her frequent visits to Melbourne with the purpose of giving Singaporeans some insight into the differences between the education systems of Singapore and Australia and settlement issues facing a young teenage Singaporean relocating to Melbourne.

Here is a transcript of the interview I had with her:

 

Where were you born?

I was born in Singapore.                               

 

When did you move to Australia and how old are you?

I moved to Australia at the end of 2008 where I just finished year 7 back there. I was around 14 at that time. At that moment, I felt scared yet excited simultaneously because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make any friends, but also excited because I have lived in Australia prior to this and I absolutely loved it.

 

Why did you move to Australia?

I moved to Australia due to personal reasons I had in Singapore but also because of the love my parents and I had for the different education system in Australia.

 

Who accompanied you to Australia?

Initially I was accompanied by my parents. A few weeks after we’ve settled in, my dad left because he works overseas. However about 2 years later my sister joined my mum and I.

 

Did you know anyone in Australia? Why did you choose Australia?

I had family in Melbourne. It was my mum’s brother but they were of little help as the communication between them and us wasn’t that strong, hence it was a bit of a challenge in terms of finding a house. However my mum’s brother did help me find an appropriate school for my education and it was convenient at that time because my cousin also attended that school. Why I chose Australia? As I previously mentioned before, I did have issues in my old school which did have an impact on the move but this move was also planned years ago and it was the perfect opportunity to do it, so why not? I also remembered from earlier years that I had an amazing time when I was in Australia previously.

 

Did you find it easy to make friends at school did you find it easy to settle into life in Australia?

I reckon from my perspective or as a general thing, it’s never easy being the new girl especially if everyone knew each other already. I mean going to a new school would always be hard for anyone really. But personally for me I don’t have any difficulties making new friends because I’m a talkative person and it’s simple for me to communicate with people. However, making new friends is also one of those situations where you have to get it over with because for me I think you won’t go as far in life if you’re scared to make new friends and connections. Easy settling into life here? I guess you can say that because I have moved countries before so I am used to it and it isn’t something I’m unfamiliar with. I think the downfall for moving countries for me would be saying goodbye to the friends you’ve made. Especially if you’ve developed a close and intimate relationship with them because you don’t know if you’ll ever see them again. And social media isn’t as effective because you’re just communicating with them through a screen and I feel like that isn’t a proper relationship because words are just words, especially if you’re just reading them

 

How long did it take you to feel settled?

There was no exact time frame as to when I felt settled In but I felt settled in the most when I made a few friends.

 

Any difficulties when first arriving? For example racism/support/funding facilities, orientation etc.

Not many difficulties. The only challenge was finding a suitable home to live in.

 

What percentage of the schoolkids were of Asian ethnicity and was it important to your parents in choosing your school to have a good ethnic mix?

Cultural diversity wasn’t overly important in their consideration however the school that I moved to was very diverse.

 

In comparison to Singapore how did you find schooling in Australia? What were the main differences in education, cultural differences etc.

I find that the education in Australia is more laid back and enjoyable than Singapore in terms of the discipline, the pressure to do well and the work load. At my old school in Singapore I would start school at 8am and wouldn’t even finish till about 6pm most times because we were forced to do extra curricular activities. And on top of that, the difficulty in the subjects required a tutor for most students so if I happen to end school early, I would have to go home and do another 2 hours of tutoring which also includes my tutorial homework and school homework.

The main difference would be the pressure and level of education which is much higher in Singapore

 

How did you find Australians? What are some of the differences between Australians and Singaporeans?

I found Australians to be very hospitable and friendly. Differences would be that Australians are nicer people and more laid back while Singaporeans are more focused.

 

Do you find that alcohol/drugs are widely used in schools?

It’s rarely seen in schools but there are cases outside of school of underage drinking.

 

What age did you finish school in Australia?

I finished school at 19.

 

Why did you return to Singapore?

I returned to Singapore due to financial difficulties due to the university fees here for non-permanent residents.

 

Would you study in Australia again given the chance and possibly live in Australia again?

In a heartbeat.

 

Was it difficult living in Australia for so many years to readjust to life in Singapore and if so what are the major challenges you face?

I found it very difficult because personally I’m not a particular fan of the country and the general environment as opposed to that of Australia. Second, since I’ve spent 6 years in Australia I’ve made so many friends especially a few which I grew really close to and it is difficult not being able to hang out or see them anymore. Third, I’ve started university in Singapore and again the ‘new girl’ issues start to arise. Fourth, it is also really really hot in Singapore.


How do you know what occupation to nominate?

Posted by Anka on Oct. 10, 2014, 3:49 p.m. in Eligibility

The title of this article may come across as a rhetorical question but it actually isn’t meant that way. It is a genuine question and one whose answer may appear obvious at first glance until you start considering how complicated the requirements of the skills assessing authorities in Australia can be. After all, strictly from an Australian immigration perspective, you are not an Engineer/ Bricklayer/Nurse/Teacher/Senior Manager etc until the relevant skills assessing authority says so. Without a positive skills assessment, there is no case for a skilled migration application. Consequently, nominating the correct occupation, one that both aligns with your qualifications and work experience and in which you will be able to obtain a positive skills assessment, is of utmost importance.

 

The Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA) in Australia which regulates our industry recently released their quarterly report which included an interesting statistic. It stated that between April and June of this year, 36% of applicants for a general skilled migration (GSM) visa used a migration agent to represent them in their application. Personally, I wasn’t surprised by this number for reasons which I’ll go on to explain below but I did feel that it only told part of the story as we don’t have the figures on what percentage of applications get declined due to self-lodging applicants getting things wrong along the way. I suspect that it would be a significant number. Here’s why.

 

I am not sure if you’ll agree but there is a perception out there that it’s ‘easy’ to apply for a GSM visa, that the Department’s website has all the information that a person would need and that it’s just a matter of scores sufficient points in the points test and then it’s a guaranteed outcome. I don’t quite know where this comes from but, as a professional who has been in this industry for almost a decade, I can say with some authority that it can’t be any further from the truth.

 

Firstly, very limited information is available on the Department’s website and there is almost no information on skills assessment and the associated requirements even though this is such a key aspect of a GSM application. Another thing to keep in mind with regard to the information on the Department’s website is that it can be misleading or plain wrong. Most importantly, the information on the Department’s website is not the actual legislation so you can’t fall back on it if something goes wrong.

 

Secondly, the points test may look simple but it’s anything but. There are a large number of variables that determine how many points can be claimed for qualifications and work experience in particular which is where applicants not using an agent regularly get it wrong and end up being refused.

 

To illustrate some of the complexities, I invite you ponder the questions below and make up your own mind as to how confident you would feel going into this on your own with no professional support.

 

1) Do you know what occupation you could nominate? This will depend not only on what you are actually doing but what you have done in the past, the qualifications you hold and when these were gained.

 

2) Do you know what level qualifications would need to be to nominate the occupation you have in mind? Some occupations require a degree, some require a diploma and others require a trade qualification. How do you know which applies to you?

 

3) Some occupations can be nominated and a positive skills assessment obtained even if you have no formal qualifications. Do you know what these are?

 

4) There are 37 different skills assessing authorities. Do you know which one assesses your occupation? Assuming you do, how familiar are you with their particular requirements?

 

5) Do you know how points for English language ability can be claimed? Which tests are accepted? Are there any exemptions? How old do the test results need to be?

 

6) How many years of work experience do you need? How much of your work experience can be counted in the points test? In some occupations, all work experience can be claimed, even pre-qualification. In others, you may be able to claim work experience only post-qualification or even after a few years has elapsed following the qualification.

 

Some of the above points get so complicated that even junior agents may call upon the assistance of a more senior collages in many instances.

 

Building a successful case for migration to Australia as a skilled individual is like building a house from the foundation up. Among other things, that foundation consists of nominating the correct occupation. If the foundation is not sound, the house will collapse. Getting the foundation right is absolutely critical in order to achieve the desired objective of obtaining permanent residence in Australia.

 

It therefore scares me to think that some applicants believe that all the answers to the above and more can be found on forums which are full of posters with no formal qualifications in giving migration advice. Going it alone is nothing less than a gamble, one that could mean that you end up losing more than $10,000 in government application fees, depending on the size of your family. Like all wagers, you could of course win but wouldn’t you rather have an experienced agent taking you through the process making sure that each step is being completed correctly and the way it needs to be?


Australia to ease restrictions on work visas?

Posted by Kane on Sept. 16, 2014, 5:21 p.m. in Immigration

The most common question I get asked is how can one work in Australia. The answer to this question is that there are 2 basic pathways, general skilled migration visas that don’t require offers of employment and then work visas that do require offers of employment. This article is devoted to the 2nd pathway i.e. for those people who do manage to secure offers of employment in Australia.

The Temporary Work (Skilled) Subclass 457 Visa (affectionately known as the 457 Visa) allows businesses in Australia to employ foreign workers where they cannot fill a position from applicants in the local market. This visa program provides a great advantage to businesses who become sponsors in that they are able to find suitable employees, not just from the local market but also from outside Australia, and the enrichment that both parties receive through experience working in another country and the skills that are passed on to local employees.

This program has also created some controversy, with accusations that businesses employ foreign workers and treat them unfairly, and that potentially they are employing foreign workers so that do not have to provide the same conditions as they would to an Australian employee.

With greater monitoring from the government, and constant refinement of the laws of this program, most of the business sponsors are reputable and law-abiding employers.

This particular visa program has seen regular changes from progressive governments in order to refine the entry requirements.

A recent independent review was conducted at the behest of the current government into the current legislative requirements in sponsoring foreign workers to Australia. The review panel has recently released a report of recommendations to amend the criteria for the 457 Work Visa. Some of these recommendations are certainly more advantageous for Australian business owners and those who are looking to qualify under the temporary business sponsored visa. Some of the more interesting recommendations include:

·        - the current legislative requirement for labour market testing be abolished. In other words employers would not need to be able to prove that they had tried to find a suitably qualified Australians to fill the position by advertising.

the current Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) be retained at $53,900 p.a. but that it not undergo any further increases until it is reviewed within two years. The TSMIT has been increasing since 2009 at a rate of approximately $2000 per year. When this was first introduced, the TSMIT was $45,220. The TSMIT is the minimum amount of money that a migrant can be paid for a position which must be shown to be remunerated at the market rate.

- consideration be given to accepting the eligibility threshold as up to 10 per cent lower than the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold. This is especially relevant for those who may be graduates or in occupations that are still in demand but generally paid an income below the TSMIT.

- further consideration to a regional concession to the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold

the current training benchmarks be replaced by an annual training fund contribution based on each 457 visa holder sponsored, with the contributions scaled according to size of business.

the English language requirement be amended to an average score. For example, in relation to International English Language Testing System, the 457 applicant should have an average of 5 across the four competencies (or the equivalent for an alternative English language testing provider). Currently one must obtain a score of 5 in each of the four competencies. So you may be able to get an average score of 5.5 but if you only scored 4.5 in the writing module, you would not meet the requirements

alternative ways of meeting the English language requirement including alternative English language test providers,  expanding the list of nationalities that are exempt from the English language requirement, and proving at least five (5) years cumulative study be accepted.

457 visa holders be required to work for at least two years in Australia before transitioning to permanent residence, and that employees only have to remain with a single employer for a period of one year before that employer can sponsor them.

- that consideration be given to reviewing the age restriction on those 457 visa holders transitioning to permanent residence. Currently the age limit is 50 years of age.

It remains to be seen as to how many of these recommendations are implemented. It has already been suggested that labour market testing will remain simply because the government is unlikely to get it through Parliament. Many of the other recommendations make a lot more sense and will certainly cut out some of the red tape that is stopping employers looking outside of Australia to fill the required position.

What this means for those who are looking for employment in Australia, perhaps these recommendations will encourage employers to consider potential employees who are not Australian residents or citizens but it would be best suited for the role.

As you would have gathered from reading through this article, the 457 Visa can lead to permanent residence of Australia. Businesses who have sponsored an overseas employee for at least two years can ultimately sponsor them as a permanent resident which is usually just reward for the service provided by the employee. This is a completely legitimate pathway for residency and one that guarantees that an available position in Australia is filled by a competent and qualified employee.

Of course these recommendations do not escape the primary requirement of actually having to have a job offer from an Australian employer who is also willing to sponsor you for this work Visa.

Should you wish to find out more about working in Australia and how the 457 Visa works, or how you can qualify for other visas to Australia, please register for one of our seminars.


Feeling cool in Byron

Posted by Myer on Sept. 12, 2014, 11:01 a.m. in Lifestyle

I'm writing this to you from what is rumoured to be one of the coolest of places in Australia, Byron Bay. The welcome sign sums it up. “Cheer up, Slow down, Chill out”.

I had heard so many positive things about Byron from all of my friends so when a chance presented itself for my wife and I to take a minication of 5 days, we thought we would investigate for ourselves.

My wife's first impression was that we must be the town’s oldest residents. Everyone seemed to be either side of 30 but when we saw some other distinguished looking bodies on the beach, my wife began to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and quirky nature of the shops and people.

Byron Bay has a reputation of being a hippie enclave where those free spirits can still inhabit the earth, where clothes are advertised as made of hemp (is that a good thing or was there a run on wool) and where the smell of incense is more pervasive than deodorant.

It's a place where “tie dyed” did not go out of fashion in the 80s and the peace sign could be the town’s emblem.

I think you get my drift.

I was told that this was the marijuana capital of Australia and that it was very available (not that I was looking).  At IMMagine, we don’t need performance-enhancing substances.

I didn't find anyone lighting up and neither did I find coffee shops selling this local delicacy but I did find coffee shops selling coffee at Melbourne prices and everything seemed to cost $50 whether it be a breakfast for 2 or a rashie (this is a surf top -- not an order of breakfast bacon).

Speaking of which I probably brought down the cool-o-meter when I hit the beach with my rashie (tight fitting neoprene surf top to ward off cold) when 20-something bikini-clad girls were braving the chilly water with nothing more than a loin cloth and string for a top. I thought body fat was supposed to act as insulation, so why was I feeling the cold more than they?

In this somewhat alien environment, I was pondering the concept of cool.

Everyone seemed to be cool and there were several types of cool. Your aged hippie with grey hair and a faraway look that would suggest that reliving the 60's was just a flashback away. Or the surfer dudes with sun lightened shoulder length hair with long woolly jumpers and beanies alighting from a VW van with surfboards on the roof. Or 30 something parents with good looking kids in designer jeans and dads with ponytails and mums with open toed sandals alighting from Audi SUVs (because BMWs are ostentatious). There seemed to be a fine distinction between those cool backpackers enjoying the freedom of the pavement when bedding down for the night and the odd homeless person doing the same but from necessity not lifestyle choice.

It’s a town where busking and surf lessons must be two of the most popular career choices. If it’s an exaggeration to say that there was a busker on every second street corner, it’s only a marginal one. There is a surf culture that pervades the town from Billabong shops to billboards advertising surf lessons. The chosen mode of transport for a surfboard appears to be the conventional minivan or the less conventional bicycle. I was amazed at the number of surfers riding bikes and holding surfboards.

The prices in Byron didn't seem cool. It seemed that chic has a price tag and whilst love might be free everything else wasn't. The best deal in town seemed to be a kebab shop selling a coke, kebab and chips for $10. Everything else seemed to be as expensive, if not more so than prices in Melbourne. I found even market prices to be expensive.    

The markets consist of items that range from organic and homemade, to imported from India or vintage.  There is a market almost every weekend and the two main ones are on the first Saturday of the month and are massive.   Most stall holders seem to have a small tent which measures about 4m x 4m and sell anything from organic dog shampoos to vintage items. There are tons of food stalls selling sugar cane juice, felafel, vegan samosas, home made doughnuts and lots of delicious and unusual foods.  One can wander around the market for hours and the most fascinating things about them is the people who attend them.  Many are barefoot and bare midriffed with dreadlock hairdos wearing hand-woven Indian hemp clothing.  The people have a very carefree nature about them and there are lots of little children running around.  There is live music in all corners of the market.  We went to the market on a fairly pleasant 18-degree day and it was full. I am sure the stall holders do exceptionally well in December when the sun is shining and Byron Bay is full of foreign tourists who have lots of cash to spend.

My friend Martin made me promise to visit Miss Margarita, the bar not the maiden. We did so and found the best margaritas this side of Guadalajara. It became our nightly ritual to make sure that we were there during happy hour where margaritas cost $10 each. From there it was a short walk to the beach were at 6 PM you could listen to the surf and the sounds of the bongo drums as the small circle of percussionists improvised a beat and the thin reedy sound of the saxophone weaved its spell as the sun set over the sweep of the bay and kissed Byron good night and, for a moment, I too felt cool.


Come and cook up a storm

Posted by Myer on Sept. 5, 2014, 4:06 p.m. in Eligibility

The occupation of Chef is a lot like the character Rocky Balboa in any one of the Rocky I-V films in the oeuvre. Just when immigration policy has given it an almighty right hook and it is lying spread-eagled on the canvas, when count gets up to 8 and you think that it couldn’t possibly come back from this, lo and behold it staggers to its feet and returns to fight another round.

I am of course referring to the fact that the occupation of Chef has been added to the Skilled Occupations List (SOL). The SOL is in part a reflection on the nationwide demand of an occupation in Australia. There are 2 lists of skilled occupations. The other list is the Consolidated Skilled Occupations List (CSOL) and these occupations may or may not be in demand in some states of Australia.

The significance of being on the SOL is if you score sufficient points you don’t necessarily need to be sponsored by a state government and can apply for a residence visa that allows you to live and work anywhere in Australia whereas occupations on the CSOL limit you to living and working in the state that sponsors you for an initial two-year period.

It’s therefore significant that the occupation of Chef was promoted from the CSOL to the SOL which also reflects an increase in demand for skills in the hospitality industry.

Immigration policy has not always had such a benevolent attitude towards the occupation of Chef. In 2008/2009, so many students were traveling to Australia to do “sandwich” courses from sometimes dodgy academic institutions to qualify as chefs because that occupation was on a priority occupation list at the time and was seen as an easy route to obtaining permanent residence.

Following a crackdown, the occupation was relegated from one that did not require state sponsorship to one that did require state sponsorship.

The hospitality industry has enjoyed a resurgence with increased tourism stemming from the devaluation in the Australian dollar. There were 6.6 million visitor arrivals for year ending June 2014, an increase of 7.9 per cent relative to the previous year. 

We suspect that other related occupations such as Bakers, Pastry Cooks, Café or Restaurant Managers and Hotel or Motel Managers will also experience a resurgence in immigration status together with the boom that the hospitality industry is experiencing.

Australia has a passion for food and wine almost unmatched around the globe. Tourism Australia has recognized this by making Food and Wine a major focus in their latest campaign. With fresh natural ingredients in abundance and fuelled by the ever increasing number of cooking shows on TV, Australians are enjoying world class cuisine. Of course as the demand for this grows there is a need for talented chefs to produce and create these dishes. With such a relatively small population to draw upon, Australia has to look overseas to ensure we have a consistent source of chefs.

The government recognizes the importance of qualified chefs and has provided a number of pathways through which international chefs can come and ply their trade in Australia. The most popular of these is the 457 visa, a visa with a relatively quick process time and with a range of benefits both for the visa holder and their partner and children if they have them. To get a 457 visa, the applicant needs to have a secured job and their employer needs to apply on their behalf. The only problem with this pathway is that most employers in Australia do not wish to act as sponsors, particularly if a potential employee is offshore, would therefore prefer their candidates to have work rights associated with the General Skilled Migration visas.

Having said the above, certain hospitality occupations including Cook and Café or Restaurant Managers continue to be highly utilized in the 457 program, mainly by those applicants who are onshore as students or other temporary visa holders.

The recent addition of Chefs to the SOL provides skilled individuals in this field to be able to make an independent application to migrate to Australia for the first time since 2010. Once approved, visa holders have full work, study and residence rights in Australia and should be highly employable given the shortage of suitably qualified Chefs throughout the country.

What’s even better is that the skilled migration pathway is also available to those individuals who may be highly skilled but lack formal qualifications. We have written a separate blog article on the migration opportunities available to certain occupations even when no formal qualifications are held. Briefly put, the policy allows for these applicants’ skills to be assessed and, if found suitable, they are awarded an Australian qualifications which also counts for points in the points test for skilled migration.

Given the above, the path to Australian residence is wide open for Chefs and indeed those in many other occupations where similar arrangements are in place so we invite you to make contact with us to discuss your individual circumstances in more detail if you wish to make use of this opportunity. You can contact us on info@immagine-immigration.com


The unbearable lightness of ranking first

Posted by Myer on Aug. 28, 2014, 11:16 p.m. in Lifestyle

People who immigrate always look for justification that they have made the right decision and that their new home is better than their old. The same applies to those people that decide not to immigrate – they seize upon any negative aspect of life abroad with a sense of glee because it helps justify the decision not to immigrate.

I fall under the former category and whilst I don’t need justification on a daily basis that my decision to immigrate to Melbourne was correct, it’s nice to receive vindication from independent sources from time to time.

I was therefore once again reassured to learn that Melbourne was voted the most liveable city for the 4th time in a row by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Liveability Index.

So why have I waited a week before acknowledging this in a blog? It’s not because I’ve become blasé about the award and I still share the sentiments echoed by our Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle when he said “to be named the world’s most liveable city for 4 consecutive years is a great honour and a testament to the enviable lifestyle that Melbourne offers”.

While I personally love living in Melbourne, I’m not blind to some of the accusations levelled against it:


     1. It’s not a particularly beautiful city. It’s geographically bland, spread out over a substantial urban area. We have a bay but don’t have any inner city beaches that can rival those of Sydney.

     2. The weather often leaves much to be desired. Average summer temperatures reach a high of 25° and a low of 14° and average winter temperature reaches a high of 14° and a low of 7° but on the days when one experiences the extremes temperatures in summer can rise to the early 40’s and in winter can approach 0°.

     3. Public transport, while quite extensive (Melbourne has the largest tram network of any city in the world), does not provide services that are frequent enough, particularly after working hours and most transport is North to South making East to West travel difficult. In addition, it’s a real disgrace that we don’t have a rail line from the city centre to the airport and instead have to rely upon buses and expensive taxis.

So how come the city consistently ranks so well in liveability surveys, so much so that it is ranked ahead of 139 other cities as the best city in which to live?

I enjoyed the view put forward by Josh Gordon in the Melbourne Age newspaper on August 22 when he states that Sydney may have glitz, glamour, booming surf, sunshine and a sparkling harbor but Melbourne has something more refined and civilized: it is good to its citizens. It is intrinsic to Melbourne’s psychology.

One of the purposes of publishing the survey is to enable ex-pats to compare cities hence the focus on criteria such as eating out, recreation, culture, sporting events and housing.

Other Australian cities that featured in the top 10 were Adelaide [5th], Sydney [7th], Perth [9th] while Auckland, New Zealand was ranked 10th.

The Economist Intelligence Unit assessment uses 30 criteria to produce a single score out of 100 points. Included are assessments about threats of terrorism, prevalence of petty crime and murder, humidity and temperature, sport, culture, consumer goods, private education, roads, public transport, health care and the quality of housing.

The 30 values are combined to produce scores for 5 core areas, stability, infrastructure, education, healthcare and culture and environment. A weighted average is then used to generate the overall score.

One cannot ignore the subjectivity of the test and the criteria that cities are being evaluated against and the purpose for producing the survey but still, having said all of that Melbourne must be doing something right.

Most of the mega cities such as London, New York, Paris and Tokyo didn’t fare as well, probably because of higher levels of crime, congestion and public transport issues.

The prominence of Australian and New Zealand cities in the top 10 may also indicate a positive bias as the ranking is put together by the British who always look to down under as representing a better quality of life.

Not only is our city a cool place to live but the people are also friendly. So friendly in fact that in Conde Nast Traveller magazine survey amongst its readers Melbourne tied first place for friendliest city with Auckland.

Those surveyed said it was "no surprise readers adore Melbourne", which was commended for being one of the "classiest cities in the world". Called "capital of cool", Melbourne was praised for boasting an abundance of amazing nightlife, food and hotels, but was also praised for its parks and "fabulous" public art, and its people's "wonderful sense of humour".

In the end, there are many more surveys out there each of which come up with a different ranking depending on what criteria they use, the number of people surveyed, the weighting given to different criteria and the target audience.

There is no such thing as a perfect city to live in. The best a person can hope for is to find the right place for themselves based on what their priorities are. This often involves striking the right balance between, size, services, quality of life and career opportunities. What is clear is that Melbourne and indeed several other Australian cities are highly desirable destinations for thousands of intending migrants from around the world. This positive perception is definitely out there and remains a fact regardless of what different surveys may say.

We at IMMagine invite you to visit Melbourne and other cities around Australia and make up your own mind as to what your priorities are. If you find that what you are looking for is here, you'll find us ready and willing to assist you to make your dream of living in Australia a reality.


That dreaded five-letter word

Posted by Myer on Aug. 21, 2014, 6:14 p.m. in Eligibility

I E L T S ……. 5 letters referring to an English examination that has until now played a very important part in an applicant’s eligibility for permanent residence under the skilled migration program to Australia.

These letters often instil a sense of dread in grown men capable of downing a beer in a single gulp (the most masculine reference that I could find).

This blog examines the nature of the test, some of the forthcoming changes to the examination of English language ability and some misconceptions about the IELTS test.

 

What is IELTS? 

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the test for immigration to countries such as Australia and to a lesser extent New Zealand.

The reason for the introduction of the IELTS test is to have a uniform standard of assessing English language ability of applicants because English language ability has been identified by the drafters of immigration policy as one of the key attributes of the ability of migrants to secure offers of employment in Australia and also to integrate into Australian society.

IELTS is comprised of 4 components: listening, reading, writing and speaking.

 

I’ve spoken English all my life do I still need to write the test? 

You may have been born and raised in an English-speaking environment, completed your whole schooling in English and one of my majors was English at University and you have a degree in Applied Linguistics and teach English as a foreign language; you would still have to write the test.. 

Only citizens of certain countries namely New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, United States of America are exempt from having to write the IELTS test however if they need to score any points for English language ability they will still need to do the test and most candidates need to score points.

 

Which test do I write? 

There are 2 “types” of IELTS tests, the Academic and the General test. Certain professionals including doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants etc. need to do the academic test. Everyone else can do the general test. 

 

Do I have to prepare for the exam? 

Yes, yes and absolutely yes. No matter how proficient you think you are in English. The test is set in a very particular way and requires a very specific way of answering. Preparation allows you to familiarise yourself with the structure of the test, the way in which the questions are asked and the time you have to complete each section. 

You can either prepare in your own time using the vast number of materials available online, or you can do an IELTS preparation workshop, which I would recommend, as this is usually run by someone who is familiar with the exam and can therefore give you helpful tips and hints. 

If, after suitable preparation you sit the test and do not achieve the desired results don’t make the mistake of simply redoing the test. Having sat the test once before will help you to be more familiar with the formatting of the test but unless you gain an understanding as to the criteria that you are being examined against [in other words what the IELTS test examiners are looking for] you are simply going to be repeating the same errors.

An IELTS tutor is different from an English teacher. An IELTS tutor doesn’t teach you English but rather teaches you how to apply your English knowledge to the specific format and criteria of the IELTS test.

 

New English language tests

From November 2014, the Department will accept English language test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test (TOEFL iBT) and the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic).Scores from the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) test will also be accepted from early 2015.

These tests are alternatives to IELTS.

 

Re-marks

If you feel that your IELTS test results do not adequately reflect your performance in a test you have the ability to ask for a re-mark within six weeks of the test date. You must pay an enquiry fee, which is fully refunded if your band score changes. 

It’s only worth requesting a re-mark of the speaking and writing modules as the listening and reading comprehensions are multiple-choice and there is no degree of subjectivity. Although strict, uniform standards are supposed to apply in the marking of IELTS test scores we find substantial variations in the way speaking and writing modules are marked and many of our clients have received positive results on requesting re-marks of these modules.

 

What points are available?

For a General Skilled Migration application, the highest possible number of points that an applicant can claim for English is 20. In order to claim 20 points, a score of 8.0 or above in each of the 4 bands of IELTS is required. A score of 7.0 in all 4 bands means 10 points. Finally, the minimum requirements can be met with a score of 6.0 in all 4 bands but this does not attract any points.

 

Common mistakes in interpreting results

Most visas in Australia focus on the lowest score that you obtain on each of the 4 bands, not the average score.

Whilst the average score might be relevant to a spouse or partner who is not contributing points, it is the lowest score, not the average score, which is of relevance to primary applicants.

New Zealand focuses on the average score for principal applicants but not Australia. There is also a requirement that the requisite score be obtained in a single sitting of the IELTS test which is a major policy failing in our opinion. In other words if an applicant is required to obtain 7 on each of the 4 bands and manages to do so in every band but writing on the first sitting, resits the test and achieves 7 on the writing module on the 2nd sitting of the test but fails to obtain 7 on the speaking module then he would have to sit the test for a 3rd time. 

This might make sense if there was a significant gap between the 1st and 2nd tests but bearing in mind that the IELTS test is valid for a period of 3 years the requirement to obtain the requisite band score on a single sitting of the IELTS test would seem to be more a measure of exam performance than English language ability.

 

Websites that will help you prepare for the IELTS test

http://www.examenglish.com/

http://ielts-simon.com/

 

We encourage all of our clients, particularly those targeting a score of at least 8.0 in all 4 bands to use a qualified IELTS tutor before attempting the test. 

If you have used an IELTS tutor yourself and were impressed with them please let us know and we would be happy to share their details here for other applicants to benefit from.


What's a migration agent for?

Posted by Myer on July 23, 2014, 12:26 p.m. in Immigration

I’m sure that most people that I consult with wonder whether they could save themselves money and process the application themselves rather than incur the costs of using a registered migration agent. Until such time as you experience the migration process, it’s difficult to try to explain to a prospective client the value that we add to the process; however a recent client of ours probably appreciates the benefits of using a good registered migration agent more than most after his rather harrowing experience.

I consulted with a senior chef in South Africa in July 2013. Things progressed relatively smoothly in his particular case. He obtained the requisite score in his English language test, we obtained a positive skills assessment and his state sponsorship application was approved with, as we say in Australia “no dramas”.

We then went on to submit his visa application. It’s unusual to have problems at residence visa application stage. In our experience if problems do occur they usually occur at skills assessment or state sponsorship stage.

I was therefore shocked to say the least to receive an email from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection declining our client’s application without any prior correspondence.

In their opinion we had miscalculated our client’s points for work experience because they were of the opinion that the appropriate qualification for a chef was not a trade level qualification but rather an Associate Degree, Advanced Diploma or Diploma and they were of the opinion that 3 years of work experience would be deducted from our client’s total years of work experience in lieu of the correct level of qualification.

Unfortunately the skills assessment opinion was silent as to the date when our client was regarded as suitably skilled for the nominated occupation however we were convinced that our interpretation of policy was correct and the Departments was incorrect.

We attempted to point out to the Department the error in their interpretation and after politely responding to our submissions still held the view that their interpretation was correct and that as decisions cannot be overturned there was no further point to engaging in additional correspondence and suggested we appeal the decision. Problem is that only applicants or sponsors onshore can appeal decisions and we didn’t think it would be likely that the sponsoring state government would appeal the decision.

I had to make a decision as to what to tell my client. Whilst I try to limit the amount of anxiety and worry on the part of my clients I feel obligated to keep them informed of developments and I had to break the news of the decline decision to my clients who were understandably shattered. I undertook to do whatever I possibly could to reverse the decision however although they didn’t express their concerns to me I think that after reading the communication from the Department about an inability to reverse decisions they were less than optimistic.

All of this transpired whilst I was on a business trip and fortunately for me I have a very good team in the Melbourne office. They contacted the skills assessing authority who backed our interpretation of policy and to their credit were excellent in drafting a letter clarifying the interpretation of policy which we sent on to the Department.

After several anxious weeks the Department reversed the decision and approved our client’s application.

After the cheers in our offices died down and our hands stopped throbbing after all the high fives, in a more reflective mood, we contemplated our role and how, but for our intervention, this application would surely have been declined.

Our client, were he processing this application himself, would probably accept the decision at face value or if he was astute enough to contact the skills assessing authority, he would most likely not know the right questions to ask in order to get the response that would be required to challenge the Department’s decision. Assuming somehow that the required response was obtained from the assessing authority, he would then need to know how to escalate matters to more senior staff within the Department. Based on our previous experience, the Department would almost certainly not entertain his requests as these would not be couched in the relevant legal framework and he would probably be given the usual response that he can consider appealing the outcome. As I have noted above, overseas applicants cannot appeal. Only state and family sponsors can and states in principle do not appeal on behalf of individual applicants. The most likely outcome would be that our client would be caught up between the usual departmental red tape and call centres resulting in a financial loss to him in excess of AU$7000 in government application fees.

Whilst decisions like this are thankfully rare, the benefit that we bring to the process is often more subtle yet our involvement makes a material difference to the outcome of a client’s application in so many different ways.

We are in no way miracle workers but we do know the legal framework within which immigration decisions are situated and we know an error when we see one. This is based on our years of experience and the volume of work we have handled over the years. A Departmental error like this can never get past us. We also do know how to point out an error like this in a professional way and ask for a decision to be revisited due to a legal error having been made. This is unusual but certainly possible if you raise it in the right way with all the supporting evidence and documentation to back up your claim. I would go so far as to say this can only be done by a migration professional.

The decision to migrate to another country is probably the most important one you’ll ever make in your life. Migration is not a cheap exercise and real professional advice that has the potential to make a tangible difference where it matters is invaluable. I realise that the temptation is there to cut costs but doing so may result in an even higher cost, both financially and personally, later down the track particularly if there is an unexpected turn of events such as the one we encountered and successfully overcame. In the end, when you engage a migration agent to act on your behalf, what you are really paying for is professionalism, experience and peace of mind.