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Posts with tag: Noosa

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A Week with the Accidental Immigrant

Posted by Myer on Feb. 25, 2022, 1:42 p.m. in Australia lifestyle

I recently caught up with the accidental immigrant, my business partner Iain MacLeod in Noosa as it had been about four years since we last caught up in person. He became the accidental immigrant when his country (New Zealand) closed borders whilst he was visiting his son in Brisbane and the other came for the ride. Faced with the prospect of living in rental accommodation for an indeterminate period of time, Iain embraced the situation and took the opportunity to purchase property in Noosa and intends dividing his time between New Zealand and Australia enjoying the best of both countries. Holding a New Zealand passport entitles him to do so.

As New Zealand is opening its borders he will be going back to New Zealand next Friday for a few months to catch up with friends, family two cats and work colleagues.

Of course I wanted to catch up with Iain to talk business strategy but mainly to play golf and compare notes on favourite wines. I was very curious as to why he had decided to purchase a unit in Noosa and why so many of our clients are choosing Queensland as a migration destination. It’s a destination that seems to resonate with so many of our clients from South Africa (in particular Durban), Singapore and Hong Kong.

Many people from Asia have visited Queensland but for many South Africans the cost and distance have prevented them from visiting Australia in the past and they are choosing to migrate to Australia based upon what they have read online and advice from friends and family members i.e sight unseen. For those South Africans that haven’t visited Noosa (which is part of the Sunshine Coast) it’s like Ballito/Umhlanga on steroids.

There are two types of visas that are popular with those overseas that don’t require offers of employment in Australia but do require sponsorship from a State Government. They are the subclass 190 visa and the subclass 491 visa.

The former is an unconditional permanent resident visa that is not a regional visa. In other words it allows you to live and work anywhere in Australia. The subclass 491 visa is a provisional visa that requires you to live and work in regional Australia (outside of Metropolitan Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) for a period of three years before you can qualify for permanent residence and live anywhere in Australia.

There are a number of factors that dictate whether you will receive the subclass 190 or 491 visa such as your points score but also whether the state government is choosing to sponsor your occupation for either category. Sometimes a state government will only offer a 491 sponsorship as part of their program for particular occupations.

Many migrants are wary of the subclass 491 visa. Unfairly so because it’s a visa that gives you and your spouse full work rights, you will receive Medicare (state funded healthcare) and your children can go to schools without incurring international student fees. It’s also not a risky visa because it’s quite easy to progress from the 491 visa to permanent residence under the 191 visa. It is only restrictive on where you can work and live in Australia until such time you have your Permanent Residence approved.

Given the vast choice of places that one can live in regional Australia, I don’t think that this is tough policy, particularly since experiencing the type of lifestyle that my business partner and his family enjoy in Noosa (regional Australia). It’s the kind of place that you could be living in on a 491 visa. Fantastic beaches, friendly people, great climate and perhaps more importantly employment opportunities.

I’ve often thought that migrants will migrate to areas where there are jobs and because of the profound skill shortages that Australia is experiencing skill shortages exist in large numbers on a national level. Due to the internal migration to regional areas by city dwelling Australians choosing to migrate from metropolitan areas to regional areas, regional migration has enjoyed greater economic growth than metropolitan Australia over the past two years. You only have to use property prices as an indicator. Noosa experienced 31% increase in property prices over the past 12 months whereas Melbourne experienced a 17% growth.

The reason for the growth in regional Australia is because Australians are seeing the same benefits that Iain saw, lifestyle and the ability to work remotely. Notwithstanding increased property prices in regional Australia they are still a “bargain” compared to what you will pay in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

There are many attractive economic hubs in regional areas that offer great lifestyle opportunities in Australia, and any list that I produce risks leaving off gems, but a few notables would be Perth, Adelaide, Hobart, Canberra, Newcastle, Geelong and the Gold Coast. I only selected cities and towns with sizeable populations to give an indication that there is a significant amount of economic activity and jobs in regional Australia. But with an enormous amount of coastline that is in regional Australia, it would be easy to join 80% of Australians living near a beach. 

The 491 visa comes with an 8579 condition namely while you are in Australia, you must live, study and work in an area that is a designated regional area, but with so many employers in Australia offering the option of working remotely what does this mean in practice.

The condition does not prevent you from engaging in “incidental activities” in a Metropolitan area and these can include holidays, work-related travel and work-related training.

Extended absences from regional areas will cause problems and can result in a breach of your visa. Typically these would include instances where you are spending more than 90 days per year in Metropolitan Australia, 60 continuous days in a Metropolitan area or there is a pattern of extended and/or frequent absences that are indicative of employment in metropolitan Australia.

The physical location of the person's employer is not conclusive. For example, the employer could be based in a metropolitan area of Australia, or overseas, but be operating in a regional area through a local office or branch. If the visa holder is working in the local office located in regional Australia that’s okay but if you are living in Noosa (regional) whilst working remotely for a bank situated in Brisbane (metropolitan) that would be in breach of the condition 8579.

It’s obvious that legislation hasn’t kept pace with the changes that have occurred post Covid because these days you could quite easily be living in regional Australia and working remotely for an employer-based in Metropolitan Australia with periodic visits to their office. I would submit that this satisfies the intent of policy by encouraging migrants to live in regional Australia but would be contrary to the terms of the 8579 condition.

Fortunately with so much economic activity in regional Australia and so many large employers with head offices in Metropolitan Australia who also have branch offices in regional Australia, it’s possible to structure your life in Australia on a regional visa to have the best of both worlds. Lifestyle that regional Australia offers without sacrificing economic opportunities. It’s critical however that you obtain immigration advice before making decisions about where you will live and work in Australia on a regional visa because the consequences of breaching your condition could be dire.

On a personal note it was great to catch up with my business partner after so many years and heartwarming to see how well Iain and his family had settled into their adoptive country to such an extent I found myself thinking “what if?”.

I had to be quite circumspect when the staff in the Melbourne office asked me what it was like :-).


The accidental migrant - me

Posted by Iain on Jan. 21, 2022, 2:46 p.m. in Australia

In some respects, life is like trying to swim in a fast flowing river. There's only so much to be gained by swimming against it. And if you let it, it can take you on the wildest of rides to places you never planned or expected to end up.

I am an accidental immigrant. My clients are deliberate ones although sometimes they too end up not in the country of their choice but the country that would take them.

I haven't heard of too many people becoming accidental migrants where a country has chosen them rather than them choosing a country (except for UNHCR sponsored refugees). My family however as an interesting case study in becoming an accidental migrant. And how it doesn’t have to be a gloomy story. 

In July my wife and youngest son, Tom (25), travelled to Australia to spend two weeks with my eldest son, Jack, who had been in Brisbane for a little over 12 months while his partner completed her degree. We had booked tickets, cancelled, rebooked, cancelled and rebooked again through May and June - uncertain if we were mad and if we were as ‘crazy’ as at least one person told us we were. 

Only when we were as confident as we could be that the New Zealand border would not be closed and we would not have to go into managed isolation on our return did we travel. We knew it was a risk. The so-called "travel bubble" that had begun two months earlier for quarantine free travel between New Zealand and Australia was in full swing and there was no obvious evidence that would need to change. 

We arrived in Queensland on 15 July 2021. We are still here.

Ten days into our trip to the New Zealand Prime Minister called New Zealanders in Australia home because she was going to shut down the quarantine free travel given community outbreaks of Covid in New South Wales and Victoria. 

After much thought we opted not to return because the Prime Minister said that she would ‘review’ the travel bubble in September. There was no Covid in Queensland in August and given the state had shut itself off not only from the world but the rest of Australia, had successful protections in place that were highly effective in preventing spread and had no community transmission, it was inconceivable to us that the Prime Minister in September would not reopen travel at least from States like Queensland - even if it meant forcing us into MIQ on arrival. In establishing the quarantine free travel the Prime Minister had done so assessing the health risk on a state-by-state basis. Where there was an issue she could stop travel from that state, where there was not, there seemed no health reason for her to do so. 

Come September however she weirdly changed the risk assessment from treating each State by State on its individual merit and health risk to treating the whole country as one risk. She closed the travel bubble.

Shortly thereafter any New Zealanders who wished or needed to go home had to get in the weekly lottery for a MIQ room like the rest of the world where on average 16 people chase 1 room every week. Despite several attempts to return to our country of citizenship we have been unsuccessful.

Having no idea how long New Zealand would deny entry to us as citizens, enjoying the lack of lockdowns here and not the Covid hysteria that still pervades New Zealand we started to settle down. Not wanting to keep spending a small fortune on short-term rentals we bought a townhouse in Noosa Heads. We thought when we go home we could rent it out. Nice investment and nice place to spend winter.

In November as had been our plan for a few years we sold our Mount Eden home. 

I now feel quite content with being here even though Australia has chosen us as much as New Zealand has rejected us. 

Confession - I had studiously avoided ever travelling to Queensland because I always feared I’d fall in love with it. I hoped even after we got here that my relationship with it would be ‘Yeah it’s nice but I couldn’t live here.’ 

The longer I was here the more I liked it. It isn't a love affair, at least not yet, but we are happy in each other's company.

The people are friendly. Service levels are high. Within two minutes walk I have loads of cafes and restaurants, two supermarkets and other retail. Within 20 minutes I am in the country. I am surrounded by world class golf courses. They have Ikea! 

In an hour I am in the wilderness. No cars. No people. Warm ocean. Scuba diving. Forest walks. Camping. Fishing.  Whale watching. 

It has more than grown on me. It has become like the step child that came with the new partner that you never thought you could love. 

At the same time this 'ordeal' has given me a far greater appreciation and respect for all our clients who migrate and has made me a better immigration adviser for the experience. 

We knew no one at Noosa when we arrived. We had no real support network but obviously had Jack to point us in the right direction on many things. 

We have had to buy a car, register it and insure it. Also a camper trailer (our half way house when we had hoped to get home in January). We had to work out how to negotiate the Medicare public health registration process (the one hard part). Register with our local GP. Open bank accounts. Buy a house and understand the laws concerning that (once you buy a house you as purchaser are responsible for what happens to it before settlement date - so we had to take out insurance in case the vendor burned it down accidentally before we settled on it. A strange law indeed but limited I learned to Queensland). Furnish the house as we had no furniture. Ongoing. 

Selling a house in Auckland we were not living in. 

Getting the Auckland house packed up without being there. Trying to find a solution to the not so small matter of our two cats, one diabetic. We can’t fly them here because cats must be kept within the property (NZ could learn from that). And they have snakes here. And poisonous toads everywhere. The hunter cat would be dead in days! 

Running a business remotely and the importance of employing the best staff and looking after them. Running a business via Zoom and Teams. Servicing clients remotely rather than in person. Being thankful for my team and the fact we were smart enough to move our business into the cloud a few years before covid hit. Embracing that change. 

Knowing I can’t have a drink or meal with my friends or extended family is not easy. I miss my conservation work in our forest at home. 

Not knowing when or if we will ever be allowed home is the worst part. Being denied entry to one’s country even though a citizen is hard to get your head around until you are in the position. 

Knowing that I might need to get used to living in Australia because it could become home. 

At the same time the strange feeling that this is not really home and while much is familiar much is not. Not unpleasant, just different. 

Living a day at a time as we have all had to learn to do through covid. 

Knowing there are things that I can control but much that I cannot. Feeling like we are floating down a fast moving river. Not fighting it - enjoying the ride to see where we end up. 

Much like most immigrants really, even accidental ones. 

Until next week. 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Tags: Noosa | Fishing | Camping

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