If there’s one country more Brits want to move to than any other, it must be Australia.
By Tim Skelton
The facts speak for themselves. According to official figures, Australia has consistently been the top destination of choice for British long-term migrants (i.e. people leaving the UK for longer than one year) for more than two decades, with an average of more than 30,000 heading down under every year. World Bank figures say there were over 1.2 million UK-born citizens resident in Australia as of 2011.
– So what’s the allure that attracts so many?
– 457 Business Visa
– Employer Nominated Scheme
– Working Holiday Visas
– John Green’s story
– Migration Agent
– Opportunities in Australia
– Working with Australians
– Money and costs
– Australian Life
So What’s the Allure That Attracts So Many?
You’d think we might be put off by the Pommie-bashing that appears to be Australia’s national pastime, but we aren’t. That’s probably because the constant ribbing and the fierce rivalry on the sports field is usually done in good spirit, and though many Aussies may be loathe to admit it we actually have plenty in common, not least of which is a shared sense of humour. Plus there’s a not entirely unfounded perception that the weather, and life in general, is simply better down there.
All things considered the Aussies seem to have it sussed. So what does it take to join them?
There are literally dozens of visa categories that allow people to work in Australia – see www.immi.gov.au/Work/Pages/Work.aspx for a detailed breakdown. But they fall into several basic categories, depending on whether you are looking for permanent or temporary status, or whether you are arriving on an employee nominated/sponsored scheme.
Receiving Permanent Residency status can be a lengthy process with applications taking up to 18 months. Your ability to qualify will be judged on your qualifications, age, English language ability, relevant work experience, etc.
Fortunately, there are easier ways in.
457 Business Visa
The 457 Business Visa is how most working Brits arrive. The 457 visa is for skilled workers from outside Australia who have been sponsored and nominated by an employer to work in Australia. They are only valid for up to an initial four years, but can be renewed.
Employers usually make the applications on your behalf. Although this restricts you to working for that company, you can apply again through another company if needed. Again you must meet basic experience and qualifications criteria, but applications are relatively straightforward.
Employer Nominated Scheme
The ENS or Employer Nominated Scheme is a good short cut to permanent residency, if you’re in a key position within a company and they nominate you as essential to their business. As John Green, Managing Director of Sydney-based specialist expat recruiters ACRWORLD (www.acrworld.com), explains: “This bypasses the stringent points criteria associated with permanent residency, as you have the backing of a company who basically say you are great at what you do. That in itself is a clear indication you’d be an asset to Australia.” But be aware that applications can still take up to four months and do involve a full medical check-up.
Working Holiday Visas
At the simpler end of the scale are Working Holiday Visas. The catch is you need to be under 31 to apply. Plus they are limited to one year, and only allow work for any one company for a maximum of six months. However they can be applied for online via the Australian embassy in the UK and are often issued within 48 hours.
John Green’s Story
John Green’s own experience illustrates how complicated the process can be. “I came to Australia in 1999 on a 457 Visa,” he says, “and gained Permanent Residency status via the ENS scheme. I now have dual British/ Australian citizenship. I looked into applying directly for PR as I was under 30, had an honours degree and more than five years’ experience in my field. But I still fell five points short of the requirements.”
If all this seems confusing there is help out there. Using a migration agent can be recommended if making a personal application. They can navigate you through the minefield of the points system and advise on other pitfalls. One such agency is Four Corners (www.4-corners.com.au), a specialist relocation company that helps around 1,000 Brits move to Australia every year. The company predominantly organises Permanent Residency based on skilled, family or business visas, and guides applicants through the often confusing and daunting application process.
Other recruitment companies are also there to help out. Trevor Whiting, former MD of AP Recruitment, now the owner of JTC International Manpower Services, told us: “Our staff can advise on all aspects of settling in, including accommodation, banking, tax, medical, schools and vehicles. But all the basic info is available on the web or in books.”
For those still thinking of applying personally, or who simply want to prepare for what to expect, the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs website www.immi.gov.au offers a wealth of advice.
It has a range of downloadable booklets covering the practical sides of moving and settling in, taking you through what to do on arrival, from getting a tax number and finding somewhere to live, to what to expect of local customs.
Opportunities in Australia
The biggest question for those considering moving to Australia must be: what are the job prospects like? To find out we asked potential recruiters about current openings.
“We’re focusing on opportunities for British expats in the booming engineering and construction markets,” says John Green of ACRWORLD (formerly AustCorp Recruitment). “The key opportunities are in the oil, gas and power, mining, building and infrastructure markets. We’ve traditionally recruited for the Middle East and Asia, but following strong interest from local companies we’ve set up a new division focusing on Australia.”
“Mining is by far the dominant market at present,” he continues. “The industry is predominantly based in Western Australia – Perth is growing fast on the back of the resources boom. The oil and gas industry in WA is also busy – it seems half of Aberdeen is working in Perth at present, particularly in the offshore sector. Meanwhile, Queensland is also booming in both the building and infrastructure sectors.
“Our clients are very receptive to the British as they work to similar engineering codes and can come up to speed quickly. Many large international companies here are happy to employ as many Brits as they can get their hands on due to a massive skill shortage.”
“Demand outstrips supply across most disciplines,” Peter Stapels, former regional director of the specialist engineering recruiters TAD Technical Careers and Contracts agreed. “There is significant demand in the oil and gas sector, traditional power sectors, and capital works projects and infrastructure generally.” Another emerging sector, he told us, is renewable energy.
And Trevor Whiting makes a similar observation. “There is long- and short-term work available. The market is very buoyant in Australia, especially West Australia.”
More proof, if it were needed, comes from Ross Cooper, a senior recruitment specialist with over 20 years’ experience. “The jobs market in Australia is very strong, especially in Queensland and Western Australia,” he says. “Demand is booming in engineering, construction, operations and commercial management within the mining and infrastructure sectors.”
Working with Australians
Is working in Australia really any different to working at home? After all, half the businesses in London seem to be staffed by Australians these days.
“British expats usually settle in well if they’re aware of what they’re coming to,” thinks Trevor Whiting. “Many construction and maintenance positions are in remote areas, which can mean spending weeks at a time away from family. It’s important that people are aware of what they’re coming out to – it can be a shock for a wife to find she’s got the kids settled somewhere, then the husband/partner is away from home 70% of the time. But by and large the Poms (I’m a Pom too) compare well with the Australian workforce.”
“The working environment is not dissimilar to the UK,” says Simon Winfield. “Perth is a cosmopolitan city and its inhabitants are from a wide cross-section of nationalities.”
“People tend to work shorter hours,” adds another British expat, Tim Ayling. “But conversely they do more in the time they work. Friday afternoons are dead here, and Australia seems to close down from December 20 to late January. The fact that Sydney is usually warm and bright affects people’s attitudes.”
Jason Thackeray spent a year living and working in Sydney. “I’m a senior business analyst for a software company and my moves are always short term,” he explains. “I found the working atmosphere more relaxed. There were lots of practical jokes in our office – and a tendency to get to the pub early on Fridays!”
Originally from Lancashire, Rachael Shanahan has worked for the Northern Territory Government in Darwin since the late 1980s. “The working environment is far less structured and formal,” she says. “The Under-Treasurer once advised a new starter that if he wore a tie on his second day it would be cut off below the knot. The only people who wear jackets here are lawyers from the south.”
Money and Costs
Whereas some areas of Australian life are cheaper than the UK, such as eating out in restaurants, other items such as groceries and rent are around 10% higher. Nevertheless, overall purchasing power is fairly comparable.
One small problem is people’s salary expectations. While there are some good packages on offer, wages are generally realistic and are never going to be as attractive as somewhere like the Middle East. As Trevor Whiting explains: “Expats need to understand it is not a tax-free haven. Life can be great, but the tax is pretty high. Many people expect to live and work without contributing to the country. This can be a problem, so it’s best to view Australia as a lifestyle change and a great place to live as opposed to somewhere to make a quick buck.”
One former expat potential perk was that the 457 Business Visa could, at the employer’s discretion, provide a LAFHA (Living Away From Home Allowance) as an incentive to attract foreign skills. However, national budget reforms in 2012 mean this is no longer available.
The best way to find out about living in Australia is to hear from those who’ve done it.
“I was tired of the English way of life,” says Tim Ayling. “Bad weather, traffic, ‘Chav’ culture. On the whole the Australian lifestyle is far better. People live outside more, and there’s more interaction with other people. Of course Australia isn’t perfect, but I feel safer in Sydney than anywhere in the UK.”
“I’d worked in expat recruitment for three years when I was offered a job in Sydney,” says John Green. “I’d been sending engineers all over the world, but had never worked outside Manchester. I had no idea what to expect. To my surprise it was like a beautiful English summer’s day when I landed in Sydney. The climate is fantastic. In winter it can become cool and we do get stormy weather, but mostly the skies are clear and the sun is shining. Of the expats I meet it’s usually work that brings them over, but the reason they stay is the amazing lifestyle.”
Trevor Whiting sees Australia as a land of opportunity. “It’s a country where a person gets a fair go,” he points out, “and true Australians are very helpful, polite and friendly. Australia has a mix of all nationalities and anyone prepared to have a go usually ends up doing well.”
“We spent most weekends either at the beach or visiting the mountains or vineyards,” says Jason Thackeray. “But day-to-day Sydney was quite manic and more expensive than I expected: not that different to London.”
Melbourne also has its fans. “Australians are laid back and friendly,” says Dan Marks. “Good curries are easier to find in London, but maybe I haven’t been to the right places yet. Generally Melbourne is fantastic for restaurants.”
It’s not just the larger cities that attract expats. “I only planned to stay in Darwin a month,” says Rachael Shanahan. “I arrived as a backpacker, broke and needing to earn money before going to Ayers Rock. But it’s a wonderful place – tropical, safe, pollution-free and with many career opportunities. The food is exceptional and the kids can do a different sport every day of the week, all within a short drive.”
“There are some differences, some similarities,” observes Chris Vine. “They seem to enjoy a better standard of living here, although that’s being eroded by the government. I see Australia as a nation still struggling for an identity, even though it has one. As soon as they get over this we’ll be living in the relaxed happy place I always thought Australia was.”
Is there any down side? “Probably the worst thing was attempting to make friends,” says Jason Thackeray. “I had my work colleagues, but my wife was at home most days and didn’t know a soul at first. I’ve worked in Japan and Taiwan where there are huge expat clubs and societies, but we found it harder moving to a place where everyone speaks English because they assume you’re a local. But despite this we loved it. I’d recommend it to anyone.”
And finally, what about all those scary wild animals the tourist brochures would have you believe Australia is full of? “Since I moved here,’ says Tim Ayling, “I haven’t seen a dangerous spider, snake, shark, crocodile or anything. We think Australia has killers around every corner – don’t believe it for a second!”
The Writer – Tim Skelton (www.timskelton.eu)
Dutch-based freelance writer Tim Skelton has spent the past 26 years living outside the UK, and has been a regular contributor to the Expat Network since 2004. As well writing on expat issues, he uses his engineering background and experience gained at the Dutch environment agency to comment and write about a variety of energy and environmental matters, and is always happy to write about his personal favourite subjects – travel, food and beer. When not appearing in airline magazines, national newspapers and lifestyle magazines from Playboy to GQ, he has also written three books: Luxembourg – the Bradt Guide (third edition, 2014), Beer in the Netherlands (2014), and Around Amsterdam in 80 Beers (second edition, 2015).