The application.

Choosing our consultant.

To ensure that we got the best deal, and being in mind that the whole immigration process is seriously expensive, we did some phoning around to identify which consultant we would use to guide us through this particular maze. There is no shortage of Immgration Consultants advertising in the Australia News. You don't have to use a consultant, but for us we felt it was just too important to risk any possibility of failure. Add to that the onward marching of our ages and that at the age of 45 they feed you to the crocodiles we had to get it right first time! We chose the genial Mr David Hart from what is now called Concept Australia (see contacts.htm) David drove up from Colchester to Birkenhead and spent a couple of hours that November evening essentially drawing up battle plans. He left me with a long list of actions which I needed to do, to amass the evidence in support of my claim for immigration.

Forms, forms, and more forms!

The application is a legal process. If you recall from the top, only 7% of enquiries result in a successful application. That sounds to me like a legal process where you have been found guilty and are lodging an appeal. This is the best way to think of the process: you have been found guilty of being unacceptable for immigration to Australia. If you want to appeal against that decision you must build up a strong and watertight case. Everything you lay claim to, from your birth to marriage, from your 'O' levels and degrees to that course on form filling that you went on(!), and especially the training and work responsibilities that you have had over the last ten years, must all be supported by proper, signed, documentation.

I had to get hold of birth certificates not only of my immediate family, but also of my wife's cousin living in Australia, his dad's and my wife's mother's to prove the family relationship. Where these weren't already available it was a simple case of applying at the local town hall (Thanks for doing that Aunt Alma). Birth certificates are available to anybody and I think the cost was about 7 each. Marriage certificates were required, but there is the facility to demonstrate a de facto relationship if you aren't legally married which will involve even more documents. Documentation about my and my wife's work duties, my qualifications, and school certificates and to get cousin Les to organise documentation of his residency etc. I also had to find my divorce certificate which presented a small scare. The document that I had treasured since the beginning of 1986 was not the Decree Absolute, it was merely a notification that the decree was to be put before the court to make it absolute. Although my first wife and I had split up in 1984 as friends who had simply run the course of their relationship, and there was no question of either of us changing our minds at the last minute, I did not actually have anything that said we were properly divorced. My latest wife (that'll keep her on her toes!!) and I got married less than 6 months after the divorce should have been pronounced absolute. What if something had gone wrong? I could be a bigamist and not even have realised it! After a few frantic phone calls and dealing with a few bureaucratic "jobsworths" I tracked down the appropriate place, somewhere around Blackpool if memory serves, and for a small consideration I obtained two copies of the decree absolute. For the record, I am glad to report that I was never a bigamist, and "my latest wife" will remain my last wife.

Work history can present the biggest problem but is extremely important as almost all skills have to be submitted to Australia for vetting by the skills assessor there, the so called NOOSR (National Office Of Skills Recognition). (Most UK accountants will find that their qualification is automatically recognised, which cuts a whole chunk out of the application process, but will still need to demonstrate appropriate experience.) The rules have changed now but the vast majority of applicants will still have to have their skills assessed by NOOSR, which may be possible before applying (it had to be done as part of the application before). For this you will need as much independent documentary evidence of your work history as is possible. For example, course certificates and quite possibly course contents, job descriptions showing you as the incumbent together with levels of responsibility and anything else that proves that between 1 April 1992 and 29 February 1993 you were responsible for the mental health of the President of <insert country of choice!> For a nursing friend of ours, this was a bit of a nightmare as she had to somehow extract records of her training from the various hospitals she had worked at, several of which were now closed. This will be the only evidence that the authorities will accept as proof of your claim to being a brain surgeon/astronaught/leader of the Third Reich or whatever. Some professions require this kind of record keeping to back up the application to professional membership. This was my case as an accountant thus this pre-qualification history was easy to establish. But since qualifying I had moved on three times. With David's advice, I drafted suitably worded letters for my previous employers to copy on to their letterhead and sign, which they did, even the one who had to compensate me for unfair dismissal some years ago!

You also have to be very careful as to what you are claiming is your skill. For example, I am a Chartered Management Accountant. If I claimed to be a manager rather than an accountant I would fail even though I have been a departmental manager for some 13 years. This is one area where your consultant can help you avoid a major "stuff up". As an aside, my father tried to immigrate to South Africa when we were young. The first application was "lost" and the second fell foul of the skills interpretation. He was an electronics engineer so applied as an engineer. Seems logical. The South African immigration authorities eventually wrote back saying that they didn't need any civil engineers at that time. Maybe someone like David could have helped my father, but then that would be a whole different story.

Several weeks were spent gathering all kinds of evidence of the claims we were to make in our application. But you do not send original documents because you won't get them back. All this documentation must be authenticated by a small band of specific recognised individuals, a much narrower group than passport applications. (Full list is on the form.) Fortunately I knew personally a J.P. who was willing to sign my 77 copy documents for a small donation to his church fund. Otherwise it can cost a small fortune paying for a commissioner of oaths or somesuch to sign! (One of our friends asked a high ranking Army Officer (a Major I think) to authenticate his documents. The official Army Stamp was applied and every copy document was duly signed. But a Major isn't on the list so DIMA sent his application back, rejected for "proper authentication". (The list is limited and specific.)

E-mail was a great aid as we had frequent contact with cousin Les (our sponsor), to whom we are most grateful, to keep him abreast of his requirements and where to send it. It is worth pointing out that a sponsor has legal and financial obligations to the sponsored. In essence, if the sponsored cannot support himself, in the first two years it is up to the sponsor to bale him out. Under some circumstances, the immigration authorities can ask for a bond to be put up as a form of security. Cousin Les didn't know me from Adam but the old adage "blood is thicker than water" held true and Les signed on the dotted line! Thanks Les, Angie and Gabe. One tip on e-mail: get yourself signed up to a web e-mail provider like Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) - its free. Once you send your PC on the boat, it will be weeks before you can use it again, and you probably won't be dialling in to your FreeServe account when it does arrive! Hotmail allows you to send and receive your messages anywhere: internet café, library, and of course your own PC.

Having gathered a small forest worth of paper, all duly authenticated, and with Les doing similar things in Australia, the whole lot was sent to David just before Christmas 1998, for checking before final application.  Our application was registered with DIMA in Manchester on 6 January 1999.

Now was a period of waiting. This uncertain and uncomfortable period is the subject of Waiting for the acceptance and getting it.

Police and medical.

These two parts of the application affect the time allowed for your getting to Australia so be very very careful when you do this. At the time of writing you get 12 months from the earliest of the date of your police check, medical or date of application to get to Australia and get your visa stamped. Fail to do that and you will not be allowed in and will have to reapply. The same date also gives you 5 years to notch up a total of 2 years living in Australia to make you a permanent resident. Get it wrong and you could find yourself with just a few weeks from getting your visa, to the deadline of getting it stamped at the immigration desk on entry to Australia! You have been warned.

Not being aware of the advice that I have given above, a month or two before we had our consultation with Concept Australia I popped in to our local "nick" and asked for a Police Clearance Certificate. They nearly arrested me for being a raving lunatic! In spite of explaining what it was for, nobody had the foggiest idea what I was talking about. (Mind you, that's not so unusual!) In fact, Birkenhead Police Station did me a favour because had they provided the document we would have had to get our visas validated in Australia in September 1999: nearly two months before we sold our house. That could have wasted 2,000 on an unnecessary return trip to Oz just a few months before we went there for real. Not a good move.

About two months after applying we received a letter from DIMA instructing us on what to do about the police check and the medical and allowing 45 days, as I recall, to do it. There is a small fee of about 10 per person associated with getting the police check and I would urge getting that ball in process as soon as possible once you have the instruction from DIMA as the police allow themselves 30 days to respond. The process is simple but you have to prove who you are as it is covered by the Data Protection Act. I cannot remember how we did that as our passports were at DIMA, but it was not a drama. One word of advice here. If there is anything in your past that may show up on the police check, make sure you have disclosed it on the application. The authorities would not see it in a good light if you have "lied by omission" on your application and that could well be the "excuse" to confine you to the other 93%, and unless you are being sponsored by someone in Australia you have no right of appeal. This may well be where a proper consultant could make a difference.

Medical

The medical can only be carried out by one of the nominated doctors. There are several pages of them to chose from so you should not be too inconvenienced by this. But there is a cost. For us then as a family of four it was just over 300. They are looking to make sure that you don't have any of the conditions on the list that you will see with your application (like tuberculosis etc) and also that you are going to be medically capable of supporting yourselves when you get to Australia and not be a burden on the system. First of all the adults have to have a chest x-ray taken. You need to take this with the radiologist's report to the actual medical. We were able to get the x-rays done in the morning and the medicals that afternoon but I wouldn't like to guarantee that is always the case.

The medical is pretty straightforward with no rubber gloves involved! They take your blood pressure, listen to your chest, urine sample, basic sight and hearing tests, height and weight, ask about family medical history and your drinking and smoking habits, and not a lot more. They also take blood from the adults for AIDS testing. Don't worry if your glasses are like milk bottle ends (like my wife's) as their main concern is would your eyesight stop you from working. If your glasses allow you to see properly (e.g. for driving) you should be fine. Everybody we've met have given themselves a fairly rigorous "keep fit" program in the weeks before the medical to shed a few pounds and get themselves a bit fitter. We were no exception (the exercise bike has never seen so much action before or since!). Remembering the usual medical caution of not suddenly going into hard exercise if you're not used to it, this isn't a bad idea for any of us. But whether or not it is necessary is another matter. Do you want to take the chance that it does not matter?

The doctors took care of sending the results through to DIMA although we kept our x-rays.

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Waiting for the acceptance and getting it.