Testing the water.
I guess it was about May of 1998 when we really started looking into the possibility of emigrating and worked out that Australia was the place for us. But how do we get there? In the ideal world you would just fly there and live, as if it were simply another county. But I suppose if that were the case everybody would gravitate towards a few countries of paradise and leave many countries almost devoid of population. So there has to be some form of control. Australia has something like 1,000,000 inquiries per year about emigration. Generally they accept about 70,000. In other words, they have to filter out 93 out of every 100 prospective migrants. They can afford to be choosy. Australia's form of immigration control is the "points system". (Visit http://www.immi.gov.au/ for the current situation.)
We had heard of the points system at an early stage, mainly from a few of our friends and acquaintances whom, it turned out, had tried themselves many years before but were "5 points short". Our first bit of research was to go to the local library and get a copy of "Living and Working in Australia" which was about 4 years out of date. Reading through this, and especially about the points system, I concluded that we had insufficient points to qualify but had just enough to get into the "pool". The pool is a sort of subs bench where you sit for a maximum of 12 months in case there is a shortage of qualifying applicants. After 12 months you exit the pool and your application fails. If still interested, you will have to reapply and incur all the costs again. There are procedures in place where an applicant placed in the pool can circulate their details to employers in Australia and if an employer is short of the applicant's skill he can be selected. There's no telling where you'll end up living though. I contacted DIMA in Manchester to try to establish the probability of being selected from the pool but they did not respond. I guess that as the situation is very dynamic they could not give a decent answer and could be held accountable if their answer turned out to be incorrect. In fairness, in other aspects of the process I have found them perfectly helpful. The book also laid to rest the assumption that because my wife had a remote relative, long since dead, who lived there, we would have some sort of claim. Daft when you think back to it but we were clutching at straws. We were also frustrated as we had come to understand that the immigration law changes frequently and the points levels can be revised almost at any time, up or down. I needed to know what the current levels were but trying to find out was nigh on impossible. (Until we found the Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) web site at http://www.immi.gov.au/) We ordered our own copy of "Living and Working in Australia" (plus a copy of New Zealand's version as "plan B") which more or less became our bible of all things Australian. It is an excellent book and well worth buying the most up to date edition. It deals with pretty much everything in 250 or so pages, from the history of Australia and the culture, working, schooling, driving, liesure, 11 pages of useful contacts, and of course, applying. (The book cost £12.99 then.) Of course, as soon as the book is published it is out of date! (But you can't read a web site in the bath or on the 7:42 to Waterloo!) Eventually in July 1998 I went to the Australian Consulate in Manchester (Chatsworth House, Lever Street, M1. Tel 0161 228 1344) and for the princely sum of £5 purchased an immigration pack. (You can get all the forms etc for free from the DIMA web site). If you do go to visit the consulate, do telephone first as they only open the doors for part of the day and answer the phones for the other part. So organise your visit in advance. At last I had some real current information at my disposal.
Reading through the forms that I obtained did not cheer me greatly. Again, even though they had increased the points for my age (40) and for speaking English as my mother language, they also raised the pass mark, thus I was still 5 points short and could only go into the pool. They had introduced a facility to obtain 5 bonus points which included proficiency in a minority trading language, getting an Australian qualification, or investing $100,000 in an approved Government scheme for a year. I thought "great, I used to speak French. Polynesia speaks French. Voila!". I was wrong: they don't. No worries, I am an accountant and will probably need to learn Australian tax and Business law. Surely I can do that from England using distance learning and maybe the Internet. That's no good either as the qualification has to be gained physically in Australia. We could probably just about raise $100,000 from the sale of our house but that would be our settlement fund and leave us impoverished until we got it back. And how would we pay for all the costs? I did consider trying to go to Australia simply to study for a year but how on earth could I support my family and bank manager back in England? I couldn't see a realistic way through. Sad times.
In the "Australia News" there are always adverts from various immigration consultants. One such was near us in Chester, called the "Immigration Group". We arranged an appointment and went through our situation. We also explored the possibility of immigrating to New Zealand, intended ultimately as a back door to Australia. At the time, the deal was that we paid a certain sum of money for the consultation. If we consulted on the two countries at the same time we had a discount against paying twice the amount. It wasn't a King's ransom but it was enough to have a good party! (Many consultants do not charge for this service which is partly why we "jumped ship" later in the process.) The consultant was very professional and spotted something which I had missed (which is why he is a consultant and I am not!). There is a little used sub-class of the Skilled category, class 106 "Skilled Australia Linked". This is where the applicant would apply under the skilled independent class but also has a sponsoring relative living in a designated area. Now two things happened in July 1998 that seemed almost if they were meant specifically for us. First cousins were now allowed to sponsor in certain classes, and all of Victoria was allowable for the designated region. My wife's first cousin lives in the Melbourne suburbs. Neither of these two rules applied before July and both were essential for the success of our application. Thank you Mr Ruddock, or God, depending on your point of view. It still took the Immigration Group to work out that my wife should be the principal applicant, using her cousin as the sponsoring relative, and adding me as the spouse to provide the skills points. (Strictly speaking class 106 does not follow the points system, but you still have to jump through all the same hoops and meet the same criteria.) We now had the mechanism to apply.
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