Waiting, and getting.
(Last updated 28/4/01)
Once we had established that we could realistically apply for immigration to Australia this became a major focus of our lives. Getting hold of relevant documents, researching facts, and generally doing all of those things necessary to get our application in. At the same time, my mother-in-law (Phyllis) was reaching the end of her life, being brought to an untimely conclusion through lung cancer (another victim of the tobacco industry?). Once we had the "small rain forest" despatched to our consultant there was little else we could do. The waiting was horrible.
The acknowledgement from the Manchester Consulate advised us that it was taking an average of 19 months to approve. I tried to find out what the implications were for us not having to have my skills assessed, and also whether this time frame was for the provisional approval pending character and health, or whether that was the whole process. I could not really get an answer. The staff at the Consulate were unable to make such comments for fear of giving misleading information and, I guess, leaving themselves open to litigation. Shame really.
So, here we are, application in the post shortly before Christmas, and Phyllis now living in our front room and being lovingly cared for by my wife. I suppose with those sad last days of Phyllis’ life ebbing away the focus was now more on making sure that she was comfortable and had ample supply of oxygen. Phyllis passed away peacefully on the morning of her late husband’s birthday, 29 December 1998. We miss her.
The New Year’s Eve celebrations were pretty low key in our house. We sat on Phyllis’ bed and watched the festivities on the TV, and had a couple of drinks to her memory. Thus ended 1998.
1999 was the year of the great wait. We had acknowledgement of our application, dated 6 January. From then on all we could do was wait: there was nothing else we could do. I had already started "doing up" the house for sale. Cal had already decided that we would move, either to Australia or just somewhere else, although by the time the house was completed I feel pretty sure she would have preferred to stay there! (It looked great.) Work was a real drag. I felt seriously unappreciated and underpaid. I felt that there was little hope for the future career-wise. I was under-resourced and working long hours to struggle to keep afloat. I would go several days without seeing the kids and seemed to be always on edge. I must have been a right bore to my wife. But did I assume that we were going to immigrate, soon, or were we going to be rejected? Remember only about 7% of enquiries turn into migrants. Do I continue looking for a new job in the UK with the risk that I would only be there a number of months or do I struggle on with what I know but makes me unhappy? I know it’s only me that can look after me, so the logical thing to do is to ignore the likelihood of our application being quickly successful but I have some form of honour and would not feel comfortable misleading a new employer. (OK, I know, you can get treatment!) Up until now Australia was a terrific dream. A wonderful image to clutch at. The hills in north Wales visible as I drove home along the M58 reminded me of the Adelaide hills, even though I had never seen them, and gave me an excited warm feeling. But now I could not muster the same enthusiasm. I felt trapped in a deeply uncomfortable no-mans land, powerless, and awaiting my fate.
Late in February we received a letter in a brown envelope. When we sent our application we had to send a large stamped addressed envelope. Cal and I had agreed that when this envelope arrived she would not open it until I got home from work. If it was good news I wanted to share the moment. If it was bad news I had to be there to pick up the pieces as that would be devastating. But this was just a common or garden brown typed envelope. Cal opened it. Inside was a letter requiring us to undertake the medicals and to get our police record checked, all within 45 days. This meant that we were almost there; and only a couple of months into the process. That was a great moment. Exhilarating and scary, but also worrying as we were not out of the woods yet. Could they find something in our medical that could destroy our dream even yet? Or what about the false conviction I had from college days that the police lied in Court to get? Not only have I carried that bitterness and anger for two decades but now was a deep fear that it could ruin our future lives, just so some copper could get his monthly bonus. The letter gave instruction on what to do. The police check advised of a 30 day process so there was little time to delay, but the medical was pretty easy to organise. Part of it was an AIDS test which posed no fear I am happy to say, but did take a week or two to come back. My police record came back clean, which it damned well should, and there were no contra-indications in our medical. All this went back to Manchester and we were back into the waiting game again. However, we were told that this bit of the wait should not be long.
At this time I had an interview for a job for a manufacturer of auto accessories, windscreen blinds and the such like. I really had to get out of my current job. Then I was called back for a second interview. It was down to me and one other who wanted, apparently, much more pay. The second interview involved a trip to Germany to the main plant. I was expecting to know our fate for sure before any second interview but on 1 April (of all dates) we received a letter requesting that our x-rays be sent to Australia for further assessment. That was really worrying. What had they found? Were we going to be barred from Australia and die from some horrible protracted disease? Or was this just routine, a sort of audit? Then what to do about Germany? The uncertainty was horrible. In the end, and against the strong advice of my recruitment consultant, I declined the offer of the second interview as I could not promise that after the expense of sending me to Germany I would definitely be available for the job. This was a risk that I felt I had to take(that honour thing again).
On 28 April 1999, a small inconspicuous brown envelope arrived addressed to my wife. She had a friend round for coffee so she didn't really pay that much attention to it, but opened it anyway. (Remember that we were expecting the notification in that large self-addressed envelope.) Inside the envelope was a letter which started "Your application for migration to Australia under section 106c was approved on 23 April 1999"and advised that we had until 18 March 2000 to get our visas stamped and until 23 April 2004 to become residents. My wife screamed: Laurie wondered what on earth had happened, then she phoned me at work. (If Laurie had not been there, my wife would have run around the house like a demented lunatic! Stole the moment I think.) Being an accountant I do not recall that I ripped my tie off and ran around the office naked, but I do recall making the announcement to me team. It was difficult to concentrate on my work that day. It was a shame that we were not together at the time but I can picture the situation: neither one of us daring to open the letter for days, like the O-level result all those years ago. It was probably best the way it was.
The amount of emotional capital invested in such a dream is tremendous. If you don't really want it: forget it. But if you do really want it, if you want anything that bad, you go into a kind of suspended animation until you get it. You do what you have to, but its more like being a robot. For us, getting that letter was like getting a "Casualty kick start" to put the life back into the robot. I cannot put into mere words the emotion of that time. There was disbelief; incredible excitement, a sadness for our friends and relatives, the feeling of success (93% don't get there), trepidation (applying is one thing: leaving everything and everyone familiar to you behind is another). Only those who have done it can understand the feelings, and doubtless it not be the same for everybody.
I was struck by the formal, matter-of-fact tone of the letter. It was more like we had been granted planning permission to put a driveway over the kerb rather than our greatest dream had come true. We were off to Oz. The uncertainty was gone. At last we could take charge of our lives again. Things were then a bit of a blur. Friends were notified as were relatives. My mum wasn't too impressed by the idea of "her little boy" going so far away but recognised that this was our dream and if it made us happy she would be happy for us. My brother was absolutely incredulous that his "big bruv boring old accountant" was doing something so astonishing. There was a sad edge to this euphoria, but the feeling was incredible. I was now project manager for the "great move".
I drew up battle plans for this project. Our main constraint was that we had to sell the house. And to sell the house I had to get it all ship-shape since I had been unable to maintain it due to pressures of work. The house was then the uncertainty. I put a lot of effort into getting it painted up and doing a few other bits and bobs which I hope the new owners enjoy. We had to decide what of our possessions we would take to Australia and what we would sell at car boot sales. We had to organise shipping and there is strong advice to get pensions sorted early. Apparently there is a six month window where pensions transferred to Australia enjoy special tax status, and pension companies take many months to react. (It is now 1½ years since I paid Montfort International a substantial sum to get my pensions over to Australia and I still do not know whether they have succeeded yet.)
Later on there is accommodation in Australia to organise and the sale of other assets such as the family car if you're not taking it. (That is another story, where we lost a lot of money due to the financing rather thanthe car.) You will need to consider whether or not to keep your BT shares (e.g.) (Again, take professional advice on this, but remember that not only do share prices go up and down, so do exchange rates.) Work may also be an issue. In South Australia there is a "meet and greet" scheme for independent migrants. The scheme provides basic accommodation at a very affordable rate for up to three months and somebody meets you from the airport and takes you to your house. The "greeter" will show you the ropes and get you to do the important things like Medicare and Tax File Number and so on. If you qualify for this, do not turn it down. It is so useful.
(Write about the ups and downs, the uncertainties, the emotional capital invested etc.)
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