To migrate or NOT to migrate, that is the question.

Being something of an expert on migrant life in Aussieland, I have between 3 and 10 people broach the matter with me every month. These couple of months I’ve had more. As in, more people want to know how to migrate, whether it is worth migrating, how will they fare after migrating here…

These are all subjective questions and their answers depend on factors too random to discuss in one post. However, I have developed a list of questions that might help you decide, wherever you are in the process of migrating:

  • Why do YOU want to migrate?

    This one seems rather obvious. Many people moan about the political situation where they are, the lack of personal safety, the escalating price of goods and services…Okay. Alright. But why do YOU want to migrate? You are not your country any more than I am Aussieland.

    People will say, “Oh, I want to migrate for my children’s education.”

    I would say to them, “Aussie education is not better, just different. Asian education places an emphasis on knowing lots. Aussie education places an emphasis on doing lots with what you know.”

    That aside, we have good schools and bad schools, just like you do in Asia. Private education costs anywhere between AUD15k and AUD30k p.a. As for higher education, Permanent Residents are only entitled to reduced fees, not the government grant scheme that allows deferred payment.

  • When you say you want a better life, what exactly do you have in mind?

    Answers to this range from, “Oh you know, less stress, shorter working hours,” to “Equal rights. Being able to speak my mind in public” to “Government will support me in old age – financial security.”

    For the most part, everyone is correct, except to say that working hours and stress levels are dependent on what you do for a living. HRH works very long hours I can assure you.

    You can speak your mind in public and while no one might arrest you, no one might listen to you either.

    As for the age pension, if you’re my age, you won’t be entitled to it until you are 70. Even then there is a means test AND presuming you do get it, won’t be enough to live on comfortably unless you own your own home outright; otherwise all your money will be swallowed up by rent or mortgage repayments. This also presumes you are in good health because not all medications are covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (there is a co-payment with that) and there is a long waiting list for elective surgery in most states. Tasmania doesn’t have a waiting list altogether because the state’s health system is broke!

  • Are you handy and adaptable?

    Trust me. Handy and adaptable are 2 very important qualities for successful migration. If you pick up the phone to call a tradie as soon as anything goes wrong in your house, you’ll be dining on grass before the month is out. For instance, an electrician charges AUD150 per hour, in cash, per call out. So does the average plumber. If you don’t know how to check to see if you have a faulty appliance or faulty wiring before ringing anyone, you might be paying AUD150 for nothing.

    Shadow your maid for a day, preferably a week. Can you do whatever she’s doing for yourself?

    This is where adaptability comes in. Forget you ever were a prince or princess or a mini tycoon in your circle of friends. Part of the charm of Aussieland is that everyone is equal. And by that, they don’t just mean those of your social standing. They mean everyone. So you have to be courteous to the people you hire, be it grass cutter or cleaner. You’ve got to abandon any thoughts of being intellectually/morally/financially/racially etc superior. They are there to do a job and you are only paying them by the hour. Save your attitude.

  • Where is your life?

    This is perhaps the most essential question: people say they want to live happily ever after in Aussieland but find themselves missing family, friends, social activities, their job, their house, their previous social standing, what-have-you, once they get here.

    Before you have kids, it will be easy for you to take time off to go home for Chinese New Year, Malay New Year, Indian New Year etc…You can hop on a plane any time you need to attend a wedding or a birthday or a funeral. But after you have kids, you will have to firstly budget for their travel expenses too (cost of ticket multiplied by number of family members), then you’ll have to time it for school holidays (unless you want your kid to miss school), at which rate you will be paying through your nose for seats because that’s the time when every other family will be travelling too. If you live outside of the major city centres, you’ll need to factor in increased time and cost of getting to the airport.

    Are you prepared for this? Are you prepared for life back home to go on without you? Because that’s what it amounts to: for you make a new life for yourself here, you’ve got to be prepared to let go of the old one. Anything short of this and you are just looking at an extended working holiday. So tell me: are you really ready to migrate to Australia?


28 Questions You Might Want to Ask Before Migrating to Australia

Despite the pro or anti migration factions waging war around you, the truth is simply this: you ONLY need concern yourself with migrating to Australia if you have an “in-demand skill” recognised by an Australian professional body or have AUD2m or thereabout to invest in Australian government bonds or have proven business acumen and are able to replicate that success in Australia or the majority of your immediate family is domiciled in this country. Otherwise there is no point even agonising your poor brain cells over the matter because Australia just will not have you.

A friend of mine, who met none of these criteria but wanted to move here so badly asked what could he do. I told him to find himself a local wife. I wish I was kidding but I wasn’t. You might have heard of people being offered permanent residence visas at customs, but those days haven’t existed since the 70s. Since then, Australia has had to turn away thousands from her beleaguered gates. Moving on to those 28 questions  in the order in which they appear in my head. Thank me later. A pair of brothers want to charge RM25 for what I’m about to tell you for free.

Permanent Residence Visas

1) Must I have studied in Australia?

No, but your qualifications have to be recognised by a professional body in Australia.

2) What is on that so-called “in-demand list”?

People Australia wants delineated by profession. Click here to take a look for yourself. Generally you have to be no older than 45 at the time your application is processed.

3) Should I get myself a migration agent then, since this seems all so complicated?

You may if you’d like but I’d advice against it. All info you need to fill in the forms yourself are available in booklets; PDF copies are available online.

4) How much would it cost me to hire a migration agent though?

Excluding disbursements, which can easily add another AUD4k, expect to pay around AUD8k for representation.

5) What is the time-frame for processing my permanent residence visa?

It depends on the category. For skilled migration it generally takes 6 to 9 months, family migration (meaning sponsored by a family member) between 3 and 4 years. As always, there are exceptions to this: those sponsored by an employer generally only wait around 4 to 5 months, by a husband or wife, roughly 2 years (although a bridging visa allows them to remain in the country), by children, 3 or 4 years – however with a payment of nearly $43k for each parent this wait can be shortened to a matter of months.

6) What does a permanent residence visa entitle me to?

An indefinite stay in Australia, although you need to chock up a minimum of 3 years in every 5 for the powers that be to grant you a residence return visa (RRV) at the end of each 5 year block. Fail to do this and they might not be so forthcoming with the RRV. You’re also entitled to Medicare, delivered through the public healthcare system. Medicines are not included.

7) Do I get free education?

Yes, but only in public primary and secondary schools. PR visa holders are not entitled to government-funded study loans. These are only available to Australian citizens. As a PR visa holder, you are still a citizen of your country of origin.

8) How about welfare payments?

Apart from Family Tax Benefit, which is paid to families, none is available for new PR visa holders. Since you’ve been welcomed into the country, you’re supposed to contributing to Australia, instead of Australia contributing to you.

Finding a Job

9) How hard is it to find a job?

It depends on your area of specialty and where you are willing to relocate to in order to secure work. Junior doctors can find work instantly, as can accountants and engineers.

10) Where do most Asians find work?

Apart from nail bars and restaurants, as suggested jokingly by a lady I met this morning, we’re most often seen in square, sterile settings as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, various allied health professionals…outside of the health sciences in engineering, accounting, cleaning companies, milk bars, Asian grocery stores.

11) Where is it hardest for Asians to find work?

Law – but as I mentioned in a previous post, this affects white Australians too. Finance, marketing, public speaking, event management, media, arts, coaching sport…

12) But shouldn’t they give us jobs if we studied here?

Show me 1 country that guarantees graduates jobs and I will show you 10 that don’t.

13) Is it true that Asian job seekers are discriminated against?

A Sydney study suggests there is discrimination and there have been reported instances where employers refuse to hire a certain type of jobseeker but I don’t see that to be true on the whole. My brother for instance, was head-hunted by several firms upon graduation; but I should warn you that metaphorically-speaking, his CV sold itself.

14) What if I come with work experience?

It would count for something if this work experience is from Australia or some mecca of civilisation like London or New York. Otherwise, expect to lose a couple of years “seniority” from your carefully tended resume.

15) Why do Australian employers not recognise my qualifications or work experience?

It’s not that they don’t; it depends on what area you work in. HRH’s cousin easily found one professorship, then another, at 2 of Australia’s top universities, even without Australian qualifications because the area he specialises in has nothing to do with Australia. Everyone else has to prove qualifications and prior experience are equivalent to that of locally-trained professionals in a similar capacity.

16) What if I want to add to my training?

You can get your new employer to sponsor you or you can fund your own continued education. The latter is tax deductible.

Making friends

17) Will I be wandering the streets friendless for 5 years?

Are you a mangey stray dog? If the answer is no, I think you’ll make friends pretty soon, provided you put yourself out there. Australians are generally curious about people of other lands; titillate them with tales of mind-boggling, yet-unseen sights and you’ll have yourself very captive listeners, if not friends.

18) What do Australians like to talk about most?

Australian Rules Football, fondly referred to as “Footy” in winter and the Australian Open in summer. At other times, the weather is a safe bet, as is weekend getaway plans, shopping or if a parent like me, your kids.

19) Are all Aussies lazy?

Aussies are laid back, however I’ve known a fair few to put Asian workhorses to shame. My friend who owns a laundromat in Townsville, to cite but one, worked right up until she went into labour. 3 days after the delivery of her 4th child, she was at work once more; putting in 12-hour-days at her business and going home to cater to her family after that. And the woman had neither family nor maids to help her at either.

20) Sum up the typical Aussie in 5 words.

Fun-loving, jocular, adventuress, inquisitive, fair-minded.

21) What are Aussie get-togethers like?

When eating out, unless stated otherwise beforehand, it is presumed that each person will pay for his or her own self. If dining in a nice restaurant, each person will chip in a couple of dollars extra towards a tip for the waiter or waitress. If you get invited to tea, feel free to bring along a small gift for your host. However, do not expect there to be anything more than tea, coffee and biscuits. Adult-only events precludes the provision of food or entertainment for children, just as children-only events, like birthday parties, precludes the provision of food or entertainment for adults.

22) What do most Aussies do on the weekends in place of family dinners and extended gossip sessions?

They play or watch sport, have BBQ lunches and picnics with friends in the park, trawl shopping malls just like most Asians in Asia do. The only difference is that activities 1 and 2 are generally preferred as most enjoy the outdoors. Many reserve family shindigs for that long stretch between Christmas Eve and a couple of days after the New Year.

23) Is that why I can’t go back during Chinese New Year or Ramadhan or Deepavali?

Businesses here don’t close during any of those holidays – Chinese, Malay or Indian restaurants included – but that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate our ethnic holidays. Some of us save our leave to go back during this time, to our countries of origin to be with family. Others celebrate in Australia with friends in place of family.

Comforts of home

24) Do I have to be a master chef to satisfy my own taste buds?

It would help but if you don’t know a chopstick from a cleaver, then you can always get yourself a good feed in either Sydney or Melbourne. To a lesser extent, Brisbane, Darwin and Adelaide have good Asian cuisine too.

25) What can I get  over there?

What can you not get? With enough dollar bills, you can get anything your stomach desires in Sydney or Melbourne. I’ve bought all manner of exotic fruit in Melbourne – rambutans, mangosteens, dragon fruit, longans, lychees… and countless servings of well-made, delectable kueh. If you visit one of the Asian enclaves, you can lay your hands on just about any spice, any pre-packaged food, any ready-made food, you can get back home.

26) Can I get Asian movies or newspapers?

Yes and yes.

27) How about Chinese herbs and our many esoteric health treatments?

We have Chinese “medicine halls” where you can have your pulse read and herbs prescribed. We have Chinese massage centres, Indian massage centres, Thai massage centres. You name it, we have it.

28) How about Chinese language schools?

Again, yes. In Melbourne we have a school with thousands of students. Where I live in Perth, Chinese language instruction is carried out through smaller institutions. You didn’t ask, but we also have Greek language schools, French language schools, Thai language schools etc etc…

Okay, last questions. They are not part of the other 28 but I think it summarises my opinion on migration. Would I recommend Australia as a place to migrate to? Yes. Compared to many other places? Bloody yes.

To jump ship or not to jump ship? The Migrant Experience

I’ll be the first to admit that the migrant experience varies considerably: if you arrive on these shores, indeed any shores, with enough gold bars to interest the US treasury, chances are you’ll have a swimmingly good time. Ploughing in feet first, you’ll find all the doors opened to you previously, still open, now wider, and then some. On the other hand, should you arrive with little more than a suitcase and appropriate working papers, then life will be as if once was, after the veneer of newness has worn off, complete with the same ol’ frustrations of being at the bottom of the pond, except if you’re eligible, they’ll be some tax-payer recompense, paid through Centrelink, to soften the blow. That, in a nutshell, is what most migrants encounter. Now for the burning questions, some of them thinly veiled protestations, I hear most often:

But isn’t Australia an egalitarian society?

Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? The truth is, we are a flattish society, in that I’d talk to the person beside me in the queue at Australia Post, perhaps even share a laugh with him or her about some trivial matter, but wouldn’t go so far as to invite the person over for tea, unless we belong to the same social strata; and yes, there is such a thing as social strata.

Having been a doctor’s wife for a good 12 years, I can tell you that I never socialised with the wives of HRH’s consultants while he was a resident or junior registrar. It’s not that they weren’t friendly or I wasn’t open to having new friends, but even within the same professional pool, there is a great disparity in incomes, and hence lifestyles, between those starting out and those already established.

While HRH was in training, my friends tended to be the spouses of other trainees. We all suffered the same neglect, enjoyed the same occasional perk of being tagged along to work conferences, all looked forward to the same green pasture we’d glimpsed when attending rare Consultant-hosted events.

So you see, Australian society, while not as egalitarian as one might think, is not intentionally discriminatory, unlike Asian society. In Asian society, it is an understood fact that those at the bottom and those at the top of the food chain, do not co-mingle, unless related by blood or marriage. Even then, co-mingling is ruled by one’s social status relative to the other. But this, my dear readers, is what has migrants – especially less educated ones – lured here by the promise of absolute social equality, disillusioned. They come here to get ahead only to find the same social obstacles to their progress.

But isn’t Australia about giving people a fair go (as in equal opportunity)?

Recently I received a comment from a new reader with regards to my post on the outcome to Australia’s Federal Election, bemoaning the discrimination one supposedly faces as an Australian-educated, Asian jobseeker. While discrimination does exist, it isn’t in all sectors of the job market and certainly not to the extent that one might presume from reading random stories in the news. Australians are generally fair-minded and if you have the goods, they’ll usually give you a go. However, as I pointed out to my new reader, even whiteys (as in white Australians), encounter great difficulty trying to land jobs in law and finance. This loops back to my earlier comment about “social obstacles.” For you to understand what they are, please read my post on the value of a private education.

The thing is, Asians think that the saying, “It’s not what you know but who you know” only applies in Asia when it clearly applies here as well. Moving with the times, I’ll add to that cleverly phrased sentiment by saying, “It’s not just what you know or who you know but who KNOWS YOU that matters.”

Of course, who knows you is hardly important if your skills are such that society can’t function without you. Except for the unicorn wunderkinds in each profession, we can’t all claim to be so indispensable, can we?

Why would I want to leave behind my family and friends then?

No one is holding a gun to your head saying that you have to but for my money, I think some people rather enjoy being as far away from family as they can – especially if family is controlling and meddlesome. I’m not referring myself, thank you very much, but inferring from the countless conversations I’ve had with other migrants. I live here because I enjoy the simple things one takes for granted growing up in a country like Australia, like safe streets, crisp, unpolluted, lung-fuls of air, clean water straight out of the taps, an uninterrupted supply of electricity, a dependable supply of untainted fruit and veg.

As I often tell anyone who will listen, public schools here are like private schools where I come from; the class sizes are half what they are in Malaysia, the number of classes for each year not even a third. In the schools my daughter has attended (okay, so we sent her to a private school for kinder), each class has a teacher and a teacher aid, proper-lighting, air-conditioning, computers, some have overhead-projectors and sound systems, parent volunteers to help with reading, trainee teachers to lighten the workload further. We have educational outings, school discos, a constantly replenished library, a multitude of “themed days” to encourage learning. When I was growing up in Malaysia there were close to 50 to a class, at least 8 or 9 other classes like mine, 1 teacher to each, and only chalk and talk. “Crowd control” was often unstinting use of physical punishment, from which none of us emerged into adulthood bruised or scarred or requiring counselling.

So how do I know if I’m suited to migration?

First things first: what do you want from it? If you come here expecting a Cinderella-transformation in lifestyle, you’re going to be left gnawing away on a rotten pumpkin. As you may have heard from family or friends who’ve already made the treacherous swim across from wherever they were originally, this is the land of Do-It-Yourself. Come prepared to take care of your day-to-day needs and you’ll be delighted by all the opportunities to show off and expand on your self-sufficiency. Come here expecting to be waited on by Yati and Maria (my mother’s favourite names for maids), and you’ll be humbled by what your income, hitherto perhaps large, can afford.

Most migrants I know live simply. Even those in pole position on the income charts don’t live as large as they would back in Asia. They might have cleaners visit their homes, but this is seldom more than once a week. Even if they eat out often, they rarely entertain in restaurants; something to note if you come visiting. For that reason, potlucks are very popular in migrant communities as almost everyone has something they are particularly good at making to contribute. Perhaps, when you are a migrant, what you miss most is not ostentatious restaurant fare – that’s widely available over here – but humble home cooking and the variety of delectable morsels from hawker stalls, which no one sells for lack of demand.