American relocating to Sydney, NSW
April 12, 2010 1:52 PM   Subscribe

I am a US citizen who is seriously contemplating moving to Australia. There are many reasons for the potential move, not the least of which is that my partner is located there. However, I hold no degree nor do I have any sort of 'higher education'. Am I fooling myself in thinking that I would be able to move there, find a job and fit in amongst the Australian population?

I have traveled to Sydney many times and have spent extended amounts of time there. I love New South Wales, the city of Sydney, the people of Australia and the country itself and I'd love to put down roots there. I am incredibly concerned that I might not be able to find gainful employment due to my lack of a university degree.

I have been working for the past 18 years for the state court system where I reside and am a bright (at least I think so), capable and adaptable sort of guy. I've been working in a supervisory capacity for the last five years, I'm incredibly computer literate and am very technologically minded. I don't know how far that would get me, though.

Obviously, moving to a new country is a big step and one that I don't want to take lightly. I've been pondering this transition for at least a few years now and this is the one area that still concerns me.

Any idea on what sort of prospects I might be facing? This is a sort of reality check for me, so I'm open to any and all comments on the subject.
posted by BrianJ to Work & Money (24 answers total)
Is your partner an Australian citizen? Are you thinking of marrying him or her?
posted by desjardins at 1:54 PM on April 12, 2010

He is a citizen. Since we can't technically get married we plan on applying for a partnership visa which would allow virtually all the same rights as would a marriage - right to work, health care, etc.
posted by BrianJ at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2010

Information on how to immigrate to Australia can be found here.

Typically, first-world countries such as Australia (or the US, for that matter) will want a non-family immigrant to either be highly educated (which you're not) or bring a highly specific skill set (which you don't have) in order to qualify for particular types of visas.

It may be worth your while to consult with an attorney familiar in Australian immigration law to determine if there are any visas under which you can qualify for immigration.
posted by dfriedman at 2:15 PM on April 12, 2010

That's a major concern of mine, dfriedman, but I think we should be alright under the Partner Visa category.
posted by BrianJ at 2:21 PM on April 12, 2010

I don't know how far you are down the paperwork track, but if you haven't already, find yourself a registered migration agent who is familiar with your situation (civil partnership recognition) to sort your visas out for you. I can't emphasise this enough; Immigration is its own cult with its own arcane rules.

You're right to be worried about your qualifications; Australia's migration scheme is slanted heavily towards "skills". Start ticking some of those boxes and you're likely to be favoured for better work visas in your own right. If your partnership visa falls through your options might narrow a lot.

The Australian system of courts is very different to the American. Especially without formal qualifications in law, you may find that your skills won't be recognised, and (by the sounds of it) I wouldn't expect you to be able to transfer from courts to courts. You should know there's also a staffing freeze on in the NSW Public Service so nobody who isn't "front line" is getting hired in the State justice system right now, at least not for a few Budget cycles. Federal, I wouldn't know. Local government varies from rich councils to poor councils.

That said, the GFC hasn't hit in Australia nearly as hard as it has in other places, and there' still a fair amount of work about, and experienced managers and white-collar workers are still in demand. I wouldn't be too worried about finding at least medium-term employment if you've got good references and a bit of time to jobhunt. If you've got a bit of savings and you want to enrol at uni or in TAFE for an Australian degree, well, even better.

For employment purposes, there's nowhere in Australia you'd be better off than Sydney. The larger problem is living costs---rent anywhere in the greater Sydney area is blisteringly expensive and the real estate industry is a sordid racket. But you knew that.

Would you be able to fit in and put down roots? That's up to you, and beware that spending time here isn't the same as living here. I would expect to find it a bit more lonely as a working resident than as even a long-term visitor and I wouldn't underrate the difficulty of finding your own social circle separate from your partner. Not terribly so, though; it's true that Sydney's notoriously cliquish and tribal about its suburbs and scenes but it's also a big modern anonymous city with all of the benefits.

Expect lots of good advice from Sydneysider mefites---there's quite a few of us.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:36 PM on April 12, 2010

I've known a few people (including one lesbian partner of a couple) who found the easiest way to come/stay here was to study here and get an Australian degree, which apparently affords you some kind of special treatment. (Though look into that before trusting me on it: immigration rules have changed lately as I understand it, rendering a lot of those students' prospects no longer good because they no longer fit into areas we'd previously deemed as needing skilled applicants in. That said, I think living with your partner for that whole time and being able to demonstrate coupledom would allow you to apply for some kind of relationship-based visa after that.)

Just a thought. Expensive, but a thought. If it comes to that.
posted by springbound at 2:45 PM on April 12, 2010

Fiasco da Gama - Thanks so much for your input. It's greatly appreciated.

I'm just beginning the paperwork process and, speaking as someone who has spent my entire career dealing with governmental red tape in its many forms, this paperwork is insane. The migration agent is a brilliant suggestion and one that I'm sure I'm going to follow.

I really hadn't dared to even consider trying for a position in the court system and it sounds like that was a good initial response. I didn't know about the staffing freeze so it's a good thing I hadn't pinned my hopes on that.

I do have some savings and the idea of going to uni there is an exciting one. I'm concerned about the costs of that, especially since everything in and around the Sydney area is frightfully expensive.

Really great insights...thanks again!
posted by BrianJ at 2:51 PM on April 12, 2010

I don't know what it takes to get to a position where you can get the "in Australia" rate, but if you can get to that point, Australian universities are good and rather cheap!
posted by wooh at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2010

Not any useful information here, but just a success story to pass along... I have a friend who uprooted himself from the US to move to Australia to be with his partner (an Australian citizen) and they've been together for many years now. He loves Australia, except for some of the heat waves.

Cost of living is usually the biggest deal, but if your partner can help you figure out what it will cost for both of you then you should be okay. If he's also understanding that you probably will not get a job right away or want to apply to uni, even better.

Sounds exciting, good luck!
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:12 PM on April 12, 2010

springbound - Thanks for the information. That's a good point and something that, like it or not, I should probably consider.
posted by BrianJ at 4:11 PM on April 12, 2010

wooh - Thanks for that. I should probably check that out and see what kind of rates I can get!

Wuggie Norple - Thanks for the success story...I'm willing to take all of those I can get at this point. :)

Thankfully, I've got a wonderful, financially stable partner and he's not pushing me to find work immediately so the uni idea is sounding better and better.
posted by BrianJ at 4:12 PM on April 12, 2010

web goddess is a USian who now lives in Sydney (with her Aust husband?). She probably has a good perspective.

You don't qualify for local student fee status until you have your Permanent Residency, which I think would be at least four years after you arrive. Before this you would have to pay international student fees, which can be pretty steep. And I don't know if there's any extra weirdness being an international student who's not on a Student Visa (fr'instance, if you're still required to have Overseas Student Health Insurance) so you'd want to look into that as well.
posted by jacalata at 5:13 PM on April 12, 2010

Hey, that's me! Just spotted this. Yep, I moved here with my Aussie partner in 2001. First the visa stuff: I came in as a tourist and then filed for the defacto partner visa while I was here.The whole process is kind of a pain, but if you're patient and thorough you'll get through it. We didn't bother hiring any sort of immigration lawyer. I had to get statutory declarations from people; I had to get a medical exam with a chest X-ray (Australia doesn't like immigrants with TB); I had to get police reports from the various placed I'd lived; I had to pay like $1600; etc. It's just bureaucracy, and (sad but true) if you're a white Westerner who follows all the rules and pays the fee you'll be fine. When I filed, they gave me a "bridging visa" that allowed me to stay until the case was decided (which would take longer than my three month tourist visa allowed). I was technically able to look for work with the bridging visa, but I didn't bother since I figured no company would hire me when there was a possibility I might get turned down. It took three months for my provisional permanent residency to be granted. After that, I was able to get a job. I have a B.A. but I looked into going to grad school, but the fees for overseas students were comparable to what you'd pay back home (i.e. really steep). Two years later, they called us up again to make sure we were still together and we had to send off a bunch more forms. Then I was granted my full permanent residency. That was the point at which I was finally able to get a credit card, collect unemployment, and pay the local rates for university (and get HECS). So the whole time period to get full P.R. for me was 2.5 years. Hopefully that hasn't changed too much.

I can't advise much on your specific job prospects, except to agree with what other folks have said. The GFC didn't hit too badly here, and in fact some industries (like I.T. where I am) are still going gangbusters. If your partner can support you for a bit, that'll give you time to find something good.

I think making friends and fitting in will be only as hard as you make it. It took me about 6 months to find my own "circle," and that was from finding a local craft meetup online. These days it would be much easier. You already have a built-in circle of MeFites, and we're a pretty friendly bunch. (emd3737 just moved to Melbourne from Boston and ended up living with a MeFite when she arrived!) Some of the locals think that Sydney is cliquish, but I haven't found that. In 10 years, I've had exactly *one* experience of people badmouthing Americans, and that was some bogan at the Post Office who had no idea I was standing in front of her. The important thing is to get out there and to not complain if things aren't exactly as they are back in the States. Don't get offended the first time somebody calls you a Seppo; that probably means they like you. Offer to buy the first shout (round) at the pub. Try to learn something about local politics.

The biggest "whoa" moment for me was getting my Australian citizenship. That was the point where I finally fully addressed the reality that I wasn't just living here temporarily; I was settling down someplace for good. I know a lot of immigrants who don't bother or who put it off for a long time. I blogged about my citizenship ceremony afterwards:
Soon Clover was finished and our two groups were asked to stand and recite the pledge together. My version read: "From this time forward, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey." Personally, I really like it. I think it's fair. All notions of patriotism and national identity aside, I feel like the Australian people - the friends, co-workers, and family I've met over the past five years - deserve this much. I want them to know I do respect their way of life, and it's my way of life too.
Let me know if you have any other questions about my experience. And let the Sydney MeFites know when you get here; we'll make sure to give you a warm welcome. :)
posted by web-goddess at 6:28 PM on April 12, 2010

web-goddess - Thanks so much for your insights! If you don't mind, I might pick your brain, so to speak. I'd be really interested in asking you some questions about how things worked, what your expectations were versus the reality of the situation and that type of thing.

I've been a little concerned about making friends, truthfully. I can be horribly shy, especially when I'm around people that I'm unfamiliar with but the idea of a craft meetup is a great one. I love hand crafts and that might be a nice way to meet some new folks there. Well, once I get there. :)

When I was on the way back home from Sydney a few weeks back, I witnessed a little anti-American sentiment on the plane and was a bit disturbed by it. Oddly enough, the things they were complaining about regarding Americans were things that I also had a problem with but I just kept my mouth shut instead of getting involved in a heated discussion with a trio of very well informed Aussies. LOL!

When I read 'bogan' in your response, I couldn't help laughing out loud. I love those little cultural differences between the US and Australia and I look forward to discovering many more of them.
posted by BrianJ at 6:45 PM on April 12, 2010

Just chiming in to parrot web-goddess. I did the US to Sydney thing via a tourist visa to defacto relationship temporary residency to permanent residency. The key is that with defacto, you have to show proof of living together, so be sure to put as much as possible in both names straight away. Also, save all sorts of personal correspondence to show that you are in fact a "couple" ... cards, letters, pictures, etc. Be prepared to have some friends attest to the relationship (the declarations web-goddess mentions). I also got the bridging visa that allowed me to work - and I did - so no issues there for me. Overall, somewhat annoying with the documentation required, but fairly seamless. Oh, and the agent who handled my temporary-to-permanent portion said I was one of the most organized people they've seen and barely even glanced at my supporting documentation, which I had typed up with a table of contents to make it easier for them. No attorney really required if you read through everything and get everything in order.

Also, I LOVE Sydney - although we moved to the US a few years ago so he could get the reverse experience for a while. =) While I wasn't working (the tourist part) it was really hard to immerse myself and find friends. But once I started working there, I established a great network of friends and felt more at home.

A friend of mine moved from SF to Sydney with his partner and immigrated via defacto as well and didn't have any issues, so lots of success stories here to bolster your confidence! Feel feel to reach out with specific questions if you like.

posted by cyniczny at 7:02 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Slight changes since web goddess went through it: These days (since 2007) it is 4 years until permanent residency, and you can't get HECS unless you are a citizen (although you do pay local tuition rates as a PR, you just have to pay it all upfront).
posted by jacalata at 7:37 PM on April 12, 2010

My roommate has recently obtained permanent residency by a different route. If you're planning on living in Sydney, via a partnership visa, you may find that the registration of your relationship under the City of Sydney assists - it won't be formally recognised on the Federal/Immigration level, but it will count as a proof of your partnership like a joint lease. It's reasonably cheap at $55. I will add that from all I've seen white-collar professionals from first world countries have far fewer problems getting residency.
posted by quercus23 at 8:40 PM on April 12, 2010

I have some good friends who are a gay couple, one of whom is an Australian citizen and one of whom is French. They got married in Belgium and apparently for Australian immigration purposes that was good enough to establish their relationship, even though they're not legally considered to be married in Australia. It sounds like it was relatively uncomplicated, but then I've never discussed it in detail with them. I'm not sure if the French one is now an Australian citizen, but he'd at least be classified as a permanent resident, I believe.

This was a few years ago now (seven, I think), and it's sort of vague and second-hand, I know, but the point is that being a same-sex partner shouldn't be an insurmountable issue for immigration purposes.
posted by damonism at 8:41 PM on April 12, 2010

Ooh, you like handcrafts? Meet the Convenor of the Inner City Sydney group of the Knitters Guild of NSW. :)

Another thing that you could do ahead of time is start googling for bloggers and such in Sydney. (I'm one of them.) It might give you an idea of what life is like and make it less scary. One of my favorites, for instance, is Grab Your Fork. She's a food blogger and she also writes about food related events happening all over the city. Just by reading it, you'll feel like you're part of the local foodie community.

I also got followed on Twitter last year by a U.S. guy looking to emigrate. He had a special account where he tweeted news and questions relating to his move, and I think he ended up with a couple people helping him out.

Do you know what neighbourhood your partner lives in? Local blogs/twitter accounts are a big thing right now. (Examples: Newstown - News from Newtown, Life in Chippendale, Glebe 2037, surry_hills. Granted, a little heavy on the Inner West, but there must be others further afield...)
posted by web-goddess at 9:28 PM on April 12, 2010

cyniczny - It sounds like we'd get along famously...I'm *way* too organized with that sort of thing and if I'm going to take the time to fill out forms, I'm going to go all the way. LOL! The table of contents was a really nice touch and one I never would have thought of. It really does help to be prepared, huh? :)

Thanks for the information and the offer of help with further questions! I'm sure I'll be putting your knowledge to use.
posted by BrianJ at 7:33 AM on April 13, 2010

jacalata - Thank you for the update!
posted by BrianJ at 7:34 AM on April 13, 2010

quercus23 - Thank you for that! We had initially looked into filing that some months back, but sort of discounted it since it didn't provide any sort of official status like a marriage does. Knowing that it would most likely be looked upon favorably during the immigration process didn't even occur to us. The next time I'm in Sydney (hopefully within the next few months) we'll get that filed.
posted by BrianJ at 7:39 AM on April 13, 2010

damonism - Thank you so much. Knowing that others have gone through something similar and been successful at it is incredibly encouraging. I'm greatly encouraged by the fact that Australia even has a program for same-sex partnerships. I can't imagine America adopting such an open-minded attitude about things.
posted by BrianJ at 7:42 AM on April 13, 2010

web-goddess - I love handcrafts! I'm a crocheter at heart, but I'm desperately trying to learn to knit. There's just something about knitted fabrics that look so much better than their crocheted counterparts.

I'm something of a foodie and "wanna be" gourmet and that blog is simply amazing! I can see I'm going to be spending scads of time there. LOL!

The links to the blogs and twitter pages are also nice and something I'd never thought about. It's a little strange seeing blogs for all these places I spent my last vacation at. Nice, but a little unusual. :)
posted by BrianJ at 7:56 AM on April 13, 2010

« Older How to deal with a bipolar alcoholic sister   |   You Can't Escheat Taxes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.