bridging visa blah
January 17, 2014 8:21 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a long-term job in Australia when HR won't get past my bridging visa?

In 2009, after completing my Bachelors degree in Brisbane, I applied for permanent residency. While my PR application was (and still is) being processed, I was granted a bridging visa that allows me to live in Australia legally. The visa ends when they make a decision on my application - there's no specific end date as such.

My visa allows me unrestricted work rights - says so on the label. Problem is, no HR department or company in this country seems to understand this. I'm already cut off from tons of jobs (mostly with public service or which get Government funding) because they specify "Permanent Residents or Citizens Only". Sometimes you get "or temporary visas that last for as long as the appointment", and then they ask you for your visa expiry date, but my visa doesn't have one! I've even attached letters from my migration agent explaining this, especially since for many places the first thing they ask you is your visa situation, but it doesn't help.

One time I applied for a job at my alma mater and sent my application to both HR and the specific group that was hiring. On the same day, I got two emails: HR claiming that they have a policy against hiring bridging visas (I went through their policy documents and no such thing exists), and the group hiring calling me in for an interview. I didn't get the job, but the fact that I got an interview at all is pretty rare.

I could get short-term gigs or contracts, or casual temp work (particularly childcare), but nothing substantial or full-time. I've talked to other people with bridging visas and they've all said it was exactly this that was not getting them anywhere and that their job situation changed as soon as their permanent residency is approved. It's been over four years and I have seriously no idea when Immigration will get to me.

I even did a huge letter-writing campaign to various politicians talking about this, but mostly I got "sucks to be you". I got so fed up that I fled to the US for a couple of years to do my Masters degree - and now my Masters is ending in the middle of this year and the travel period on my bridging visa ends then so I have to come back.

(I have thought about staying in the US, and I do sort of have an option that lets me stay for an extra year, but the bridging visa complicates things because I can only be out of Australia for a small bit at at time. Also trying to jobhunt across multiple countries takes more energy than I have right now.)

I have a really full resume, with tons of international experience and great references. One comment I often got was "you have a great resume!" - but then they hire someone else. Sometimes I wonder if the ethnic name effect is at play here, but it's not like HR's going to say "oh we thought your name was too boat-people-esque".

Another complicating factor is that most people with my professional background (arts and community) tend to apply for grants. It's expected - you're an artist, or you work with community, you get the Government to fund you. Except that I don't qualify for any grants, scholarships, or anything funded by the Government because of my bridging visa. I've had grantors call me up telling me that even though I have a pretty good application, they can't accept it because I'm still on a bridging visa. (there was one time where I said I had a PR, because I thought it might show up when they start looking for grant apps, but it backfired.)

I'm looking at job apps in Australia now, and am getting so disheartened that I'm seriously wondering why I even bothered applying for PR in the first place. I've been contacting all the places I've volunteered at or worked at or want to work at, asking them for leads - some are curious but no one's outright said "here's a job for you", especially since these are mostly in fields that are already getting funding cuts. I know the job market is rough anyway, and I feel like my bridging visa plus my foreign background will just get me rejected anyway no matter what I do.

How do I navigate this, especially on job apps where you can't get away from the visa question? Should I just lie and say I am a permanent resident, especially since there's a (slim) possibility that the PR may be granted once I get the job? It's not like they have to do anything magical on their side - none of the places where I've worked before have had trouble. Do I change my last name to something more Anglo, would that help?

I really don't want to go back to Australia and end up in a similar state to the few months before I left for the US: bedridden out of depression.
posted by divabat to Work & Money (19 answers total)

I could get short-term gigs or contracts, or casual temp work


The visa ends when they make a decision on my application

It doesn't matter how your CV looks or how much experience you have, no one is going to take a punt on you if their investment has their PR application denied.

You're talking Australian immigration here, they are not widely known for benevolence.

My wife applied for PR - 20 years ago, it was a fraught six months, so good luck and I hop it works out. Be patient and take short term gigs and contracts.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 11:26 PM on January 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's not (just) your ethnic name. Everyone I know on bridging visas (including my husband who has a totally English name and a New Zealand accent - although his citizenship is Swedish) had these hassles.

Also, as a New Zealander without an actual permanent residence stamp (as I am not eligible), but with the right to permanently reside in Australia due to being a New Zealander, I hear you on the issue with visa expiry dates. Whenever I've tried to apply for jobs in big organisations, they want a visa expiry date if you aren't a PR. And they generally don't know the rules for NZers.

And I also am excluded from being able to work in government/federally funded jobs, including the police force, library, etc, so I get what you are saying about that. It is ridiculous. The good news is that your situation should have an end date soon. Four years is pretty much the longest I have heard of these applications taking (not that it's exceptional to take four years, but everyone I know who took that long took ONLY that long and not e.g. six or seven years.)

Finally, I have SOMETIMES found that a personal phone call to the person in charge of a job (not HR, but a real person who would be your boss) can move some red tape sometimes. If they know the system they can sometimes override HR or persuade them to make an exception. Not to actually get you a permanent job without a visa, but to get you an interview and on their list of "will hire once visa comes through", or a temporary contract for a year to see if the visa comes through then.
posted by lollusc at 11:58 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hiring is hard. It takes a long time, and it's risky. Nobody wants to do it twice. You're riskier than most.

If I saw somebody saying 'I totally want to live and work in Australia *cough* left during my bridging visa to study overseas for a couple of years *cough*', I'd pass them over. It wouldn't be anything personal, just a cold, hard calculation of risk.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:32 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start ups/smaller companies; starting casual/contract and trying to angle a full-tme position from there.
posted by heyjude at 12:41 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have worked in HR for some big companies in Australia, including multi-nationals, major employers, and also some smaller firms. In addition to what obiwanwasabi and others have said, its the extra work required of keeping records of your immigration status, checking it periodically and making sure records of the checks in turn are kept, to ensure we meet (and are seen to meet) the company guidelines. This contributes to the reluctance to hire non-PR people for permanent or long term positions.

Employee's right to work in Australia is something that is audited. Often audited by internal auditors and external auditing firms. This is done to mitigate the risk of having someone on payroll who actually doesn't have the requisite work rights. For that, the Department of Immigration can impose big fines on an organisation. DIMIA can actually walk into the HR department anytime, 'flash their badges', and demand to see the records of the checks of employees who are not PRs. This actually happens.

I really do understand your frustration, I have had many, many phone calls and handled many complaints from pissed-off bridging visa holders (and not to mention people who's spouse is in Australian on a 457- class skilled worker visa - thats a whole other can of worms!).

Some low-level HR people may not be too savvy about it and just blindly apply the policy. This may come off as rude or ignorant. But where I have worked we have all had training and regularly seek and receive updates and advice from immigration & employment law experts, we deal with it regularly, and we know the status quo and how it has come to be, and when and how we can get around it, if necessary. It's topical, its in the news almost daily and HR professionals make it their business to stay informed about these issues.

It's hard to tell a good candidate, a good person, that we aren't hiring them for any legal reasons but for commercial ones - hiring them is a risk and creates more work. Which means more cost. When this is a foregone conclusion why should we even consider your application, or short-list you for an interview? It's a waste of time and raises your expectations only to be disappointed and left feeling more frustrated. Its why you see "Only Permanent Residents of Australia are eligible to apply" on job advertisements.

As to lying about your status, please don't do this. You could easily be found out. I have caught candidates at interviews who have openly lied on their application forms when I have asked to see their passport (Awkward!)

And even if you slip through, then you would be in breach of most company Codes Of Conduct - and possibly sacked for that. Then you will have to explain to future prospective employers why you were let go from a previous position and unless you lie again, no one will hire you. Because if you lie about that, what else could you be lying about? It will destroy your credibility.

Give it time, you have some really nice advice above from other people to consider, and good luck. Keep your chin up. There is a lot to be said for temping, taking casual and finite contracts and networking and gaining skills all the while. I wish you all the best!
posted by evil_esto at 1:51 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

You work in the arts it seems? That's hard for anyone to get a job in, particularly at the moment in a lot of places. I know people that are citizens and have experience that are really struggling, you are just not going to have an easy time of it, sorry. If you get your PR you will then be about equal with everyone else, which still ain't great.

So I suppose don't feel like you are all alone!
posted by deadwax at 5:08 AM on January 18, 2014

You are, unfortunately, functionally stuck with short term and contract work until your PR comes through. Seriously, it will be a rare employer who is willing to go through the agony of hiring a candidate who can literally be chucked out at any moment. I understand you're well-qualified but that is, as you've found, overridden by the visa issue. You may have better luck finding these rare employers if you look at very small businesses and startups but I wouldn't bank on it.

I'm sorry it sucks and is frustrating.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:49 AM on January 18, 2014

Try Darwin. Lots of work say locals. And it may be more tolerant of bridging visas. Speak another language? Even better. Can you arrive via Darwin just to check it out? At least it could be a well-paid and vibrant temping location until your PR is granted.
posted by Kerasia at 5:54 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Temping is equally hard for me to get - I've been rejected from temp agencies too or just never really hear back from them.

The short term gigs are infrequent and unpredictable, and the problem is that they aren't enough to live on. My parents have been helping me but that can't last for very long.

In May it'll be 5 years, and with every immigration rule change my application gets pushed back further in the pile. I didn't even have a case officer for months because the original case officer let and my case wasn't assigned to anyone until fairly recently! Gah.
posted by divabat at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2014

Response by poster: evil_Esto: uh, I'm applying for a 457 via my aunt. Are there particular hassles with that one?
posted by divabat at 11:12 AM on January 18, 2014

I have no advice about getting work, I'm struggling to find enough work myself, but I do have a couple of suggestions as to how you can speed up the PR process.

When you say you've done a letter-writing campaign to politicians, did you also contact your local MP? Your letter has a much higher chance of actually being read by the person it's sent to, instead of being logged, read, form-letter-replied, and filed by the office staff of a 'more important' politician. (I suggest this because I contacted my local MP about being owed $25,000 in child support payments, which the Child Support Agency were doing sweet FA about trying to collect - a week later I had personalised letters from two of the relevant federal government ministers explaining the action that the CSA had been told to take. And a fortnight after that, I started getting child support which had been deducted from daddyo's wages. I even got regular phone calls from the CSA keeping me up-to-date. And this was before the election, when my local MP was in the oppositions camp!)

Another alternative that I've found to work in frustrating situations is threatening to contact A Current Affair. I hate the show, never watch it, but threatening to share your story with the media - particularly a mud-slinging trashy show like ACA - seems to work wonders in getting something done. (I suggest this because a debt collector spent years trying to get me to pay the phone bill of someone with the same first and last names as me, but different middle name, different birthdate, who lived in a state I proved repeatedly I had never lived in. As a last resort, I wrote to them and told them I was going to ACA. I've never heard from them since.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:01 PM on January 18, 2014

RE; 457 class visa. Please consult an immigration lawyer as to your personal situation, I'm really not qualified to give advice on this.

Generally speaking, from my own personal experience, people holding spousal/dependent 457-sub-class XXX visas are not really in a better bargaining position than a bridging visa holder. It's also counter-intuitive to me that you can legally hold 2 different visas but I could definitely be wrong there.

The risk with a 457 spousal/dependent is that if the 457 is revoked for any reason, including if the 457- visa holder's employment is terminated for ANY reason, you have 28 days to leave the country or get yourself another visa.

(Also, as you can't vote I wouldn't put much faith in the inherent goodness and nobility of Australian politicians but I'm feeling cynical today).
posted by evil_esto at 10:57 PM on January 18, 2014

Seconding malibustacey9999's advice to target a request for assistance to your local Federal MP's office. You mentioned you have an aunt in Australia? Make the request via her or another local family member who is enrolled to vote in Australia. Ask for an appointment to go in and discuss your issue with an electorate officer (staffer) as this is the person who will actually be writing the letters and making the phone calls on your behalf to the Department (and in rare cases the Minister's office) to escalate your matter. For extra brownie points, send them a thank you letter or email afterwards. I would strongly recommend NOT threatening to contact the media on this sort of issue - MPs offices hear this threat LITERALLY DAILY and in 99% of cases, they will accurately conclude that the media won't be interested.

Good luck with the PR - you sound smart, tenacious and the sort of person that any organization would be lucky to have working for them.

Source: more than a decade working in political offices, newsrooms and as a lobbyist.
posted by rockpaperdynamite at 11:06 PM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So if I do get my PR, and then get a job, and then my job ends, I have to leave the country?

I have contacted local MPs. Mostly they placed the blame on the opposition party but didn't help me any. My aunt is old and hospitalized, she isn't going to be of much help.
posted by divabat at 11:54 PM on January 18, 2014

Response by poster: And oh God NO to A Current Affair. They're part of the problem - "zing these boat people get a free mansion and a free job on arrival!". I've seriously been asked about that.
posted by divabat at 11:56 PM on January 18, 2014

Yeah, I didn't even want to respond to the ACA thing, I'd be preaching to the choir and didn't want to insult your intelligence...

So if I do get my PR, and then get a job, and then my job ends, I have to leave the country?

No, no. If you are a permanent resident you're pretty much OK, although you can't vote, may have trouble accessing medicare health services and if you ever get into trouble, here or overseas, the Commonwealth can kick you out or not let you back in, depending on what's happened. There are cases where people have lived their whole lives in Australia, born, schooled here and then got into trouble overseas - and denied re-entry.

(There was a high-profile case of this a year or so ago with a poor chap who got stuck in Belgrade, with a heroin problem and no means of support or Serbian language skills. He had a record of petty criminality in Australia and his parents were French nationals and had never naturalised and he was given the arse by the Aus Government. No consular assistance, no chance of coming 'home'. Belgrade. Winter. Cold Turkey. Poor guy).

I took your follow-up comment to mean that your Aunt was applying for a 457 herself, and that you were tagging along as a dependent. Sorry if that was confusing.

If you're applying for 457 YOURSELF - then yes, if you are terminated for any reason (death(!), disability, poor-performance, breach of conduct, redundancy etc) you have to leave. The 457 visas used to be a pretty good way for people to legally live and work in Australia with a lot of freedom and not have to apply for PR. Not any more, its essentially a sponsorship arrangement and you are tied to your sponsor-employing entity.
posted by evil_esto at 12:22 AM on January 19, 2014

Response by poster: I might have to recheck what my actual visa class is then, because I'm certain that it's not attached to.any employer. I wasn't employed when I applied for it. As far as I know I'm applying for permanent residency, if there's this side malarkey about being sponsored by an employer I haven't heard of it. The only entity sponsoring me is my aunt.
posted by divabat at 12:56 AM on January 19, 2014

Its sunday night here, good luck. Check your mefimail.
posted by evil_esto at 1:28 AM on January 19, 2014

Response by poster: Durr, never mind, I got the number wrong. Crisis averted!
posted by divabat at 3:44 PM on January 19, 2014

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