The abroad allure Initial challenges of settling in Australia

Published On: March 3, 2017 01:25 AM NPT By: RUPESH JANG SHAH

I migrated to Australia in mid 2013 as a skilled professional. The skill assessment and the migration process was relatively quick and the visa grant coincided with the festive occasion of Diwali, which called for a double celebration that year (the lasting hangover reminded me that we had overdone it).  Armed with a master’s degree in engineering and 17 years of experience, I landed at Sydney airport with controlled exuberance. A good life and a bright future beckoned. However, I had quit my permanent job as an engineering executive in Indiain pursuit of an uncertain future – in a distant country in a different hemisphere. The chill of that winter morning in early July (arriving from a sweltering Delhi) reminded me of the change and the looming thunderstorm was reflective of the turmoil inside: Will I find a job?

Although there was genuine interest from a few recruiting agencies, I quickly understood that employment shouldn’t be taken for granted on arrival in Australia, since employers seek local experience. One should put a lot of effort in applying for jobs meticulously addressing the selection criteria. Simply submitting a cover letter and resume will not get you shortlisted. The longer you remain unemployed, the frustrating it is since you will be depleting your limited resources rapidly.

Hence your single minded ambition on arrival in Australia should be to secure a job as quickly as you can (being open to work in regional towns will enhance the likelihood); sightseeing can wait.

Job secured, I had to overcome a bigger challenge – house chores. The concept of being handy around the house was alien to me. There had been maids to cook and clean, driver for commute, help at hand to iron clothes and run errands with never a care in the world for plumbing, gardening and mowing. I, like many others from my stock, was pretty useless in house chores, whereas labor hire in Australia is very expensive and affordability is a concern. Hence one is relegated to doing the house chores themselves. 

For the same reason, most household goods you procure in Australia come unassembled. Almost immediately, I was assembling my bed, tables, fans, bicycle, lawn mower, six-burner barbeque equipment and practically everything I bought (cheers to the YouTube videos). Such was my plight that I soon became averse to buying anything new. I thank my lucky stars that cars come assembled or else I would still be fixing my first car. A lesson to everyone migrating to Australia, do a crash course on house chores and refine your ‘handyman’ skills.

Driving is yet another challenge. You can drive for three months on your overseas license, thereafter you have to pass a written and a driving test to get a ‘full’ license’. If you fail either; you will have to claw your way up from a learner’s license to a red plate, to a green plate and then to a full license – implying you are on restricted driving for about three years. Although I had been driving for over twenty years, it was mostly in unrestricted zones. You could go as fast as your car would take you or the traffic conditions allowed. As such, it took some time for me to get accustomed to driving at 50 kmph despite being the lone car for miles, adhering to right of way at roundabouts (it was always who could push first – meaning cars with dents have an obvious advantage) or keeping a ‘three second’ safe distance when asked to follow (we are naturally inclined to keep as close as possible, lest another car gets in).

Despite a high IELTS score, understanding the Australian accent will be a challenge. The accent is more pronounced in regional towns. Day is pronounced ‘Die’ and ‘how do you do’ is ‘how you going’, and those uninitiated are susceptible to answer ‘by train’ as I almost did once. There is a famous anecdote of an Indian cricketer on arrival in Australia being asked by an Aussie cab driver ‘You’ve come here today? (pronounced ‘to die’)’, replied ‘No, I have come here to live’. Moreover, your own English is transformed trying to imitate that Aussie accent (which you can never perfect) in a bid to make yourself understood better. The outcome is a new accent, a weird one.

Real estate is inflated and prices of houses are dearer than in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe or Canada. There have been rumors of a ‘bubble burst’ in the real estate market for the last four years but, on the contrary, prices have escalated. To get a loan you will have to have a credit history for which you will have to get a loan (alike to getting a job you need experience, but to get experience you need a job). You will have to put a 20% down payment or pay extra for a mortgage insurance. Thereafter, your repayments (that is equivalent to your monthly rent) will continue for thirty odd years. The solace is that instead of paying rent to a third entity, you are putting it towards your own house. 

Australia is a beautiful country to live and work in with favorable weather (though sunscreen is a must in summer due to intense radiation). It is also one of the safest with possibly the best government health care and gun laws. However, it is also one of the most expensive. Visa to Australia doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good life and for students who move to Australia mortgaging their ancestral property, it could be immensely challenging. 

As a student, one can only work twenty hours a week mostly doing menial jobs. In most cases, these young students get paid lesser than the minimum wages, which is inadequate to meet their living expense alone. 

Additionally, they have to pay the ongoing tuition fee plus the interest on the loan amount (and the principal too at some stage) and also meet the expectations of their family back home to send remittance. Consequently, austerity measures are immediately applied and students end up sharing accommodation, working odd hours and being extremely stressed balancing work and study.

Despair could quickly turn to depression. Moreover, student visa does not guarantee you permanent stay and you will have to find work and eventually apply for permanent residency.

There are few options to relocate to Australia – as a skilled migrant on permanent resident visa, on student visa, work visa and spouse/partner visa. Unless you are exceptionally skilled and your vocation is unique, getting sponsored on a work visa is highly unlikely. For prospective students contemplating student visa, tuition fee and living expense in Australia are very expensive. If you hail from a rich family and can afford it, this is an option. However, those considering loans to fund their study I strongly urge them to rethink. In my view, the best option to arrive in Australia is as a skilled migrant on a permanent resident visa.

The first few years in Australia can be a struggle. If one comes with a preconceived notion of instant success and prosperity, it could be disappointing. If one comes prepared to face the harsh realities of adjusting to a new country and different culture (including seeing your children only when you switch off the Wi-Fi), the process will be much easier. Eventually everyone settles down in their preferred vocation and has a good life. But prospective students and migrants alike should weigh their options wisely and be well prepared for the drill and rigor of relocating to a new country.

Shah is the technical services manager at Murray Irrigation Limited.

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