Saturday, February 20, 2016

Moved to Australia with a Permanent Resident Visa

Kangaroo Land

I did not mention on my blog as to what was going to happen after I moved back to Sri Lanka from Japan. Now you know. I decided to move to Australia.

Why? I have my own reasons, which I do not wish to talk in this post. I will address that topic on a later day. More than anything else, I need to convince myself that I made the right decision.

This post is about the whole story of applying and getting the PR. It is quite a bit of a long read though.

The start

We, obviously, applied for the Australian Permanent Residency while we were in Japan. We applied through Skilled Migration. The whole process started in April 2014, not too long after my kid was born.

I was first going to go through an agent, because I did not want to mess it up. My friend Saman referred me to the agent he used. I talked with him, but there were some issues that I was afraid of which might pop up half way through. The main problem with using an agent is that as he does everything on behalf of us, we have to send him money to his account using some way. We cannot pay him via a credit card, and Japanese banks aren't that easy to deal with. Heck, sending money back to Sri Lanka is a pain, and there are large bank charges to deal with. I could send money to my dad using my NRFC account, and then give him LKR, but it is too much work. But that was probably the way to do it.

But that's when I contacted one of my senior colleagues who had also moved to Australia. She told me that there was no reason to use an agent; everything can be done online, and she had documented the whole process; which was almost identical to mine. Almost, because she did not have to take her family as she was single. However, this not only could saved me some time & money, but I could actually use my credit card to pay for everything. So I decided to drop the agent. He was not too happy about it, as he had to devote some of his precious time to discuss matters with me, and I was not paying him for his time. Well, it was unfortunate and I wish it did not have to happen that way. If he could have suggested me a reasonable way to send the money, I would have still gone with the agent. I hope I did not cause too much of a loss to him anyway.

Skill Evaluation

The first thing I did next was to apply for Skill evaluation. As I had work experience in the field of Software Engineering, I decided to apply as a Software Engineer. To get the skills evaluated, I had to apply to the Australian Computer Society or ACS. They didn't reduce any points for my education as I have an IT degree as well. Even then, the Engineering degree from the University of Moratuwa probably would have qualified fully, as it had many modules in the ICT field. It took about 3 months to receive their evaluation results. This cost me about JPY 50,000. Sadly, they only approved me as skilled for 4 years. You get 5 points for 3 years, 10 points for 5 years and 15 points for 8 years. So I got only 5 points for my skills.

My IELTS

Then it was time to do IELTS. I had to score 7 for each of the four modules, to get 60 points which was required if I do not apply for state sponsorship. (At first I thought it was 65, but luckily, few of my colleagues had had their VISA granted to them with only 60 points.) I was surprised to find out that even in Japan, where majority cannot speak English, there was a long queue for the exam. I had to wait about a month to take the test. Finally, the date for the exam arrived and I did it; only to find out that I did not manage to score above 7 for every module. The speaking test went down; I got only 6.5. Rest were fine. JPY 25,000 gone begging!!!

I applied for it again, had to wait another month or so, and most importantly, I couldn't get all 7s AGAIN! This time, it was the writing test. I got 6.5 for it. I had scored 7 for the speaking test. DAMMIT! The first time was solely my fault; I wasn't prepared enough for the speaking test. But the second time was misfortune, as I have proven that I can score a 7 in writing in the first exam.

To try it again then. Some people suggested that I did it in Sri Lanka, because apparently it is easier to pass the exam in Sri Lanka. But there was no plans for us to visit Sri Lanka anytime soon; so I gave it another shot. This time, I achieved the goal. 8 for speaking and 7.5 for writing; both modules hitting the highest of all time for me. Others were fine too. They are always fine; it is the speaking and the writing that are difficult, because they are subjective tests.

My wife's IELTS

Soon after, we applied for another IELTS round, but this time for my wife. Since she doesn't have a degree, she had to show that she was competent in English, otherwise she had to attend classes after migrating, which would have cost around AUD 4000. And she did not have to score very high; only 5 out of 9 across the board was required. That should be a breeze for my wife, since she studied to be an English teacher. But we did some mock exams, just to be safe.

Also we applied for the police clearance certificates from Sri Lanka in the mean time. This is because, it usually takes a long time to get something done from government offices, including the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Japan. But the police reports weren't required urgently.

Finally the date of my wife's exam arrived and we all went to the exam center, as my wife wasn't capable of figuring out the route all by herself. Once she entered the exam center, I came back home with my kid, where he had a nap and I played Crysis 3! We went back to meet my wife around about the time the exam was supposed to finish. I had to wait for a while, as I went there a bit too early.

My wife passed IELTS with adequate results. Phew! She wasn't that great with the reading test, which had me worried for a moment. But I was ready to pay the AUD 4000 if it came down to it, without taking another shot at doing the test, because I wanted to apply as soon as possible, just to be safe.

Expression of Interest (EOI)

Quickly then, it was time to send the Australian Border Protection an expression of interest. It could be done from their website. They sent me the invitation to apply for VISA within a few days as a response. There is a deadline where you have to apply - a month I believe, so we had to get all the documents ready quickly. And we did, well, sort of.

We had to post all the documents to my dad to get them attested from a Lawyer. They found out that the name printed on my kid's Registration of Birth was not correct. Instead of Sonath, they had printed Sanath. And we discovered this within about a week away from the deadline. Luckily, my dad got it fixed in time.

Visa fees were huge

There was another catch. I had underestimated the amount of money that I had pay for VISA. I found out that it would cost a fortune; a fortune larger than what my credit card could do. I asked Rakuten card and Epos card, the two credit cards that I had, to increase the credit limit. I already had JPY 500,000 on both cards. Epos card did not increase the amount, but Rakuten card increased it to JPY 700,000, despite me asking for JPY 1,000,000. Well, there was nothing else I could do, and hope that JPY 700,000 would cover it.

The points test

Like I mentioned earlier, I had 60 points for my experience. This is the breakdown of it. There are only 4 sections. 5, if your partner's also had skills in a field that Skill Select applied.

  • Age: 30 points (highest) as I was between 25 to 32.

  • Skilled experience : 5 points for 3 to 5 years of overseas skilled work experience 

  • Degree : 15 points for a recognized Bachelor's degree. 

  • IELTS : 10 points for scoring above 7 for all tests

I believe that it is the IELTS results that make a difference. For someone who has a bachelor's degree in the field they are applying, unless they are more than 40 years old, should get a constant amount of points for experience + age.

Applying for the VISA

We applied for VISA from the invitation link, and it appeared that I had to pay AUD 3,520 for me, AUD 1,760 for my wife and AUD 880 for my kid; a grand total of AUD 6,223.53 including tax. This amounted to about JPY 560,000 and I did not have enough credits to pay as I had a outstanding balance. I had to call Rakuten and tell them that I am settling the outstanding balance early so as to free the card, and it took another couple of days to get it done. Finally, I could make the payment. There was a page to upload the relevant documents as proof of what I am claiming, and I uploaded everything for different categories as same as the ones my colleague had uploaded, including the ones relevant for my wife and kid.

Then it was a wait; a wait of about 2 months.

As expected, they needed more documents

Finally I heard from a VISA officer. She was requesting additional documents, but they were the Police Clearance Certificates from all the countries that I had lived in the last 10 years; which would be Sri Lanka and Japan, and a medical report, which we had to get from an accredited clinic. There were no surprises there; I already knew we had to submit them.

Police Clearance Reports

Getting the clearance report in Japan was a breeze, but I had to go there twice; once to apply for it and another time to collect it. For the first round, I had to visit with my wife, and my kid too of course, but he wasn't required to get one. They were sealed in envelops and we were supposed to submit them without opening the envelops.

The police report from Sri Lanka arrived, but there were two issues. The first one was that despite apply together, my police report and my wife's one arrived separately, with about a gap of a month between them!!! And they had made an error in the name printed in my wife's, which arrived late. Since there was not enough time, I got my father to contact the Police Head Quarters and they had told him that if the original can be produced, they will issue another one with the name corrected. I had to EMS the police report to my father and he got it done in time. He did not have to send it back to me because the VISA officer told us  to open the envelops up, scan them and upload them. (That’s when I found out that the name was incorrectly printed.)

And I uploaded the clearance reports to the Immigration account website and informed the VISA officer about it.

Medical Reports

We received three documents for each of us from the VISA officer, which were like the application forms for the medical tests. The submission of the results is to be performed by the clinic, and we weren't supposed to see the results. It's a little scary at first; but the clinic would inform us of any abnormalities, if found, before submitting the results. We went to a clinic near the Tokyo Tower, a place I learned about from my friend. We had to reserve for the tests in advance, and it took us a couple of hours to finish the tests. There weren't any problems found at that point but blood tests results would take longer. The only thing we were told was to give a specific vaccine to my kid after moving to Australia as it was not given in Japan. I cannot remember the name of it, but the doctor wrote it down on the Baby Book.

I informed the VISA officer that we took the medical test and that the results would be sent to her in a few days. After that it was the final wait.

Arrival of the VISA grant letters

After a few days, I received an email from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection with three VISA grant letters each of them having six pages. This was in April 2015. In the letters, it said that we had to make the first visit before January 14th 2016.

It deemed a little bit unfeasible for us to move before January, so we decided to make the first visit from Japan. This was my kid’s first trip on a plane, and we were afraid to take too much luggage with us on that trip. 

In October 2015, which was the Spring season in Australia, we made our first visit, to Melbourne. My kid behaved well on the plane, but as soon as he set foot on the airport floor, he was to run like a madman. The flight was not a direct flight, but the transit was through Sydney. We had to go through the customs clearance at Sydney. There was a problem with our passports at first; the customs officer said they do not go through, but ironically my kid’s passport was alright. But he manually checked them and we were able to go in afterwards. It gave me a scare at first.

I was originally planning to apply for the Medicare Card and open a bank account, but people on Expat forums told me to enjoy and experience the lifestyle instead, and that's what we did. If you are on my Facebook, you probably would have noticed a profile pic of mine taken in front of the famous Flinders Square in the Melbourne city. We decided to move to Melbourne because the cost of living was comparatively low compared to Perth or Sydney. Besides, most of my friends and colleagues live near Melbourne. And I also have family there, a close cousin, and that's where we stayed during our first visit. However, since I did not apply for PR with a State Sponsorship, we are allowed to live in any state of Australia.

We stayed for 2 weeks in Melbourne, where we did some sight-seeing and observed the culture. It was a very difficult culture; in fact, there was no culture. It was overwhelming at first, but we got over it. Getting around was not difficult for me as it was sort of like Japan, but less complicated, which is not necessarily a good thing though. What I felt was that Australia was not even close to Japan, technology-wise and ease-of-living-wise. I still am not clear as to why Melbourne is chosen as the most livable city in the world. Perhaps if Japanese could speak English, Japan would be untouchable. But for someone moving from Sri Lanka directly, this probably is heaven.

We still decided to go ahead with our decision to move to Australia.

The formal migration

After moving back to Sri Lanka, I worked for a whole month at my Sri Lankan company. On the 31st of January, the same date as my birthday, I resigned from there to move to Australia. We had decided that I would move along and settle down first, before I bring in my family. Otherwise it would be too difficult to find a job and also would be a bigger burden for my cousin, which is the place I would initially be staying at.

On the 6th of February, I moved to Melbourne on a Thai Airways flight. Actually, there was a transit, but with the same carrier. I was allowed to take 38kg instead of the standard 30kg checked baggage, as I claimed I am migrating. The only issue was that my visa was already activated as we made a visit already. Singapore Airlines would have given 60kg, but only with an inactive visa. In either case, Thai Airways was the only option, because other flights were full. Ironically, it was amongst the cheapest too.

I was planning to bring my PC with me, but I had to leave the display back at home as 38kg was not enough. I brought my CPU unit with me though. The monitor will reach me in another way. Too bad it would not work with parents’ PC as it requires a video card with a dual DVI port, which the PC does not have. So I am stuck with my MacBook Air for the moment. I could not have setup the desktop PC anyways, while being at my cousin’s place anyways, so I am not missing much. Oh, and I would have to buy a new keyboard as well. Hopefully I will be able to buy a mechanical keyboard straight away.

Right now though, I have only one goal: find a job and move out to my own place. Hopefully that won't take too long. You'll hear all about that in due time.

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