Saturday, March 31, 2012

Moving to Oz?

Sometimes I come across with questions about living conditions in Australia: the kind of questions people thinking about moving to Australia make (the economy, lifestyle, weather, racism/xenophobia...).

It's easy to imagine why: the SMH reported about this last March, 11 (if you are in that situation, you should read it: here).

This puts me in a rather uncomfortable situation. Whatever I say, people listening to it might be negatively affected; and people are bound to take exception. But it is a legitimate question.

In spite of my reluctance, I've finally decided to broach this subject.

The first thing to bear in mind: I can only give personal opinions, without any guarantee. I'm neither a professional in this area (which changes often), nor I am writing this for money: the final decision and responsibility for the outcome falls entirely on the readers.

With this caveat in place, I'd say Australia is not a bad place to live. It's no paradise, either.

The second thing to realize is that things in Australia are bound to be different, to a larger or lesser degree, from your experience back home. If this had no other effect, it puts you at a disadvantage when dealing with local employers: you don't know the local labour market and laws, and what the usual working conditions are; your English may not be up to scratch.

Trust me here: local employers know this and many are willing to bank on it.

The third thing to keep in mind is that presently unemployment is lower in Australia than in pretty much all European or Latin American countries, which is good. But that isn't the whole story: chances are you will be initially unemployed and needing a job badly.

As the lack of local labour market knowledge mentioned before, this also puts you at a serious disadvantage.

A fourth thing to have in mind is that there are different paths to arrive legally to Australia, each with its own unique legal implications, but not all available to all possible migrants (some, like working-holiday tourists are open only to nationals of countries with special arrangements with Australia). Broadly speaking, you can arrive
  1. at your sole initiative (as a migrant, tourist or student);
  2. to work directly for an employer (457 visa).
Let's leave the second category (457 temporary work visa) for a future opportunity.

In what follows, I am referring to the first category: migrants, tourists and students (those arriving at their sole initiative).

However, even if you are planning to come to Australia under a 457 temporary work visa, you might still find some of the following discussion relevant. So, I invite you to read on.


Independent Skilled Migrants, Students and Working-Holiday Tourists

As an independent skilled migrant, student or working-holiday tourist, you start off unemployed. Unlike students and tourists, migrants have permanent residence. But, as a migrant, you'll probably need to have your educational qualifications recognized, too, and this takes time.

Regardless of whether you are a migrant, tourist or student, I believe you'll receive no financial help from the Government for a number of years. So, no dole for you: you are unemployed and alone in a foreign country.

This is where the unemployment figures become misleading. Migrant graduates (or similar level foreign job-seekers) often find a catch-22 condition, explicit or implicit, in job openings: "local experience" or "local work history" are required:

Click on the ad for a larger image.

But if this frequently happens with top tier job openings, as the one above, one can also find it much lower down the food chain:

Click on the ad for a larger image.

This means that, no matter how qualified "on paper", or how "on demand" your occupation is, it's likely you won't get the job, unless you already had a similar job in Australia.

You see the problem, don't you?

This leaves you in a situation where you'll probably have to take on any job you find. And I do mean any job. That's how I've met Iranian 747 pilots driving buses and Latin American engineers flipping burgers.

If you are already in Australia, ask any cleaners, taxi drivers, or check-out chicks their nationality, occupation and education level, and ask yourself why this person is doing that kind of work.

Put yourself in their shoes. You are a newbie and in serious need of a job: a potential patsy. The second thing to have in mind mentioned above applies to you.

This means that there is a good chance that you will be underpaid and made to work under conditions that locals, more knowledgeable and less pressed, would not tolerate.

You won't find many people talking about the experience of being a lower-class Aussie. But there's a good chance you'll find out, at least temporarily: wages in Australia can be low, given the local cost of living.

There are legal ways around, of course. It would make the post too long to go into them (I may touch this in another occasion). I have in mind things like "unpaid work experiences" (mostly for graduate migrants), temporary jobs (tourists), and getting a local vocational qualification (popular among young Asian and Latin American students).

For instance, this is what "unpaid work experiences" are: you work for a limited time for a local employer in your field, but are not paid for that. You get the "local experience", they get your work for free.

Normally, local employers are not obliged to hire you after finishing the "work experience": their obligation is to provide you with a reference (hopefully written), so that you can say in job interviews with other employers: "Yes, I do have local work experience; here's the paper to prove it".

If you can afford that, then, realistically, that's an option. Note that I am not talking about fairness, or how this affects the local jobs market; about how feasible it is to get these "work experiences" (I suspect they are not that abundant) or even how effective they are as a means to solve your problem: naturally, it's always a potential employer's prerogative to accept or reject your particular "local work experience".

Note also that the reference involves an assessment of your performance. And this assessment is up to the employer offering you the unpaid work experience.

So, in short, many new arrivals in this category (migrants, tourists, students) will not get a permanent job in their field from the get go. Some of them will, no doubt, never get one; some might get one relatively fast. I have no figures about how prevalent these conditions are, or how long "relatively fast" is.

To make things more confusing, the relative ease to get a job might depend on things like ethnicity and religion (see here). On top, the jobs market place may be changing, too (see here).



Conclusion

It's a difficult decision and it's not for me to tell you what to do.

But I will take the liberty to give you a free advice. Probably the best thing for you would be to assess realistically what your expectations are and how bad things are back home. In economic matters, in Australia things are probably better for now; how much better, it's impossible for me to say, as it's impossible for me to say if things here will remain better much longer.

Your personal circumstances should also be considered: the younger and less committed you are, the more options you have. If I were you, I'd try to discuss this matter with other people and I'd try to hear other points of view.

I'm afraid that's about the extent of the advice I can offer on employment matters, for potential migrants, students and tourists.

Although what I discussed here refers mainly to migrants, students and tourists, obviously it may have implications to 457 visa holders, which were not directly considered.

Conversely, if you are a potential migrant, student or tourist, you should keep an eye open for a following post on the 457 Visa, as it could contain material relevant to you.

There are other subjects I am often asked (racism, personal security, lifestyle, etc). I will leave them for a future opportunity.

You could also check at the Fairfax Media job site or the official Australian Job Search site. Over the years, the Fairfax Media/SMH has also published lots of stories about migrants/"new arrivals" (as sometimes they are called). Search their archive using keywords like "backpacker", "fruit picker", "Visa 457", "Indian Student".

Update:
02-04-2012. Searching for a job, I found this much more candid ad. Note that the 2 positions are urgently needed, but the need, evidently, is not so great as to make overseas applicants welcome. Overseas readers can draw their own conclusions.

Click on the ad for a larger image.

20-04-2012.
The Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, published an article yesterday about the so-called internships or "work experiences".

If you are thinking about getting one of those, you must read it. This passage is copied verbatim from the article:

"Yet, it can also be drawn that arrangements which take only labour and give nothing but a vague promise of experience or a future role, will probably not be legitimate." (See here)

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