Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Getting a permanent residence visa in Australia

I've been away from the blog for a long time....and funny enough people keep reading so I thought I'd write about the topic that I get the most questions about: getting that coveted visa for Permanent residence in Australia.

My disclaimer, I'm nowhere near an expert on the topic, I'm not an migration lawyer and this is purely my experience so yours may be different.  The other thing to mention is that Australia are extremely serious about immigration and as such their approach to immigration is subject to change rapidly in some ways and is constantly being debated in the media and in federal politics.

The Backstory
In early 2014 when we made the decision to leave the cosy cotton blankets of "Big Red" I negotiated with my new company "MediumYellow" to pay for me and my family to get our permanent residence visas.  This would take away some of the risk and cost of being on the 457 long stay visa.

To explain the risks / costs:
1) 457 visa holders do not get medicare/public health (with the exception of some countries with reciprocal agreements).
2) Laws in Western Australia had just changed and we were about to have to pay 4000 AUD per family for our kids to attend public school.
3) 457 visa holder have only 90 days to find a job with a company willing to sponsor their existing visa if they are laid off.

"Medium Yellow" hired a migration agent / lawyer we will call BlueLaw to manage the effort and so the process began.

I'm going to try to tell this story in terms of timing so you can get a sense of how long it took and I'll also share the costs that were incurred which are not for the faint of heart.

July 7 2014 -
Medium Yellow engages BlueLaw to handle our transfer from 457 visa to Permanent residence.  This begins a long discussion on which visa we will apply for. I had not yet worked for MediumYellow for 2 years, the standard required transition time for the temporary resident transition stream which took away the easy route.

The discussion becomes whether to apply for RSMS (regional sponsored migration scheme) 187 subclass or ENS (Employer nominated scheme) 186 subclass through the direct entry stream.

MediumYellow with guidance from BlueLaw chose to go the RSMS route which reduced the cost slightly. (Around 500 less)

July 23 2014 
BlueLaw send me the questionnaire of the century.  This thing was a beast.  Questions like, name every trip you've made to every country ever, with dates.  And....every job you've held since birth.  It took me about a week and a half to gather all of the information and then longer to gather some of the requested reference letters.
BlueLaw's questionnaire required that we provide passport style photos with the application.  We didn't do this originally and though I expected this to cause a problem at some point they never did come back to request it.
My suspicion was that the form was one that BlueLaw used for all migration schemes and was potentially overkill.  This became evident further in the process but ultimately worked fine.

August 31 2014
I finally send all of the information back to BlueLaw.

September 17 2014
After two weeks of not hearing anything I send an email to BlueLaw asking for status and if they got my submission.  They claim yes and that they are liaising with the business on something.

September 25 2014
BlueLaw and MediumYellow advise that they have to change which visa they are applying to from the RSMS to the ENS 186 direct stream because the RSMS required that my job was posted for 3 months prior to the application.  Given that I was already employed, this option was out. An extra 500 bucks and some time lost but not a huge deal.

October 21 2014 
Yes, nearly a month went past and finally BlueLaw sends a letter telling us to go and get a medical clearance and security clearances from any countries we have lived in (in our case Australia and Canada).

The problem is we're headed to New Zealand on holidays and I'm working on budgets at work so the whole thing sits for a while.

Nov 19 2014 and Nov 21 2014
We set up online accounts with immi which gives us a number we can use and then book the health clearances and subsequently go to the BUPA Visa health centre in Perth for the health checks.  For me and the Mrs this consists of a chest x-ray, peeing in a cup and a few questions about a questionnaire we filled out.  For the kids, the 6 year old peed in a cup and the 4 year old had the doctor touch his belly for approximately 5 seconds and ask me if he was healthy.

This cost around $1000 AUD.  Yep  $1000.  It was a joke but a requirement.

Also...please note the part about peeing in a cup.  I did not realize this would be a requirement and went the the bathroom approximately 30 seconds before they told me about said requirement.  I'll let you do the math.

It takes 5 days to get the results which in our case were all good.

Nov 27 2014
Me an the Mrs go online to the website of the Australia Federal Police and order police clearances for Australia.  The whole process takes only seconds, is completely online and costs only $42 AUD per person.  We receive an email the next day saying the clearance has been completed and will be mailed out.  The letters showed up within a few days.  EASY!

The same day I research how to get cour Canadian clearances.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are not quite so easy.  The website details that we need to be fingerprinted and then we have 2 choices.
1- Send those fingerprints and wait 6 months (yes 6 months) or
2- Engage a third party in Canada to digitize the fingerprints and then send them to the RCMP for an almost immediate turnaround.

Dec 2 2014
We head down to the Australian Federal Police offices in West Perth to have our fingerprints scanned.  We brought multiple copies printed forms that the scanning company in Canada had provided.  They suggested getting multiple copies to prevent any issues which the security guard at the AFP tasked with the prints is not super happy with and initially wants to charge extra for.

Cost: ~$50 AUD

Mid December 2014
We select Morpho Canada (also known as L1) to do the scanning and courier the fingerprint sheets to Canada.  ....and wait and hope that these guys are who they say they are....

Jan 7 2015
The fine folks at Morpho send us the completed Canadian Security clearances.  The last major piece of the puzzle.

Cost ~250 CAD which is about the same in AUD.

BlueLaw send us the completed visa forms for our approval.  The mistakes are many but are easy to fix and go back the same day.

Jan 20 2015
BlueLaw make it official that visa application has been lodged.  They mention that we should now be eligible for Medicare (public health) - which we were and applied for quickly.  They also mention that there is no way to expedite the process, we need to just wait it out,

March 9 2015 
Done right....nope....BlueLaw need us to sign forms transferring the agent to a new person.  Ok easy enough.

April 30 2015
Visa approved.  It becomes much harder to get kicked out of the country.

The total costs in Aussie dollars (somewhat updated as I am putting an employee through this right now)

Professional Fee (for primary applicant):                        $4000.00 + 10% GST
Professional Fee (per additional over-18 dependent):        $500.00 + 10% GST Professional Fee (per additional under-18 dependent):        $350.00 + 10% GST

Government Lodgement Fees (nomination):                $540
Government Lodgement Fees (for primary applicant):        $3,600
Government Lodgement Fee (per over-18 dependent):        $1,800
Government Lodgement Fee (per under-18 dependent):        $900
Credit Card Surcharge (1.99%)                         

Bupa Health clearances - Approximately $1100 
Police Clearances - Approximately $500

So for my family of 4 (2 adults 2kids) Gov't fee's of $7740 + $1600 for clearances and then $5720 for BlueLaw's services.

So here is the part where you say, is it really necessary for BlueLaw to be involved.  MediumYellow use this mob exclusively and they do seem to get the job done.  That said, besides the original selection of which visa to apply for, it's not clear to me that they added much value.  The forms they filled out were pretty basic and as you can see from the process they added quite a bit of time to the process in their lack of responsiveness.  It could also be argued that they also saved time by knowing what they were doing.

My final take would be, if the company is paying use them, if you're doing it on your own, just pay an agent for some initial guidance.

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