Working in a land down under

'The lifestyle is hard to leave, but you miss family and friends'
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The Independent Online

They stopped short of calling it easyBoat, but after the Second World War the Australian Government offered skilled British workers low-cost travel to Australia. Migration papers, passage on board a liner and temporary accommodation cost just £10; those who took it up came to be known as Ten Pound Poms.

Recently, Australia has made a new bid to get Britons to return to Oz, though this time you have to pay your own way. At the end of last year, the Australian authorities began a global recruitment effort to augment their skilled migration programme by 20,000 places. Methods included a conscription tour of London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Madras last year with another tour planned in 2006. It will be rolling through London and Manchester in early October; for more details you can visit the Australian government's website (www.immi.gov.au/general/expos).

Australia's skills shortages cover a broad range of professions, but first of all you have to match the necessary criteria. To apply for a permanent visa, you have to be under 45 years old, have an adequate level of English, want to work in an occupation that has shortages and have the ability and experience to do that job.

If you can tick all those boxes then your next task is to fill out the self-assessment application, where your eligibility is worked out through a points-based scoring system. Professions that are in higher demand will score you more points - chefs win out against massage therapists, for example - and factors such as being under 30 and having a spouse with skills will also count in your favour.

If you're after something more flexible than a permanent visa you might be eligible for the working holidaymaker visa. This allows people between 18 and 30 to earn some money while on holiday in Australia, and permits a stay of up to 12 months. You can do any temporary or casual employment, and can work with an employer up to a maximum of three months. In some cases you can apply for a second working holidaymaker visa after your first has expired.

Lisa MacDonald, 29, lived in Australia for seven months between 2000 and 2001. "I organised the working holiday visa before I left the UK and I remember the process being relatively simple. In Sydney I worked in a call centre - it wasn't bad. It's the sort of work that loads of backpackers end up doing and it's not badly paid."

Elizabeth Grady, principal migration officer at the Australia High Commission in London, points out that Australia has a very useful online application process for working holiday visas and grants them electronically (www.immi.gov.au/e_visa/visit. htm). "It just means you can avoid the hassle of having to post your documents."

There are 12 different types of migration visas available so it's worth looking into the different options (see the Australia High Commission's website, www. australia.org.uk, to find out what they are). Another possibility is to garner sponsorship from the company that's employing you.

On arrival in Australia you'll need somewhere to sleep. If you're being sponsored you'll find that some companies will help you find somewhere to live. Otherwise, if you lack a handily placed friend or relative, most people stay in a hotel or hostel while they look for rented accommodation. An internet search for real estate in Australia will give you a good idea of what's available, and a lot of accommodation specialists will be at the road shows later this year.

Australia guarantees a lot of new experiences, but you'll be familiar with the tax regime. "I did get taxed but I was able to claim some of this back when I left," MacDonald says. "I just ticked the resident box on my tax form and got a load of money back."

The National Office in Canberra has this to say: "Generally, permanent residents and long-stay temporary residents are subject to the same tax rules as Australian citizens - there are different tax rules for working holidaymakers." The Australian Taxation Office's website (www.ato.gov.au) provides more information, and how to contact them with any specific queries.

Healthcare is another concern. "People on temporary residence visas are subject to varying conditions for healthcare, and payments to healthcare are refunded in your tax return if they are not used," says the National Office. "Permanent residents have the same healthcare opportunities as permanent residents of Australia." Visit www.medicareaustralia.gov.au for more details.

If your thirst for an Antipodean adventure has more of a Kiwi twist, the process of arranging to live and work in New Zealand, which also suffers from skills shortages, is similar. To apply for a permanent visa you can be under 55 as opposed to under 45 but otherwise there is little distinction. The working holiday visa requirements are the same, only you have the option of staying for 23 months without having to renew your application.

A systems analyst with the Tertiary Education Commission, Christian Redgewell says that living in Wellington has given him opportunities he would not have had in the UK. "I still sit back on a Saturday morning looking out across the harbour with the sun beating down, a latte in hand, and thank God I came here," he says. To find out more, visit the website www.immigration.govt.nz.

Wherever you might decide to go, it seems the only real concern is dragging yourself back. "I had a really good time in Australia, and I've made some friends with whom I'm still in touch now," says Lisa. "I didn't want to go home!"

Alison Tetlow, 28, and Jon Sheridan, 29, moved to Sydney in 2003. Alison had been working for a small accountancy firm in Maidstone when she was recruited by BDO Sydney, one of 600 offices of the chartered accountacy firm in 100 countries. "I responded to a flyer sent through the mail by a recruitment firm for a presentation BDO were holding. I got asked back for an interview by BDO after their presentation, and they gave me the job," she says.

Her boyfriend Jon followed three months later, though without a job waiting for him. "I wasn't nervous about it as I had been told by Australian contractors working for me at CSFB, an investment banking firm, that most of the major banks were here. I went through recruitment agents in Sydney - offices of London agents mostly."

Finding housing in Sydney didn't prove to be too difficult for the couple either. "BDO put Alison up in a flat for two weeks in Crows Nest on the Lower North Shore when she first arrived. I came out on holiday a week later to help her find a flat, which ended up being immediately underneath the first one! We moved out of that into a much nicer two-bedroom flat round the corner, where we still are now."

Tetlow was sponsored by BDO, so not only did they arrange her temporary accommodation but also sorted out both of their visas. "We had to get X-rays to clear us of TB and fill in the forms, but BDO did everything else. The visa has been renewed since the original two-year period was up - BDO sorted that out too."

Will they come back to England? "Our current visa expires in July 2008, so we will see that out," says Sheridan. "We are getting married in June and when we have children we may decide to move back. The lifestyle makes it very hard to leave, but you miss family and friends."

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