Friday, December 28, 2012

So you want to move abroad?

This year I have received a number of requests  via various channels from people who have learned I migrated to New Zealand, and want to know more information about what's involved. I'm happy to help or at least direct where I can, and have got to know some of them quite well in the process.

I myself several years ago was in the same boat, and really relied on the same goodwill to understand the journey I was about to put myself and my family through. But just as a future resource, I thought it might be useful to write up our families experiences.

My life before migration

I graduated from University in 1992, and I have always had the experience of having to “move to where there is work”. Part of it was an after effect of living through the Miners Strike of the 80s in Great Britain, where pockets of high unemployment came about, and the only choice for many was to uproot and move to where they could find work.

So I found myself taking quite the gypsy lifestyle,
  • working as a teacher in Keighley, Yorkshire
  • doing a Masters degree at the University of Essex in Colchester
  • doing a six month research post into laser holography at the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany
  • doing a years research into Optoelectronic Monitoring at the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Liverpool (where I met my wife)
  • my first software job at TMSL in Weymouth (for 3 years)
  • moving to Farnborough, Hampshire to work for EDS and BAe for 10 years

Moving is painful. It means leaving behind friendships and often starting again. My wife who'd always lived in Liverpool, and whose whole family still lives in the same suburb, found the first few years living so far away from her family a difficult experience (and that was 200 miles, not half way around the world). It echoed my own experience when I lived in Germany – I found living so far away and not being able to just “drive home” very difficult, especially when coupled with culture shock about living in another country. However over time I adapted, which is a key and important thing to do.

All this was really important, because it said to both me and my wife that we could cope and adapt to change.  My experience in Germany showed me that I struggled when we were in an atmosphere where English wasn't spoken, and doing our homework on New Zealand based on some friends who had migrated from there, it seems an ideal candidate for us.

So you want to move abroad?

So this article will be threaded with warnings – and here come the first one. Migration is not an easy process or a “certain” process. It will take time, and importantly, it will cost you a lot of money. Moving abroad is not a cheap thing to do, and in New Zealand I don't know of any company that funds it for you (in case you were hoping).

One of the most important things is to be realistic about the reasons you are looking to move. We all feel a bit that “in our country we're being ripped off... life is so much easier in [insert name here] country”.

Well let me tell you right now, EVERYONE in every country feels that about pretty much every other country,
  • people look at America, and think “wow your supermarket and phones are so cheap”. But your average American is going “cripes the cost of healthcare in this country is ridiculous”.
  • people look at Australia and think “wow, look how much they earn compared to us”. But your average Australian (especially in Sydney) is thinking “good God, the size of my mortgage repayments”.
  • people look at New Zealand and think “wow the house prices are cheap”. But your average New Zealand is thinking “why is the milk and food we grow here more expensive here than when the same food is sold in the UK or Australia?”

The bottom line is, if you think another country has it easier than you, try and befriend someone who lives there and ask them what they love, and what they dislike. Try to see the whole picture.  In particular, if you meet someone from that country living in your own, ask them why they moved. Try and take off the rose coloured glasses and see it warts and all.  If you are not seeing problems with moving there, then I tell you that you are missing something.

If you are thinking a move to another country is going to solve all your problems, you are in for a nasty shock. Do your homework, read as much about this place as possible. Try and read up the local news and concerns. If you can, go and visit it to see it for yourself – however beware. I used to live in a seaside town most people would think “wow it would be nice to live there all year around”. But even being somewhere on holiday is vastly different to living there.

Try and draw up a list of thing you'd feel would be improved by moving abroad, together with the things you'd miss. Don't forget to try and factor in things like friends and family into that. Ask yourself, do the pros outweigh the cons?

If you have done all this, and you still think New Zealand is for you, then read on, and I will talk you through the the stages that await you.

Lets Move to New Zealand

From our own story, we made the decision to move in 2006, and finally moved in 2009. For many people at least a year between making the decision and finally arriving is a minimum. You're not going to just fill out an application and be on a plane 2 weeks later. This is the reality.

To move to New Zealand for many people is a two-stage process. To come into the country you need a Work Visa. But before you have done this, you need to have filled in your Expression Of Interest.

An Expression Of Interest is a form you submit to the New Zealand immigration office that expresses your interest in migrating to the country. As with most stages of the migration process, you need to pay to have your form filled in.

In it you detail your personal details and relevant experience, as well as confirm you have no criminal convictions. If you do have any criminal convictions or major health problem, it's going to get phenomenally difficult (if not impossible) for you to move here. The Expression Of Interest allocates points against certain traits like qualifications, experience, age, personal status to weigh your eligibility to come into New Zealand, and can be a stumbling block to many aspirations.

Once processed (which takes several weeks), you are given the details of your weighting. Some lucky people are told they can proceed straight to “applying for a Work Visa” which allows them to come to New Zealand and look for work right away. But for myself and many others we were told we were elligable for a Work Visa as long as we had a supporting job offer.

For either route, it's a mistake to believe at this point you can start packing your bags. The application for a Work Visa is a much longer process than an application for the Expression of Interest.

Needing A Job Offer

Well this is definitely a difficult path. The easiest and quickest method is to approach a few employment agencies, fly over to New Zealand (on a visiting visa) and do a few job interviews. But it is far from the cheapest.  Indeed because you've arrived on a visiting visa, even if successful you typically need to leave the country and re-enter with you Work Visa.

Talk to as many recruitment agencies as you can (Google is your friend here). Some might know some companies who will consider you based on phone and Skype interviews. But the harsh truth is many will not. It's important to tell them you have a successful Application Of Interest, and this does help.

Applying For A Work Visa

So you have all the conditions on your Expression Of Interest, including perhaps a job offer. So it's a done deal then?

Sadly no, far from it. There are still a considerable number of immigration hurdles to clear.

First of all you have to compile together a Work Visa application – which means another cheque to be processed. To support this you will need also have,
  • a medical for each member of your family performed by a private doctor approved by the New Zealand Immigration board. This will also include a chest X-ray, and you will have to cover the cost of this yourself.
  • a Police background check, which again you will have to pay for.
  • copies of any qualifications to be evaluated.

Once all this is forwarded on, its a process of typically at least 3 months before you're approved by your local New Zealand embassy. Sometimes you will be asked to provide more information or checks, which will cause additional delays to this timeframe (I did mention it wasn't going to be a quick process). As a word of caution, I've known friends who have encountered significant delays at this point (it took 6 months for us ourselves).  It's frustrating, but moving country is a big deal, and the immigration office have a duty to be thorough about who they are letting in the country.

You can help the whole process of the paperwork for the Application of Interest and Work Visa by hiring an immigration specialist to advocate on your behalf. These can be expensive, but it's worth shopping around – you won't want the cheapest, but there are some parties out there which in my opinion are out to fleece would be migrants (we encountered a couple ourselves).

Alas there was one such company I'd recommend but sadly they've recently closed their offices.

I hope this helps anyone thinking of moving abroad to get “the big picture” and really think about it.

From my own experience, moving to New Zealand has allowed me access to a different jobs market and to experience I simply feel I would not have got back in the UK. But it also was significantly for my son, who I thought would get more opportunities in New Zealand than back home in the UK. For this there have been personal trade-offs, mainly being so far from the rest of our extended family. It's hard at times, having to cope with the death of by close friend Violet whilst half a world away, and likewise my wife had to cope with the death of her father back in Liverpool.

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