Tag Archives: immigration

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 5

11 Apr

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

For Part 3, click here.

For Part 4, click here.

In my previous post on this subject, I mentioned how and why I came to be stuck with having to satisfy Schedule 3 requirements and explained that the outlook was rather bleak.

I’m pleased to say that story has a mostly happy ending, resulting in me being granted a temporary residency visa! Woohoo!

The only unhappy part to the ending is owing our migration lawyer another $14,000. Ouch! But I guess he got the job done, which is what matters.

Here’s what went down. With the help of our lawyer and a barrister who specialises in immigration law, we filed three statutory declarations, along with several supporting letters, with DIAC in response to their request for information. We decided to ask for the waiver, but also supply all the information to satisfy the Schedule 3 requirements at the same time.

To waive Schedule 3, the applicant must show that there are “compelling circumstances” to warrant a waiver. These circumstances are defined as 1) having been in a relationship with the sponsor for two years or 2) having a child.

However, there is legal precedent which states that compelling circumstances cannot be limited to just those two items and there have been instances where an applicant was found to have compelling circumstances for other reasons, such as health issues, etc. In the letter our lawyer wrote, he outlined these precedents and made his case for why other circumstances must be taken into consideration.

In our case, our compelling circumstances, as outlined to DIAC, were:

1) H’s frail aged mother requires daily care, which I provide (supported by letters from her and her GP)

2) H would feel compelled to leave Australia with me if I were sent away

3) That would cause harm to his employer (supported by a letter from his boss)

4) It would put both H and his mother in a bind, in regards to her need for care and his need to be with me

We left out any references to financial hardship, as the lawyer did not think DIAC would care as much about that and he felt it would detract from the bigger issues.

Our lawyer advised that, failing to get a waiver or satisfy the requirements, I would not have to leave Australia, but would be able to appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal. In such a case, I would be on a bridging visa until my hearing, which would be in about two years.

But fortunately, that wasn’t an issue because my case officer at DIAC was apparently happy enough with our explanations. I was expecting to wait at least a few weeks, if not months, to hear what the decision would be.

Imagine my surprise to get a response just two days after filing our paperwork! Not only did my case officer say that the waiver was granted, but that my temporary residency visa had also been granted. Hooray!

However, even though I am now officially a resident, I still have to wait another two years to become a permanent resident and at least two more years after that to become a citizen, so this is by no means the last post in this series!

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration agent. Iā€™m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 4

24 Mar

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

For Part 3, click here.

Some serious sh*t has gone down recently at immigration. Take this post as a warning and try not to make the same costly mistake.

The short version of the story:

Our migration lawyer made a very basic error and because of that, not only might my application for a spousal visa be denied, but I might have to go back to America (without my husband) and apply again.

The long version of the story:

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that in mid-2012, H and I hired a migration lawyer to help us with the application process for a spousal visa. I first arrived in Australia on a regular tourist visa (called an ETA), went back to America after three months for a short visit, and then returned to Australia on the same tourist visa.

Because airfare to America is expensive, we put in what’s called simply an “Application for Further Stay as a Visitor” which would allow me to stay for a period of six months instead of three. That would work out great, since our wedding would be in September, towards the end of that six month period, and we planned to marry in America anyway. This application cost $300, but we figured it was better than paying $1800 for airfare, right? We thought we were saving ourselves some money.

I printed out the details of this application and went on about my life. Shortly thereafter, we retained our lawyer and began the process of getting ready to apply for a spousal visa.

I could not apply before our marriage, because a fiancee visa can only be lodged off-shore. Our lawyer advised that we apply after returning from our wedding. I was sent to immigration to ask if my tourist visa had any “no further stay” conditions on it that would prevent me from lodging an application for another visa. It did not. The lawyer said we were good to go.

Fast forward a few months to after our wedding in September. I returned to Australia with my husband on what I believed to be my original tourist visa, thinking it had an expiry date of November 22, 2012. Plenty of time to lodge our application and get all our marriage documents in order and such. As it was, we ended up cutting it close, as we had a lot of trouble getting statutory declarations from our friends and family that were properly notarised. Our lawyer lodged the application on our behalf on November 21, a day before my tourist visa was due to expire. I was then granted a Bridging Visa C, or BVC.

Fast forward again until about two weeks ago. I had finally gotten a new passport with my new married name in it from the consulate and I went in to immigration to update my passport information with them. I also wanted to ask if I could apply for a Bridging Visa B, or BVB, instead of the BVC I was on because my grandfather in America is very old and very ill and if he dies, I wanted to be able to attend his funeral with my family. Or, you know, maybe even fly over there for a quick visit while he is still alive.

On a BVC, you have no travel rights. You are not allowed to leave Australia and they are really strict on that. The girl I spoke to said there were absolutely no exceptions. I asked her why it was that I was granted a BVC in the first place, since that is usually used for refugees and asylum seekers or people who had been here unlawfully.

You’re not going to believe her answer. I could hardly believe it myself.

She said I was on a BVC because I had been here illegally!!!

I thought, surely there must be some mistake! My application for a spousal visa was lodged the day before my tourist visa expired, so I couldn’t have been illegal! I told this to the girl and she said that my visa had expired September 29th, not November 22nd.

“But,” I objected, “I was on a tourist visa that was valid from 12 months from the date it was first granted. There’s no way I would have applied for it as early as September because I hadn’t even met my husband at that point and hadn’t made any plans to come to Australia.” And also, it says pretty clearly on my ETA that November 22nd is the expiry date. Right there in black and white.

Random photo of cute koala. :-D

Random photo of cute koala. šŸ˜€

“Not your visa,” she said. ‘Your visa wasn’t for twelve months.”

At that point, I couldn’t argue with her because I didn’t have that print-out with me, not having anticipated having that sort of conversation. But when I got home, I checked it, and sure enough, it said: “Expiry date: 22 Nov 2012”.

I immediately fired off a letter to the lawyer asking HOW ON EARTH HAD THIS HAPPENED?!?!?! Okay, I wasn’t that hysterical about it, but I did ask politely how my visa expiry was different than what we thought it was and how was it that I ended up being here illegally without knowing it?

He did not reply.

I went back to immigration about five days ago with H’s mother who is having visa problems of her own (she is a permanent resident) and while she was talking to her case officer, I asked someone about my alleged illegal status. I showed the girl the print out of my original ETA.

She told me that visa was cancelled when I applied for a further stay visa.

“I didn’t realise it was a different visa”, I explained, “I just thought it was an extension of the original one.” You see, when you apply for it, it doesn’t say anywhere that any current visa you have will be cancelled when the further stay is granted. It’s easy to assume that it is literally just an extension on how long you can stay on any on visit, more like a change of the visa conditions than an actual change of the visa itself. Also, nowhere does it say when you apply for it what your new expiry date is. The girl at immigration was a bit surprised that our lawyer hadn’t caught this and said I might want to file a complaint at www.mara.gov.au.

Then the girl dropped another bombshell on me that didn’t scare me as much at the time as it does now because I didn’t really understand what it was. She told me that because I was illegal when I lodged my partner visa, I now had to satisfy what are called Schedule 3 criteria. She said a letter had been sent to my migration lawyer about it five days previous. I said this was the first I had heard of it. She kindly printed out a copy of the letter for me and said that I had 28 days from the time it was first sent out to my lawyer to respond.

I left there feeling pretty ticked off. Not only had my lawyer not responded to my email about how it was that I ended up illegal under his watch, but he had also not passed on this information about Schedule 3 criteria to me.

For the record, this lawyer charges $400 an hour and prior to this mess, we had already paid him almost $13,000, which does not include the fees for lodging the application itself. For that kind of money, I expect him to get things right.

Why didn’t he check, double check, and triple check my visa status? Why did he not run it through VEVO to make sure or walk across the street to DIAC and ask? Why didn’t he send me to DIAC to check? We could have made this mistake on our own without paying him all that money, for crying out loud!

When I got home, I called H and told him what happened. He said he would call the lawyer. The lawyer took all day to get back to him. When he did finally call back, he admitted that he also did not know that the “further stay” was a separate visa to the ETA. Uh, that seems like a pretty basic thing that any registered migration agent should know…

I’ll be honest and say I haven’t like our lawyer from the start. He is loud, pushy, and self-important. He wasted a lot of our time (which we were billed for) just telling us how great he was and how we couldn’t do this without him. Numerous times, I left his office not having discussed things that I wanted to because he wasted our meeting time talking about how great he thinks he is. Another time, he screamed in my face for two hours because I hadn’t finished filling out the forms and blocked my way when I tried to get up and leave, before even hearing me out on why I hadn’t filled them out completely (because I wasn’t sure how I should answer a question in some cases or because I didn’t have the information to answer it).

H met with him in his office on Friday to discuss this problem. It was only after that that the lawyer then forwarded me the letter about Schedule 3.

H phoned me afterwards to say that the lawyer was now saying he didn’t know I had been on a “further stay” visa. Well, he did know because he took photocopies of all my paperwork and even if he hadn’t, he should have wondered how I was staying there for six months on a visitor visa. Or he should have just checked for himself what visa I was on and what my expiry date was, since that is what we were paying him to do. Like, duh?

Oh, and he also said he had no advice for us at this stage and wasn’t sure how to handle this situation and he’d need to check with someone else for advice. I guess that’s as much admission of guilt as we are likely to get from him.

If you’ve never heard of Schedule 3 criteria before, you are probably wondering what the big deal is and, more importantly for you, is it something you need to worry about in your own application?

This is Schedule 3, as described in the letter from DIAC:

Criterion 3001 requires that the application is made within 28 days of the last day on which the applicant held a substantive visa or from the time notice is given.

Criteria 3003 and 3004 require that the applicant satisfy several sub-criteria which include the following:
-the applicant is not (i.e. at time of application) the holder of a Substantive visa because of factors beyond their control’, and
-there are compelling reasons for granting the visa; and
– the applicant complied substantially with the conditions of their last visa (apart from any condition breached simply because the applicant ceased to hold a visa); and
-the applicant would have met all the criteria for grant of the visa in this application apart from the Schedule 3 criteria, on the last day they held a substantive visa.

Why is this a big deal? Basically, it’s a big deal because it’s something that can be used to deny your application. In other words, they will deny my application unless I give them a DAMN good reason not to.

I need to explain to them why I became illegal and show that it wasn’t my fault AND give them a compelling reason to grant the visa.

I’m told there are two ways to tackle this problem. One is to apply for a waiver. According to the letter DIAC sent, a waiver can be granted for “compelling reasons”, including cases where there is a child from the relationship or where the relationship has existed for more than two years. Neither of these apply to me, but a migration agent from up in Sydney said I could offer up reasons such as how it would affect our marriage, the financial burden it would place on us, how my Australian citizen husband might suffer without me, etc.

The second way is just to try to meet the criteria. For me, the hardest one to meet would be proving that I became unlawful due to factors beyond my control. Giving your application over to someone else to handle doesn’t absolve you of responsibility to make sure things are done right. Now, if you have Schedule 3 slapped on you because you became unlawful while you were in a coma in a hospital, that’s pretty easy to prove that there were factors beyond your control.

Since I wasn’t in a coma, I don’t have some stellar excuse as to why things got stuffed up. The lawyer didn’t do his due diligence. The immigration website where I applied for the further stay wasn’t clear. Then that website sent the details of my new visa by email to my husband, but not to me. And my husband just thought it was a receipt for payment and never forwarded it to me, so I never knew it existed. An honest mistake, to be sure, but it may not be good enough for DIAC.

If you fail Schedule 3, you have to leave the country and apply again offshore. For most types of visas, there is an exclusionary period of three years during which you cannot apply for any visas. For spouses, that may be waived, but you’d still be facing up to a year or more apart, just because the processing time for offshore applications is currently 12-15 months, PLUS you’d have to pay the application fee all over again, which isn’t cheap. Or you can appeal the decision to the Migration Review Tribunal, and I’m told the current wait time for a hearing is two years (!!!).

If, like me, you basically dismantled your life back home when you came to Australia, being sent back would be pretty devastating. I sold almost everything I owned and someone else is currently occupying my house, so it’s not like I could just evict them.

Some of my family has asked why H wouldn’t just come to America with me if I get sent back, but let’s be realistic. Who would look after his mother? Who is going to look after his property? Or why should he have to sell his property? Why should he have to quit a job that he likes and that pays reasonably well, a job where an entire development team is counting on his expertise and a job where a major hospital depends on him keeping their computer systems in tip-top shape? And more importantly, how would he even get a green card to come to America? I can’t sponsor him as a spouse. I don’t meet the income requirements laid out by USCIS since I’ve not had any income in America since coming here.

The only practical and realistic option would be that I go to America alone and we just tough it out. But I feel like that is very unfair.

It’s not like I’m some criminal or dishonest person who was trying to get around the immigration rules. On the contrary, I bent over backwards to get everything in by what I thought was the deadline to avoid becoming unlawful. I left the country when I was supposed to.

I know why DIAC has these rules in place and I’m glad they are trying to weed out cheaters, but I think it is a bit harsh to give someone a Schedule 3 just because they made a genuine mistake. I know DIAC is under strain and they have way more applicants than they have the manpower to process, but it would be nice if they would take some of these things on a case by case basis. Splitting up H and me at this point would basically ruin our lives together as a family and nobody at immigration even gives a rat’s behind.

Anyway, that’s the latest development in what I thought would be a relatively boring migration saga. I suppose an unexpected plot twist always makes for good reading, though, right? I’m hoping to have an update on the prognosis of this situation sometime next week, so cross your fingers for me, please! We need all the luck we can get.

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration agent. Iā€™m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 3

17 Dec

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

If you’re applying for a partner visa within Australia (or just about any other substantive visa for residency), you will be required to submit a police check from your home country and any other country that you’ve lived in for at least a year (including Australia if you’ve been here for a year or close to it by the time you submit).

For Americans, that means you need to get a criminal records check from the FBI. I’ve already mentioned this previously, but I’ll walk you through it again in more detail, along with the fingerprinting process.

You will need to submit an Identification Record Request to the FBI. The instructions for doing so can be found here, and all the relevant links you need for the documents can be found on the right side-bar.

Most people can probably figure out how to fill out the forms required (if you are paying by credit card, which is easiest from abroad, note that the credit card form needs to be downloaded separately- see the sidebar with all the links).

The biggest hassle is getting your fingerprints done. As I’ve said before, there is only one fingerprinting facility in Melbourne. You must make an appointment to have your fingerprints done. The wait time for fingerprinting in Melbourne can be 2-3 months. If you can’t wait that long and are willing to travel, there are several regional offices that you can contact to see if you can get in earlier.

You will need to take your passport with you, along with the fingerprint card used by the FBI. It’s fine to print this from your home computer on standard paper. I recommend printing at least two copies and having two sets of fingerprints taken, just in case you get some prints that don’t come out right according to the FBI regulations. Think how much it would suck to wait all that time for an appointment and travel all the way to the police station, only to have your prints messed up somehow and not have a spare card for them to use. I brought four with me (only needed two), just because I used to be a Girl Scout and I like to be prepared.

Equally important is to arrive early. Yes, your appointment might not be til 11am and you might not be seen until 11:30, but aim to get there at least 15 minutes early so you can check in and they can go over your paperwork.

If you arrive late, even just a little bit, you risk losing your appointment. I was in line behind a woman who was five minutes late and throwing a fit because she hadn’t been able to find a parking spot and was upset that the police wouldn’t accommodate her anyway because their entire day for fingerprints was booked up. So it’s much better to arrive early, and if you are a lot early, there are a few cafes inside the building you can hang out at.

It isn’t too difficult to get there. It is within walking distance from Southern Cross train station and several trams run by or near to it. If driving is your thing, there are parking garages available (but not much in the way of on-street metered parking).

If you GPS the address (637 Flinders), it will take you to a police station at that address. But this is not where you get your fingerprints done. Instead, you need to enter the World Trade Centre building from the Siddeley Street entrance (there is conveniently a parking garage located right next to this entrance) and go up the escalators, where you will see the fingerprint facility right next to the Victorian Police Museum.

Location of Melbourne fingerprinting facility

Location of Melbourne fingerprinting facility

(By the way, if you’ve never had your fingerprints taken before, it can be quite messy, so don’t wear anything that you’d be upset about getting ink on it.)

Now, when I called to make an appointment, I was told the charge for fingerprinting was $141, but when I got there, they told me there was no charge for the service. So I didn’t actually pay anything, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t a fluke. Bring your credit card, just in case.

Once you’ve finished with your fingerprints, you’re good to go. They’ll be given to you in an unsealed envelope, to which you can add your FBI form.

Lastly, go over the checklist and make sure you have everything you need, then post it all to the FBI at:

FBI CJIS Division ā€“ Record Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

And then sit back and enjoy waiting on American bureaucracy! šŸ˜€ It will be up to six weeks before you get a response back.

For Part 4, click here.

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration agent. Iā€™m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 2

21 Nov

For Part 1, click here.

Yesterday, my lawyer finally submitted my application for residency to Immigration, two days before my visitor visa expires. While it is incomplete, still missing the results of my police checks from the US and Australia, they did accept it as a valid application and I was granted a Bridging Visa C (or BVC).

Usually, BVCs are for people who are in the country unlawfully and want to become lawful before they come to DIAC’s attention. I got a BVC because my visitor visa was about to expire and, obviously, I would like to stay in the country while they process my application for a spousal visa. The BVC is an electronic visa, so you won’t get a a stamp in your passport or anything like that.

It’s kind of a crappy visa, although it’s certainly better than no visa at all. You can’t work with a BVC, unless you can demonstrate financial hardship. You also cannot travel out of the country and re-enter on a BVC. As soon as you leave Australia, the BVC expires. So I’m hoping there are no family emergencies in the next few months!

Today, I went for the required health check. There is only one place in Melbourne that does immigration health exams and that is Medibank at 501 Swanston St. You can book over the phone or online at medibankhealth.com.au. I booked online and it was pretty simple. You do have to pay at the time of booking and it’s $332. I’ve heard it’s a lot more expensive to get the health check done overseas and that sometimes, even if you do the health check overseas, you still have to do it again in Australia

When you go to health exam, you’ll need to take your passport and forms 26 and 160. Fill it out before you go because you’ll be expected to have them completed when you check in. And bring something to read because you’ll be there for about two hours and spend a lot of time in waiting rooms.

The first thing they will ask you to do is give a urine sample. If you’re stupid, like me, you might have peed before you left the house because you were worried you’d wet your pants on the tram if you didn’t and won’t need to go right away. If that’s the case, you can always do it at the end of the exam, but they like to get that out of the way first.

Fortunately, eye exams these days are a bit more civilised than they used to be. You won’t have to worry about someone jabbing a buttonhook into your eye.

Following that, they will check your height and weight. Then they will give you a brief eye exam where they just ask you to read the letters on a chart from a distance. They made me read the very bottom line of the chart. I have no idea how well I did.

Next is a blood draw for an HIV test. They give you a form to read about what HIV test results mean and you have to sign a form saying you understand it. I told the nurse that my personal rule is that she gets three sticks with the needle and if she can’t do it in three tries, I’ll scream for someone else. She assured me that she could do it on the first try, but that they only get to try twice before they are required to get someone else. She got my vein on the first try, which was impressive, because I have roll-y veins and most nurses need at least two sticks to catch one of them. And if you are prone to passing out from blood draws or needles, they even have a bed you can lie on while they do it. I’m fascinated by medical procedures, though, so I opted for the chair so I could watch. šŸ˜€

After that, you’ll be called in by an actual doctor who will ask you about any prescriptions you are taking and what they are for. Then you get sent behind the curtain to strip to you underwear, lie on the bed, and cover up with a sheet. The doctor comes and takes your blood pressure, listens to your heart, feels your abdomen, and looks at your feet. Then you can get dressed and go queue for your chest x-ray. The whole thing is so non-intrusive that you can probably even skip shaving your legs beforehand.

The chest x-ray is to check for tuberculosis. And obviously, you should tell them if you are pregnant or might be pregnant because then you’ll need to reschedule the x-ray for another time. I’m pretty sure I don’t have tuberculosis, but if I did, I’ve been in Australia for almost a year, coughing all over people, so if I had germs to spread around, believe me-

You have to check in again with the chest x-ray people and when they call your name, they take you to a small cubicle where you undress your top half and give you a gown to put on. Then you’re supposed to wait in your cubicle until they call your name. Someone got yelled at for coming out of his cubicle when it wasn’t his turn! I guess that’s for privacy reasons. When it is your turn, you’ll be taken to the machine and you press your chest and shoulders up against it where they tell you. Then they tell you to take a deep breath and hold it. The machine goes off and then you’re done and can go get dressed again.

And that’s it! After that, you can go home and they send the results to you in the mail.

Lastly, I’ll just mention Australian National Police Checks, because I don’t think I mentioned them in the last post. You only need to do this if you’ve been in Australia for a year or if it will be a year by the time they get around to processing your application, as is my case. You’ll want to visit this link for information about the police checks.

You might look through that page a few times before you figure out where you can go to download the application form, so I’ll save you the trouble: it’s here. You can do it online or print it, fill it out by hand, and post it to them. You will need certified copies of 100 points worth of the documents they ask for proving your identity (a passport, for example, is worth 70 points). If you do the online application, you will need a way to scan those documents, convert them to pdf files, and email them in. I chose to do it by hand and mail it because I don’t have a scanner. (It was mailed last week by Express post and they have already sent me an email saying my results are in the mail.) The cost is $42. For immigration purposes, you generally do not need to submit fingerprints, so only do that if you are asked for them.

For Part 3, click here.

For Part 4, click here.

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration agent. Iā€™m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

It’s the Small Stuff

23 Oct

Isn’t there a book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… And It’s All Small Stuff”? I’ve never read it, but I’m betting the author never lived abroad.

Why? Because when you live abroad, it’s the small stuff that wears you down the most.

It’s having to remember to say “lolly” instead of “candy”. It’s having to think twice about which lane you’re turning into because you’re driving on the wrong side of the road. It’s having to strain to understand what people around you are saying because their accents are so thick they don’t even sound like they are speaking English.

I was talking with another expat recently, Stacey from South Africa, and we’ve both found that there seems to be this perception that if you, as an immigrant, speak the language of your host country, then integrating shouldn’t be a problem for you, that feeling at home should come easily.

Yeah… right… That couldn’t be further from the truth.

While I can imagine how much more difficult it is to move to a country where you don’t speak the language and are from a radically different background. the truth is that even expats who speak the language and share a similar culture to their host country also face plenty of challenges. In some ways, I think it might even be harder.

Take for example, the refugee or asylum seeker from a third world country. Everyone knows he has come from a disadvantaged background and that he’s probably led a pretty crappy life without many opportunities. It’s taken for granted that he will have a hard time as a new immigrant and as such, people will cut him some slack and expect less of him. Furthermore, he’ll be given loads of help by various charitable and governmental organisations to help him get settled. Of course it will still be hard for him, but everyone else understands that and treats him accordingly.

For the English-speaking expat to Australia, the assumption is that Australia can’t be too different from where we came from, so there should be no problems whatsoever. Sure, we don’t face the same challenges that the refugee does, but that doesn’t make us any less prone to feelings of isolation and depression. That’s something I don’t think people who haven’t been there can understand. Even my own husband doesn’t get it.

I’ve written before about my difficulty in making new friends and general feelings of loneliness, and recently another blogger did as well. Stacey told me that she spent the entire first year in Melbourne living on South African time, trying to keep up with her old life there, and almost never leaving the house. Like many of us, she wasn’t immediately eligible to work or study and found it hard to make new friends. Six years later, Stacey says she still feels like an outsider, as most of her friends are native Australians who have no concept of what it is like to move abroad.

So while the challenges an English speaking expat to Australia may face aren’t as glaringly obvious as the challenges other newcomers may face, they are still there.

They’re all little things, small stuff. But after awhile, it wears you down psychologically. Everything that was easy and automatic before now becomes something you have to think about.

Ordering a side of fries becomes a conscious effort as you remind yourself to order “chips” instead and then find yourself hoping they will actually bring you “fries” and not “crisps”.

It takes you forever to cross the street because you have to stand there and figure out which direction you should be looking for traffic or you creep through every intersection because you can’t remember how hook turns work.

You’re constantly trying to convert the weather report into Fahrenheit so you know if you should bring a sweater or not. Oh, sorry… I mean a “windcheater”.

And you make your husband call to order a pizza because you get embarrassed that the pizza people can’t understand a thing you say on the phone and you can’t understand them, either.

Or, if you are from South Africa, like Stacey, you might suffer extreme guilt from causing your friend to miss a turn by telling her to turn right at the “robot”, instead of at the “traffic light”, and wasting valuable time explaining what you meant by that strange turn of phrase.

They are things that, as a short term visitor, would be only mild annoyances and inconveniences, with perhaps one or two major faux pas thrown in for good measure. But when you’re staying for the longer term, those constant frustrations start to wear you down and make you feel depressed because all of it is a reminder that this isn’t home and might never feel like home.

Because while America might have the same green coloured street signs, they’re not surrounded by eucalypt trees. Nothing looks the same, feels the same, smells the same. The only part of home you have with you is what fit into your suitcase; maybe a favourite outfit or some small heirloom, if you’re sentimental.

But your family and friends don’t fit into a suitcase. Neither does your comfy bed. Or that oak tree that provides such nice shade in the summer. Your hometown definitely won’t fit, along with all of your memories from your “old life” that you had there. And if you try to pack snow to save for Christmas, it will either melt or be confiscated by customs.

No, you pack your suitcase with your “essentials”- some clothes, some applicator tampons, a laptop- and off you go. You take the small stuff, things with minimal power to make you happy, and you leave behind all the big, important stuff that you love. All in the name of adventure, of a better future.

I think a big reason why expats tend to form their own communities and cluster together the way that they do is because it’s so much easier to cope with the challenges of living abroad when you know there are other people who feel the same way you do, who talk the same way you do, who are going through the same things, and who understand what you love “back home” and why it was worth leaving behind. Another expat will always understand what it’s like to miss the things you left behind and also why you don’t “just go back home if you don’t like it here”.

After several years (like 10 or 20), I’m told you don’t sweat the small stuff anymore and you only sweat because the summers are so stinking hot. Eventually all those things that frustrated you in the beginning because they were different just become normal and you make your peace with the small stuff. Here’s hoping!

Australian Partner Visas and the Road to Residency: Part 1

16 Oct

Now that H and I are married, it’s time to think about going through all the necessary drudgery for me to become a permanent resident so that I can stay here with him. While Australia’s partner visa process is a lot easier than America’s, it’s still a heck of a lot of work and bureaucracy.

The partner visas are subclass 820 (temporary visa) and subclass 801 (permanent visa). You can apply for both of them together and there is usually a two year waiting period between when you get your 820 and when you can get your 801.

The first thing you have to do is fill out the appropriate forms. In our case, we need to fill out Form 47SP, which is the application for migration by a partner, Form 40SP, which is the sponsorship for a partner to migrate to Australia, and Form 80, which is your personal particulars for the character assessment.

These are massive forms. In these forms, you will become intimately familiar with yours and your partner’s passport numbers, as well as the birth dates of all your immediate family members. You will need to be able to say exactly where you went to school and exactly what dates, exactly where you worked, what you did there, and the dates you held those positions (since leaving school), every address you have lived at for the past ten years and precisely what dates, and every country you have ever traveled to and the exact dates of your arrivals and departures. (Bet you never thought all those passport stamps would come in handy, didja?)

And yes, the rumours are true that Australia can and will deny your application purely on character grounds. It’s right there in the paperwork. Frankly, I find this the most concerning part of the application, as it could presumably be used to exclude people even on political grounds, which I find a bit hypocritical of a country that also makes you sign a values statement in which you declare your undying love and support for freedom and democracy. But mainly it’s used to keep out criminals.

In addition to these three forms, you also need to get at least two statutory declarations, Form 888, from Australian citizens or permanent residents who know both you and your partner and will vouch for the fact that your relationship is genuine (i.e. not a sham marriage). If you’re like me, you might not know that many Aussies very well and might have difficulty finding people who can vouch for you. You can also submit forms or even just unofficial letters from anybody who is willing to vouch for you, even your family and friends overseas, and they are obliged to at least look at it and consider it.

You and your partner will also both need to provide evidence of a continuing relationship, which includes, but isn’t limited to photos, emails, and other tokens of your relationship history, as well as individual essays detailing the history and nature of your relationship, like how you met, when you decided to make a commitment to each other, how you distribute household chores and finances, etc. Some of this can feel a bit invasive and it is, but I guess you just have to get over that if you want to apply for a partner visa. Here is a good article that talks about the sorts of things you need to include to prove your relationship is genuine.

The other night, H was finishing his essay up, which he had been working hard on for several days. Since I finished mine in one evening, I couldn’t imagine what was taking him so long. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: So how’s it coming? What part are you up to?
H: I’m uh… it’s fine. I’m just revising the part about when we fell in love.
Me: Can I read it at some point?
H: No. It’s private.
Me: So you’re going to show it to the lawyer and hundreds of government officials? But not your wife?
H: That’s right.

I still haven’t seen it and I wonder what he is saying about me!

You’ll also need to get a health check. In Australia, I think it costs about $300 unless they ask you to get tested for a bunch of extra stuff. Mainly they just want to be sure you don’t have tuberculosis or HIV or are in general any kind of threat to public health or a burden on the healthcare system. I don’t really understand that myself. If they’ll let people come in on a visitor visa without a health check, then what’s the big deal about making sure they’re free of diseases later? I mean, for all they know, I could be spreading SARS around left and right and no one has ever bothered yet to see if I’m healthy or not. A friend of H’s, who immigrated many years ago back in the 70s when she was 16, said that when her family came over from Britain, not only did they have to have a physical health check, but also a mental health check and all of her family had to undergo psychiatric evaluations. So far, no one has told me I need to get a psych eval, so I don’t think they do it anymore.

And of course, you have to get your police checks. You have to get them from every country you’ve lived in for 12 months or more. Now pay attention because this part is important: DON’T PROCRASTINATE. If you’re an American, you’ll need to get a police check from the FBI and your home state. A lot of times, the state police won’t even know what the heck you’re asking about. The FBI knows how it’s done, but their turnaround time is a good four weeks. Additionally, you need to submit your fingerprints to them on their special fingerprint form. Here in Melbourne, there is only one central police station that does fingerprinting and you have to make an appointment. The earliest appointment I could get is for two months from now. They are ALWAYS booked up 2-3 months in advance. So don’t leave it until the last minute. In fact, make it one of the first things you do.

Plus, don’t forget to have certified copies made of all your essential documents, like birth and marriage certificates, etc. You also have to four passport sized photos, which you can get taken for a small fee just about anywhere.

Now, I’m told that you can submit an incomplete application if you are stuck waiting on some documents (like in my case, the results of the police checks) and then you can get your bridging visa while you wait on them to process your application. I haven’t personally tested this yet to see if it is true or not, though, so I’ll have to get back to you on the particulars of that.

And now for the hundred thousand dollar question… literally. How much does all this cost? Well, it costs a lot, so you better start saving your pennies. If you lodge outside of Australia, you’re looking at $2060. If you lodge in Australia, it’s $3060. (That’s for a partner visa, not a fiance visa.) Your processing time is likely going to be slightly quicker lodging from within Australia than without (though I’m told six to eight months is typical regardless) and in many cases, you might even be required to lodge an offshore application. It really depends on your circumstances. And if you use a migration agent (a.k.a. a lawyer), expect your costs to at least double, if not triple.

Some people have such simple, straightforward applications that using a migration agent isn’t really necessary, so I’m by no means advocating that you need to have one. We decided to use one because I have a few oddities in my background and circumstances and we decided we’d rather play it safe than risk making any mistakes on the application, but I do know of plenty of people who lodged their partner applications without any help and had no trouble at all.

For Part 2, click here.

For Part 3, click here.

For Part 4, click here.

*Disclaimer: None of this is legal advice. If you have questions about your own visa application, you really should talk to a licensed migration expert. I’m not an expert. This post pertains solely to my experiences and circumstances- yours will probably be different.*

Relinquishing Citizenship

30 Apr

I’ve seen quite a few articles popping up lately about Americans overseas relinquishing their US citizenship, usually for tax reasons.

In America, the tax code is complicated enough even when you don’t have any special circumstances to consider. For Americans living and working abroad, I’m told it can be absolutely hellish to try to keep up with all the ever-changing tax rules and that heavy penalties apply if you get it wrong.

And there are not a lot of accountants who specialise in foreign tax law, either. Mine told me this year that if I start earning foreign income, I will have to find another accountant because his firm isn’t equipped to deal with that sort of scenario.

I do know that you have to report all your foreign income, though you don’t necessarily have to pay an income tax on it below a certain threshold. You also have to report all your foreign assets, for example, a home owned jointly with your spouse or any bank accounts on which you have signatory power, even if the income in it is entirely your spouse’s and you haven’t earned a single cent that went into it.

It’s very intrusive, especially having to report the income of your non-citizen spouse who really oughtn’t have to disclose any of their assets to a foreign government.

I can see why some people would consider giving up their citizenship, especially if they have a second citizenship and never plan to return to live in the US.

Although, I’ve also heard people talk about an exit tax, where the government claims something like 50% of your US assets. I don’t know if that applies to everybody or just people who are rich enough, but either way, the whole business stinks. But I guess America needs money so the government can afford to continue its warmongering and the like.

I’ve also heard that you have to continue filing tax returns for ten years after giving up your citizenship.

I read an article today that a friend shared with me about people being bullied and intimidated when they go to relinquish their citizenship and about someone who was denied his request to give up his citizenship (the article doesn’t state the reason for that).

There is so much information out there, a lot of it vague or ambiguous, that it makes it hard to know what the real situation is as far as tax requirements and giving up one’s citizenship, but I’ve yet to hear anyone speak positively of it.

So far, my plan is to be a stay-at-home mother, so I’m hoping to avoid a lot of the hassle by not working. I don’t especially want to give up my citizenship because I like having options and I feel like it is important to have a choice of countries to live in. You never know what the economic or political future of any one place might turn out to be and I want to be able to leave a place for greener pastures if need be.

I also like that our children will have access to multiple citizenships, so I plan to keep my citizenship at least long enough for my future children to have access to it if they want it.

But if it becomes too much of a pain in the butt, then after we are done having kids, I might just say to hell with it all and give up my US citizenship.

Do any of you other expats have any thoughts on this issue? Would you consider giving up your citizenship (for any reason) or have you already done so?


Expat or immigrant?

9 Mar

What is the difference between an expat and an immigrant?

I guess to some extent, there may not be a difference. I’ve heard two common definitions. One is that an expat is someone who one day plans to return to their home country, while an immigrant intends to stay in their new country permanently. The second is that expat is the term used for middle- to upper-class white people who are enriching themselves with other cultures whiles immigrants are poor people from third world countries looking for a better life.

I think the first definition is fair enough, though a lot of people who call themselves expats don’t intend to return home, or at least don’t have any plans to do so. If that’s the case, then I would be an immigrant, not an expat, and so would a lot of other people who call themselves expats.

Due to a recent turn of events here, I think it is extremely unlikely that we would be able to live in America at time in the foreseeable future and it’s possible we may not ever want to, depending how things go. I’m applying for a permanent residency visa, which rather indicates I intend to put down roots here.

The second definition is one that I find a bit insulting and I don’t really like it. It implies that expats thinks of themselves as superior and just out for a good time while “real immigrants” have it tough.

Anyone who moves to a new country has it tough. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what your background is. There is almost always the challenge of learning a new language and culture. You often go to a new place with nothing. That wealthier people from developed countries have the means to get on their feet quicker doesn’t negate that. And poor immigrants often receive a significant amount of help not available to people from wealthy countries. You leave behind your friends and family and everything you know and there are a lot of challenges.

I also dislike making a distinction between immigrants and expats on the basis of a desire and willingness to enrich and immerse oneself in the local culture. That is not snobbery, which the second definition somewhat disdainfully implies. It’s called integration and it’s what one should do when moving to a new place. You learn the culture and you participate in the culture. Integrating is something all newcomers to a country should strive for, regardless of their background. It is not exclusive to a certain class of people from certain countries, or shouldn’t be.

Expats or immigrants? Hard to tell. They look poor, but they also seem to be on one hell of an adventure.

Nor do I care for the implication that expats are just having some sort of grand adventure, out for a good time.. Nobody makes an international move just a for “good time”. That’s what vacations are for. Or study abroad, if you’re a student. Everybody who makes a major move does so looking for a better life. Some people will immigrate from a poor country to a wealthier one because they want to raise their standard of living, but that is not the only acceptable marker of a “better life”. Many expats/immigrants from developed countries move for jobs or for love or for family and these are all things essential to being happy and having a good quality life. One doesn’t need to be escaping from war-torn impoverished country to seek a better life.

So I think the better definition is that expat is simply someone who eventually intends to return to their home country, whose stay in another country is only temporary, even if long-term, regardless of whether or not they integrate into the local community and put down roots there, where an immigrant is some who plans to stay permanently. I think the other definition uses the word expat in a somewhat derogatory way and also implicitly removes the expectation that immigrants from poor countries should integrate into their new host country, which I don’t agree with.

Thus, I will officially be an immigrant once my permanent residency visa is approved. Until then, I guess I am an expat, since Australia could theoretically kick me out at any time that pleases them.