✍🏻 Obtaining an Australian 457 skilled worker visa. 📑 Aka road to bureaucracy hell. 🔥

After finishing my interview with Canva, which itself took about four weeks and was quite exhausting because it required performing nicely in a 2-hour live coding test from about midnight to 2am, I thought the hardest part was done and all they would need now is my passport number and a police check and I’m ready to fly Down Under. But I soon realized that the whole visa application process is quite a nightmare.

Obtaining a 457 visa was a ton of paperwork and breaks down to the following requirements:

Résumé/CV

Nothing fancy, but I had to provide a list of my employment and education history. I actually never had a proper CV because I never needed one, so it was time to prepare it.

Evidence of skills

I needed to provide proof of my skills. Given that I am self-taught and don’t have anything like a Ph.D., I had to prove five years of professional experience in the field. “Well, I’m self-employed for 5 years, easy”, I thought. In such a case though, I had to get reference letters from clients that I worked for. Luckily I had some long-term-clients, but I guess if I had jumped from one project to another with a new client each time it can take quite long and be really annoying to obtain all the needed references.

Health insurance

In order to obtain a work visa, I needed to apply for private health insurance in Australia beforehand. I guess the process would normally be really smooth, you just pick one of the 38 insurance companies out there, fill out the application, provide your credit card number and you’re done. But when filling out my application I made a horrible mistake and ticked a box about a pre-existing health-condition: “Have you taken any medication, other than the contraceptive pill or for cold or flu in the last 5 years?”. Yes, I did. I had to take antibiotics last year in Vietnam because I had an infected wound.

That was pretty stupid of me because later I received an overwhelming pile of paperwork about my health condition, which needed to be filled out by a doctor and apparently something like taking antibiotics for a small wound was not reason enough to tick the box I was told. The doctor that was examining me was just striking through every question. Annoying, time-consuming and costly mistake. Well, next time I know.

English requirement

I definitely didn’t think this was a thing, especially given that I was sponsored by a company which assessed my skills and thought I was a good fit for them. However, applying for an Australian work visa requires meeting a certain level of English, which is determined by taking an approved test.

Exemptions

Taking an English test is not needed if one of the following applies:

  1. You hold one of these passports:
    • the United Kingdom
    • the United States of America
    • Canada
    • New Zealand
    • The Republic of Ireland
  2. You have completed at least five years total (not consecutive) of full-time study in a secondary and/or higher education institution where all instruction was delivered in English (confirmation of the educational institution(s) required).

I won’t go into the awesome logic of the first option for people who might have one of those passports but – in an admittedly rare case – suck at English. As a side note: I myself hold an Italian passport but probably couldn’t currently pass an Italian test because my language skills got so bad after moving to Austria and not needing the language anymore on a day to day basis.

But anyway, that’s the rules, I don’t make them…

Available tests

The following tests are accepted, each of them with its own advantages and disadvantages:

  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS test)
  • Occupational English Test (OET)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based test (TOEFL iBT)
  • Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE)
  • Cambridge English: Advanced test (CAE)

IELTS test

Friends advised me to go with IELTS, so I booked one of their tests. The problem was, that when I looked into possible dates in mid-February the earliest appointment I could have gotten in Innsbruck (where I live) was around mid-April and I didn’t want to wait that long. That’s why I booked a test in Munich, which had tests running weekly, although it meant getting up at around 4.30am to be at the test center on time.

The test is split into two parts and costs 220€. The first part is around 2.5 hours and assesses listening, reading and writing skills. The second part is later the same day and checks your speaking abilities (actually, it could be within 7 days before/after the main test, but as soon as I noticed that, I kindly asked if I could be tested the same day, otherwise I would have had to go to Munich a second time).

Oh boy, not only was it super exhausting to stay concentrated the entire time with little sleep. The whole test format felt a bit hilarious and threw me right back to a kind-of high-school feeling.

Apart from the obvious things like “no cheating” or “leaving your phone outside”, some of the funny rules during the main test included:

  • Tissues allowed, but only if they were removed from their package.
  • Drinks only allowed in a clear bottle with its label removed.
  • Making sure that all the fizz was gone from sparkling drinks.
  • No bulky clothing allowed in the hall.
  • Smaller snacks like nuts only allowed if removed from a box and clearly visible on the table.
  • No watches allowed during the test.

Highly unprepared I was sitting my test, slightly going off topic in the writing test and absolutely not able to talk 2 minutes straight in the speaking test about the topic I was given. Two weeks later though, I finally got my test results and luckily they were more than sufficient for the visa application.

Police checks

The Australian government requires a penal clearance certificate from all countries where I spent a consecutive time of 12 months in the past 10 years.

In my specific case that was Italy and Austria. However, if you move a bit faster it could easily mean 5+ countries that you need to get police checks for.

Annoying enough though, I went to a police station in Austria to retrieve my first check. While filling out the form I noticed that there was an option to have them get an additional check from my country of origin. “Awesome, I won’t need to get an additional check from Italy”, I thought, only to find out 10 minutes later that apparently – for whatever reason – they’re not eligible to request checks from Italy. Whatever, at least the process in Austria is super quick: Walk in. Fill out form. Pay fee. Get certificate.

Next up was getting the police checks from Italy. The process is a bit different there than in Austria, more bureaucratic and time-consuming. You first send in your request (optionally with a notice of urgency) and then you can collect the certificate a few days later. Anyways, when I told them that I needed the check for an Australian work visa after collecting the certificate, the lady at the desk told me that she was just on the phone for 15 minutes with someone going through the same thing and having troubles with the visa application because apparently the police checks needed to be translated into English.

Actually logic, but I didn’t think about it when getting the checks. I was about to freak out, but given that I worked through my visa application with migration agents provided by Canva I thought I’d ask them about the situation real quick before doing anything. They confirmed that any documents that are not in English must be translated by a NAATI accredited translator (whatever that is), but luckily they would organize the translations on my behalf.

Next steps

Everything I described here was actually just the tip of the iceberg and I’m not sure I would have been able to find my way through this bureaucracy hell without a helpful migration agent.

However, it looks like this was not quite the end of the madness. At the time of writing the 457 skilled worker visa just got replaced by a new 482 temporary skill shortage visa in March 2018, including some new regulations. For example, it requires a work sponsor to have advertised for the position in the local Australian market in a specific manner for at least 21 consecutive days, which means I’ll probably have to wait an additional 3 weeks until my application can be lodged.

Fingers crossed! 🤞🏻

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