Sunday, 28 August 2011

Visa application: Private or Agent

Many people looked at us as if we are crazy when we mentioned to them that we applied for our visa application via an agent. (We have a 176 NSW State Sponsored Skilled Visa)
I know it costs a lot of money, but I would like to share with you the reason we made use of an immigration agent.
At the 1st meeting we had with our agent, he asked us if our decision to move to Australia an INSURANCE or URGENT decision is. The answer to that question will determine many aspects of a visa application. The type of visa you may qualify for, the purpose and the urgency all plays a vital role. Different visa’s has different timelines to them.  Some applications may take 5 – 10 years to process and others may take as little as 2 or 3 months.
I am in no position to tell you to make use of an agent or not to, but I would like to share with you the reasons we made use of one:
·         Our time was limited.  See, Sarel was already 42 at the time we decided to apply.  We stood the best chance to get our visa with his skills.  In most cases, one can only apply for a Permanent Residency visa if you are under 45 years.  We did not want to take a chance with our own knowledge about the process and end up losing one or two years.  We wanted to get it right as quick as possible.  Hence, using someone who has all the knowledge.
·         We were not sure if all the detail of the application process and noticed that it changes all the time. We were afraid that we may use an outdated form or requirement and end up losing valuable time.  We trusted the agent to have the latest information.  Also being a Director of a busy company, Sarel and I did not have as much time to do all the research.  We prefer to spend our time wisely with regards to business of family and putting our faith in an agent allowed us to only do the research as required by the agent.
·         We have a complex family setup and wanted to make sure that all kids were correctly included in the application process.
      If you work against time, like having a deadline such as applicant age, kids who are turning a certain age or if you want the kids to be in their new school by a certain time, I would suggest you consider making use of an agent.  It may save you some valuable time.   

There is nothing wrong with completing the application process on your own, without help. There are many who have successfully done this before.  But when you decide to do it yourself, make sure you leave enough time for errors which may come in due to changed laws or processes, which you may not be aware of.
Our agent mentioned to us that once the application has been lodged, the ‘agent application’ has no advantage or go to a separate case officer.  They all end up in the same ‘box’ and are allocated from there to the different case officers.  The only advantage you may have as an “agent application” is that yours may be more correct. 
I know there are also many people who lost a lot of money due to corrupt or unethical agents.  Here is my advice on choosing a reliable agent, if you want to make use of one:
1.    Make sure that you have a reference of the agent. Somebody you can talk to about the service.  Even better if you know this reference of if it is a friend or family member.
2.    I would be very sceptical about giving thousands of Rand / Dollars to an agent for an initial meeting.  There should be no strings attached to such a meeting and it should not be much more than a normal consultation with a lawyer.  You need to get a feel about the agent and must be able to get necessary information without breaking the bank.
3.    An Agent who works in Australia MUST be registered with The Migration Agents Registration Authority. (www.themara.com.au). A reliable agent will have a MARA number. This number can be reference checked.  These agents also need to comply with a code of conduct and if they are found to be in contravention of this Code, they may not practice any further.  Many South Africans (as well as expats) operate from Australia under this MARA number.  They are also being kept up to date with the legislative and procedural changes to the immigration process.
4.    Outside of Australia, the agents need not be registered, but many of them are registered with the professional body, The Migration Institute of Australia (www.mia.org.au). These registered agents get all the latest and updated information needed about the immigration process to Australia - directly from the immigration authorities.
5.    You have to trust and feel good about the agent.  This person is going to deal with your most intimate, sensitive en confidential information and if you do not feel comfortable with him/her, you may have a problem.
In Conclusion, I have family and friends who did the whole application process on their own, without hic-ups.  I also have friends and family who tried to do it themselves and missed important deadlines.  You need to weigh up the options, cost and deadlines for yourself.
I hope above information will be of help in your decision about agent or not.

(In case you need the name and details of the agent who did our visa application, I will send it to you.  Please just send your request via a comment, including your email address and I will get the comment directly to my email and will send you the information.  I will not post your comment.)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Strike season

The current ‘strike season’ reminds me of our experience last year.
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that we went on a holiday to Australia during the Soccer World Cup last year.  We kept up with the Soccer Friday custom and wore our yellow Bafanna Bafanna shirts every Friday.  (See photo of us at a Sydney Cupcake shop on our 1st Friday in Sydney - proudlly South African!)

The 1st Friday in Sydney, we walked to the Sydney Tower and we were greeted and cheered along the way. One special moment was when an Auzzie shook our hands and congratulated us on an Excellent World Cup.  Let me tell you, THIS is what Proudly South African means.  We were so proud of what SA achieved!
We returned to South Africa the morning after the Final and we were on a definite “high” because of our holiday and how the rest of the world perceived SA after the World Cup.
This high was short lived, because a month after the Wold Cup, “strike season” hit SA.  Last year were worse than other years, because teachers, nurses, and other government officials participated in the strikes.  Children could not go to school, sick people died in hospitals and matrics (final year scholars) did not know if they will have the opportunity to write their final exams. 
How do you live as part of a nation who does not care to educate their children or to take care of their ill or elderly? Why do all strikes have to end in violence and intimidation?
The 2011 strike season is in full swing.  We already had to suffer without petrol and deliveries. Once again, people are intimidated. Cars are destroyed, rubbished are thrown in the streets, tires are burned! Why does this happen every year? When are we going to learn that this type of behaviour is destructive to a nation?
How can we be a nation, standing together and receiving acknowledgement for an effort such as the World Cup, and days thereafter, allow the same nation to break it down again?  I just don’t understand….

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Thank God for technology

We may not be certain on when we will be moving to Australia, but this uncertainty does not stop us from doing our preparation.
Thank God for technology. While we are using our state of the art technology (mostly internet) I can not help to think of our forefathers who came to South Africa, many centuries ago, seeking a new or better life.  They did not have technology and did not know what the country looked like.  They had no photo’s to even know what type of houses they will be living in.  All they knew were the stuff which was written in letters or by word of mouth.  Must say, thinking of their courage gave me new found respect for these brave men and woman.
Luckily we live in the 21st century and we have the comfort of the internet, where we can find lots of information.
There are more than enough websites telling us about the Aussie life style.  All about the latest News, laws, customs, neighbourhoods, lifestyles, etc. On a regular basis I read about food prices on Coles and Woolworths’ websites and we even look at websites of companies like IKEA to compare prices and to see what we will be able to afford there and what we should take with and leave behind in South Africa.
The house rental sites are user-friendly (same as the South African ones) and we love visiting houses in the virtual world. We have an idea of neighbourhoods in Sydney that we may be interested in and will explore these neighbourhoods later when we are in Sydney for our “entry” visit.
All the ratings of the neighbourhoods are done based on child friendly environments, proximity of shopping and recreational facilities.  NONE give a crime rating!!! Oh, so much we need to get used to.   
Thanks to Google earth, Google Maps and Street Google, we are able to see the area, the amenities and distances as if we are there – well … almost.
The kids are also very interested in learning about their new life and Megan and I read up on some schools in the areas we are interested in.  Megan chose a school and set her heart on it. Guess what she used to decide which school is the best – the uniform.  Give her credit; she is a “tween” and almost a teenager.  Until we know with more certainty where we are going, we allow her to have her moment with the school uniform. ;-)
At this stage we all drink, eat and sleep Aussie preparation.
We make lists of questions; we chat to friends and family in Australia and look at the sites for work opportunities and good schools. 
I read every expat blog I can find and read about their experiences.  Not only the practical arrangements, but the emotional side of the emigration process.  I wish I can thank each and every one personally for allowing me into their life.  We’ve learned so much from them.
In all honesty, although reading these blogs are interesting and informative, it also leaves me a bit “green”. I sooooo wish we can start our new life now.  I want to be where they are, but I need to wait. This wait is the worst of the whole process.  I really have to remember to continue to “live” in South Africa and that my life is not really on hold – although it feels like it.
In the mean time, we are doing as much as we can with regards to our preparation. I know it takes more than a few websites and blogs to be prepared, but at least it is more than what the settlers of the 1600’s and the Voortrekkers of the 1800’s had.  We are very privileged and thankful to have technology.
Our lists of places to explore are growing and our questions are piling up.  We are prepared and ready to go on our “entry” visit.  We plan to go December / January and will use this time to our best advantage.  Some other emigrants did not even set foot on Australian Soil before they emigrated.  At least we will have that advantage.