Monday, January 24, 2005

Doing the homework

As I have already mentioned, what the relocation TV shows don’t show you is the sheer grind of getting to grips with the bureaucracy involved. Of all the tasks so far, finding a discernible path through the labyrinthine convolutions of the immigration regulations must rank as the most frustrating. In this topsy-turvy world, rules change can and do to accommodate governmental policy changes and shifts in employment demographics, often leaving the émigré back at square one. This is a world where skilled manual trades-people and key workers rule, their tertiary qualifications and experience making them valuable assets to be encouraged and assisted. Likewise, applicants in certain high-tech professions and artistic high flyers are also keenly sought. Middle of the road folk like me, who have good solid business experience but no degree, have to plough their furrow through slightly tougher ground.

The main obstacle to migrating to any desirable destination is gaining enough points to submit an Expression Of Interest to an immigration authority’s pool. From this pool, a selection are chosen for qualification to apply for a work permit and/or permanent residence. Like their US and Canadian counterparts, the New Zealand Immigration Service is fairly strict and selective about whom they wish to welcome – too much say some, who point to the recently tightened language requirements as proof of bias. Those with family ties can apply through the Family Stream, others with significant assets can apply in the Investor Category but many seek to make the move as a Skilled Migrant, gaining entry with provable skills and experience that are in short supply in key areas. However, establishing whether one falls into any of the numerous Skilled Migrant categories requires one to navigate through a complex net of web pages and regulations. The Standard Classification of Occupations, Occupational Registration, Registration Authorities, Immediate Skill Shortage List, Long Term Skill Shortage List, Panel Doctors and the all-important Points Indicator and Expression Of Interest are just some of the documents the potential émigré must become familiar with.

Last year, after repeated calculations and rechecking of facts, we were pretty much convinced that we didn’t have enough points to qualify for the Expression Of Interest, let alone residency and came close to giving up on the idea. It was in this frame of mind that we visited a New Zealand expo in London with the intention of simply confirming that we didn’t have a chance of qualifying. My memory of that day is hazy but I recall that it seemed like a never-ending parade of glossy stands and scripted pitches. Many stands were aimed squarely at attracting the doctors, teachers, scientists and accountants most regions needed to maintain the social infrastructure. Another handful promoted particular regional development areas, drawing the crowds with enticing promotion videos and it’s-oh-so-easy seminars.

Mixed in amongst these were the battle-hardened recruitment agencies, some specialising in particular professions or business areas, others casting a broad net to find candidates for specific positions. One such recruiter took a keen interest in me and asked a great number of questions, jotting down my details and answers. Another gave me a card with a generic email and said to send my details for consideration. A third said he couldn’t help but gave me a name of a colleague in Auckland who might be interested. By the end of the day, I had handed out scores of CVs, completed many application forms and smiled at everyone I’d talked to. Tired, hungry and drained, we left the function and dragged ourselves into a TexMex restaurant nearby. Over chicken wings, fajitas and beers, we tried to make sense of the day and work out what, if anything, we had achieved – we were none the wiser we we headed home to pick up the kids. However, and to cut a long story short, from these inauspicious introductions I have now made good contacts with some leading recruiters in the major cities. With these good folks, I have been through telephone interviews to establish suitability, discussed career history to provide candidate credibility and kept regular contact to keep interest high and options open. In return, they have provided honest feedback, helpful advice and, in one case where recruiter is a recent migrant themselves, photos of their own emigration.

The general consensus is good; each is confident that they can place me in a middle management role in New Zealand. With operations management experience, documented successes in productivity improvements, not to mention training qualifications & experience, I apparently stand a good chance against local candidates. Furthermore, having experience of working in the US market as well as the European markets is apparently also in my favour. However, best of all, the recruiters have been able to allay some of my concerns over qualifying for permits and residency. It would seem that the most likely route to achieving our aims would be for me to secure a sponsored position with a large employer, enabling me to work initially under a shorter term work permit, with a view to applying for permanent residency for me and the family at a later date.

With Christmas out of the way and the southern hemisphere holiday season winding down, these recruiters fully expect to be able to generate some interest in the coming weeks and months. So the ball is now in my court, for it is highly unlikely that I’ll generate any interest, let alone secure a position, unless I show commitment and interest myself. Which is why, in exactly 28 days, I shall be enjoying a Sunday lunch with my family before heading off to Heathrow to catch that Emirates 747.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Lure Of The Land Of The Long White Cloud

Land_Of_The_Long_White_Cloud © KATHLEEN SHEPHERD Gerymouth Camera Club

In four week’s time, all being well, I’ll step blinking from the air-conditioned cocoon of an Emirates 747 into the warm afternoon sunlight of Auckland. Ahead of me will lie a three week road trip across New Zealand, from Auckland in the north to Dunedin in the south – a trip in search of future opportunities for myself and my family. Eighteen months ago, after years of idle wondering and speculative talk, we decided that we would take a serious look at the possibility of quitting England to build a new life elsewhere. Though a variety of destinations including Australia and Canada have been considered over time, New Zealand remains the favoured destination.

Some of the motivations behind this decision are complex, individual and will not be explored here but, in general, I suspect that our reasons are not so very different from many would-be émigrés. Despite it being our lifelong home, we have become increasingly disillusioned with life in the UK and the grind of living in Central London. Property and property prices are one key factor. Over nine years, we have transformed a near-derelict council flat into a warm comfortable (if small) family home. Somewhere along the way and in an effort to recoup the considerable sums we had spent to make the place first habitable and then comfortable, we waived our political consciences and bought the flat. The local housing market is fairly buoyant thanks to the proximity of Canary Wharf. However, this and the fact that a new 21 storey luxury development 500m to the south will rob a fair amount of our south-facing daylight means that we are caught between Scylla and Charybdis – too cramped to stay but too expensive to go. In order to afford a decent-sized family home, we would need to move to move to areas that, whilst they might desirable or suitable, do not have the requisite employment opportunities to fund a family of six. No matter how hard we work, it would seem that we can't build and maintain the kind family life we want here unless or even if both of us hold down full time jobs. And therein lies the rub. Dedicating every waking hour away from the kids working is self-defeating if the purpose of the exercise is to spend more time with them and provide them with an improved quality of life and better opportunities.

Phrases like ‘improved quality of life’ and ‘better opportunities’ are all well and good but what do they really mean in our case? Our hopes for our family’s future are not grand, expensive or fanciful, rather they tend to be simple ones defined by values we hold to be worthwhile. Our overarching desire is to provide our children with a safer, happier, more secure daily life than we can offer them living in a small flat in London’s East End. In real terms, this means that we are looking to raise them in a community that is less threatening and where they can be lead more independent lives; to live in a cleaner, more cared-for local environment that has more offer in the way of pastimes and pursuits; to explore and enjoy the outstanding natural beauty that a country like New Zealand has to offer and to experience life from a new perspective that will challenge as well as confirm our values and beliefs. Beyond these fundamentals, there are less tangible elements that cannot be denied as contributing factors: the expectancy and thrill of undertaking a leap into the unknown, the making of a deliberate move from the familiar and a change in circumstance that many would shy away from or simply not entertain.

Over the months, we have talked through the myriads aspects of emigration, first as a couple late at night when the kids were in bed and later, as a family, across the dinner table or in the car. During these conversations and after, we have given much consideration to exactly how such a move would affect each of us, balancing pros against cons, benefits over drawbacks and assessing the impact on our lives and those of our extended families. I believe that we have approached this task from a different angle than most do, in that we looked into the more difficult emotional issues before moving even considering the more practical aspects of moving half way round the world. The logistics of packing up a home and transporting it some 13,000 miles is nothing when compared to discussing the impact of such things on the 80 year old grandparents of our children. As for the more mundane tasks, it is strange but no sooner had we made the decision than a rash of ‘reality’ shows about families relocating suddenly appeared on British TV. There is no denying that these shows have a great entertainment value, such the woman who moved to Oz only to remark ‘It’s too hot here…and the money’s all funny’, but they are more akin to holiday shows, tending towards the rosier post-relocation aspects of emigration rather than the whole process. In my experience, they could never prepare one for the sheer amount of research and information gathering that is required when one doesn’t have TV researchers and professional relocation specialists on hand. But that’s another post.

For those wondering about No.8 wire, a brief explanation can be found on New Zealand Tourism Online’s Kiwiana page.