Six months ago, I moved to Sydney from the UK on a Working Holiday visa. It’s a relatively cheap and easy visa (mine cost £210 ($453.71) and only took two days to process) for 18- to 30-year-olds, and allows you to stay in the country for up to a year and work for any employer for up to six months.
My plan was to arrive in Sydney and apply for journalism jobs with temporary contracts of six months, or fewer, and work in two or three of these throughout the year. As is often the way with the more significant journeys we take in life, things have not quite gone to plan. Many of my job applications were thrown straight in the bin by systems that detected my Working Holiday visa status, while others were met with interest, but potential employers I spoke to were unwilling to take the risk with a Working Holidayer.
“As is often the way with the more significant journeys we take in life, things have not quite gone to plan”
As it is, I have been able to work as a freelance writer for several great organisations. The first is a company called Honcho which specialises in helping people start their own businesses. They employed me as a writer for their new blog and I have researched, interviewed and written about some incredibly inspiring business owners and entrepreneurs all over Sydney. I have also written articles for Sinfini Music Australia and an events website called The Plus Ones, who made me their Music Specialist soon after I started writing for them.
“People will say, ‘It just takes time. Keep trying.’ I am on a 12 month visa: I don’t have time”
But I am six months into my trip now and freelancing is becoming a strain. I have applied to over fifty jobs and attended several interviews with no luck. People will say, “It just takes time. Keep trying.” I am on a 12 month visa: I don’t have time. And I will have soon been writing for Honcho for six months, the maximum time allowed according to my visa, so I am right back to square one. It feels like all the hard work I have put into job applications, industry networking, repeated pitches to publications in Australia and back in the UK – not to mention endless chase-up emails and calls – have been for nothing. This is my Australian quarter-life crisis.
“This is my Australian quarter-life crisis”
It is proving tough to overcome, but I am back at the drawing board and determined to make my trip mean more than constant unanswered emails and career no-through-roads (it does already – this is me being despondent). I have decided to succumb to my visa; to do the backpacker thing; to apply for picking, packing, farming and cultivation work in the countryside. Aussies don’t want to live in the country and Aussies don’t want to pick fruit. So rural industries rely on Working Holiday visas and, in turn, Working Holiday visa holders seem to rely on rural industries. I am going to give it a shot working in rural New South Wales (besides, I can write from anywhere!), so watch this space. In the meantime, here are seven things I have learnt visiting Australia on a Working Holiday visa.
1. It will be one of the easiest visas you ever apply for
I applied for my Working Holiday visa (Subclass 417) online through the Australian Government’s immigration website, immi.gov.au. It took me a couple of sessions to read everything through and complete the steps, but it was simple. I pressed send on 15 November 2014 and was sent a Visa Grant Notification by email two days later. That was it! As long as I travelled to Australia within a year of 15 November 2014 and didn’t stay in the country for more than 12 months, the visa was valid. I didn’t even need a stamp or paper form, it’s all electronically recorded.
2. It will seem too easy
Surely applying for a visa to live on the other side of the world for a whole year can’t be a matter of just filling in some boxes online and waiting a couple of days? It is. When I applied for my Working Holiday visa, I wasn’t even asked to supply any of the supporting evidence the visa sometimes requires, like a certified copy of my passport or birth certificate.
3. You will be able to live, work and holiday in Australia at ease
Apart from making it difficult to apply for real jobs and advance your career, living in Australia with a Working Holiday visa is much like living in Australia as an Australian citizen. I have a Tax File Number (TFN), which all Aussies have to identify them for tax purposes (like the National Insurance Number in the UK), an Australian Business Number (ABN), so I can work as a freelancer or ‘sole trader’ (effectively operating as a small business), a bank account and a phone, etc. For a long time I was worried about the cost of healthcare should I have an accident (I miss the NHS!) but I recently discovered that Working Holiday visa holders can apply for a Medicare card, which is the Australian Government’s scheme for claiming deductions on healthcare. You can even come and go from the country as much as you like within the visa’s 12 month life span. It’s great for travellers looking to explore the southern Pacific region.
4. It probably won’t be business as usual for you (unless you work in hospitality or farming)
Even though the Working Holiday visa is pretty free and easy, it isn’t without its limitations. As I have already said, a plan to advance your blue chip career may prove fruitless. You may be lucky and find a temporary contract in a job you love before your time runs out, but it is rare. If you do want a career in Australia, sponsorship or a Temporary Work (Skilled) visa is probably more suitable. The Working Holiday visa is nicely geared to casual and temporary positions in the hospitality industry and to rural work, so it’s a good idea to set your sights on these kind of jobs from the outset.
5. Freelancing is your friend (or frenemy?)
While it has been hard to find reliable contract journalism work, I have been lucky to find some great freelance work that pays well and allows me to live in a lovely house near Newtown. To freelance, you simply need to register yourself as a sole trader on the Australian Business Register and invoice businesses with your unique Australian Business Number (ABN). Be careful though – the six month rule still applies. Even though you are technically working for yourself, in offering a service to a business for six months you are still working for that business (I got this information directly from the Australian immigration department). The main drawback to freelancing is that pitches are often ignored (even by publications that invite you to pitch!) and it takes a lot of work to chase invoices. Having contacts is essential, and being in a brand new country makes it a real hefty challenge, but a rewarding one that pays off if you’re willing to put the work in.
6. You will find yourself turning to industries you have never thought of and passions that you forgot you had
I have only been in Australia for six months and I feel like I have tried it all. I have applied for all kinds of jobs, from digital journalism roles to ticket-selling work, social media roles and PR vacancies. As well as writing for Honcho on a regular basis, I have done admin at an accounting firm, I teach the flute from home every weekend and I have even spent a day trying out as a stable hand at a racing stable. And if you told me this time last year that I would be in Australia calling/texting/messaging/emailing every single farm job in rural New South Wales to try and get work I wouldn’t have believed you.
7. You will find yourself wanting to do it again in spite of yourself because Australia is so beautiful
Once you have visited Australia on a Working Holiday visa, you can apply for a Second Working Holiday visa. It’s exactly the same as the first: you have to be between the ages of 18 and 30 when you apply, it allows you to stay in Australia for up to 12 months and you can work for any one employer for up to six months. It’s not as easy as just applying though. To be eligible, you have to work in a specific industry within a regional postcode for a minimum of 88 days. You basically have to be labourer in the countryside: the specified industries include animal and plant cultivation, tree farming and felling, fishing and pearling, and mining and construction. I came to Australia on what is essentially a backpacker’s visa but never planned to be a backpacker. However, the Second Working Holiday visa has become increasingly tempting for several reasons. As well as being an opportunity to see a new part of Australia and meet new people, it’s a way of earning money I won’t spend and giving myself a couple of extra months in Australia while my girlfriend sees out her contract working for the Government. Fruit picking, organic farming and sheep-stamping applications, here I come! Wish me luck…
All words and photos: Rosie Pentreath