Irishwoman in Sydney: ‘The 457 visa changed my life’
Australian PM wants this visa gone, but for many, those three numbers mean so much
Last week, Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the 457 visa will be scrapped and along with it, the dreams of prospective fellow emigrants around the globe. As the news broke online, I for one, was gutted.
It is five years since I packed my belongings, hugged my mum and dad goodbye and boarded a plane to Sydney, terrified and excited. At 28, I was flying solo to the other side of the planet to seek my future. The financial crisis was the reason many left, but it wasn’t mine. I had a good job, great friends and a loving family in Ireland. But I dreamed about Australia. Like many other Irish, I’d grown up with my eyes on Ramsey Street or Summer Bay on television, and coupled with stories from my uncle of his time spent in Sydney, I had always wondered about life in the sunburnt country.
I arrived in the thick of summer. Stepping out of the airport, the reality of my decision hit me in the face as quick as the searing heat. I knew this would be the place for me.
Like most Irish, I arrived on a working holiday visa but I didn’t have the money or intention to go backpacking. I wanted a career in the media in Sydney, and was all too aware of how competitive and difficult the industry was from my experience back home. So I threw myself at the job hunt, in the hopes of securing a foothold. Much to my surprise, I landed my dream job at a TV station. There were quite a few other immigrants employed there too, due to a skills shortage in media at the time.
Delighted with my burgeoning Aussie life, I now had six months to lock down the coveted 457 sponsored visa from my employer.
The highly sought-after 457 visa, valid for four years, was for skilled applicants only, and involved a massive commitment from both you and your employer. You were required to have a high level of experience in your field, the appropriate degrees, and no criminal record. It was expensive too. You needed to be viewed as valuable enough for your company to spend that kind of money, time and paperwork on you. Akin to getting married at first sight, this relationship would last about 40 to 50 hours a week for the next four years.
After an excruciating wait, I got the news every immigrant like me dreams of. Along came my 457. I was ready to make the commitment to Australia, and now it seemed that Australia, after a short romance, was ready to make take that step with me too. I was ecstatic.
Securing the 457 is one thing, and a great cause for celebration, but maintaining it is another. This can be difficult as any slip in your performance or a structural change within your company, and you are first out the door and on your way home. Far too many of my friends found this out the hard way.
The 457 allowed me four years to build a life in this beautiful country. That’s four years of soaking up Aussie culture, the sense of humour, the “give it a go” positivity, the appreciation for avocado…. It’s made me who I am today. I had wonderful adventures and made lifelong friendships, and met my fiancé, a fellow 457 visa holder from England.
During those years, I paid taxes, health and car insurance, and spent my money exploring Australia and contributing to the economy in other ways. I put my skills to good use for Greenpeace Australia, WWF and other national charities working to save the Great Barrier Reef, stop fracking and bring the Cash for Containers recycling scheme to New South Wales. I wanted to pay back to a country that had given me so much.
The opportunities that have come my way thanks to those three little numbers on the visa, are unparalleled. My friends and fellow immigrants here I’m sure would agree, that if it wasn’t for this specific visa, we wouldn’t have been able to make a home for ourselves here and become active participants in the community. We wouldn’t have met our husbands and wives, whether locals or foreigners.
After four years on the 457, I transitioned to permanent residency and am now a proud Aussie citizen. It was another expensive process, but worth every penny as now my fiancé and I truly consider Australia our home.
Turnbull announced last week that he is planning to replace the 457 with a new Temporary Skills Shortage Visa, but with 200 eligible occupations removed from the list - including television reporters - I’m lucky I applied and got one when I did. I probably wouldn’t make the new cut. Yet with figures showing that 457 holders make up less than 1 per cent of employees, I’m finding it hard to understand the decision.
It’s heartbreaking to think that thousands of skilled and eager migrants from Ireland and elsewhere won’t be afforded the same chance at making a home here that I was. The 457 visa changed my life.