JOHANNESBURG — More South Africans than ever before are trying to get Australian visas, according to Sable International’s Sam Hopwood. A poor South African economy, as well as political uncertainty, are sparking a mass exodus among many skilled Saffers looking to ply their trade elsewhere. Australia is an attractive option owing to its similar climate and lifestyle. But if you’re seriously considering the big move, there are a few things to know before you go. In this interview, Hopwood explains the ins and outs of obtaining two particular Australian visas. – Gareth van Zyl
It’s a pleasure to welcome Sam Hopwood, who is the Managing Director of Sable International’s Australian office. Now, Sam, we’re going to be talking about Australian Business Innovation and Skilled Independent visas. But before we do that, what has the demand been like from South Africans looking to obtain these visas in Australia?
I’ve been coming to South Africa for over 10 years now in the capacity of an Australian migration agent, and what I’ve seen in recent times – probably over the past two years in particular – is that the level of enquiries from South Africans looking to migrate to Australia has probably doubled. So, it’s definitely a very popular destination for South Africans to migrate to.
Are these visas easy to get?
No, not necessarily. If anything, the system is getting more complex and the visas are getting more difficult to obtain. As the demand has increased and more people are trying to migrate to Australia, so the Australian government has become more demanding in the manner in which they attest people and the criteria and skills that they’re looking for. If anything, it’s become more difficult in recent times.
Let’s dive into these visas. So, let’s start with talking about the Business Innovation visa. Can you tell our listeners and readers about what’s involved in obtaining this particular visa?
Yes, so in terms of the Business Innovation visa, they’ve split them now into divisional sub-classes. The first one and probably the most popular of those classes is 188A, and this is for people who run and own their own businesses here in South Africa. The criteria says that you must be under the age of 55, that you must be running a business that has a turnover of 500 000 Australian Dollars or the equivalent thereof in SA Rands, and that you must have net assets of at least 800 000 Australian Dollars. These can be net assets of businesses and personal wealth. Then there are other criteria that you have to meet as well. It’s a points-based system, so you need to score points in accordance with your age, and with your qualifications, your English language skills and those types of criteria.
So this is for people who still have a business in SA. Would these people be looking to migrate their businesses over to Australia? If you can just explain how that works or what the interpretation is on the Australian side?
The visa is a four-year temporary visa and it allows you to come to Australia to relocate your business. So, if your business is the type of business whereby you could relocate it and open a branch in Australia and expand the business, then you are welcome to do that. Then there are some people who are business owners with business skills who might simply wish to establish a new business, or they may wish to just buy into a business which is already established. So, the visa allows you to choose either pathway – that is, either to bring in and establish a new business or purchase into an established business; whichever compliments your skills and whatever it is that you’re looking to do in Australia.
As I said, the visa is a temporary visa for four years and then at the end of that four-year period – or sometime during that period – you’ll look to apply for a permanent Business Innovation visa. The permanent visa will require that you’ve demonstrated that you’ve opened a business, that the business is trading successfully, that you’re employing Australians, and that you’re successful overall in that business.
Does it eventually lead to citizenship?
It can do, definitely yes. The pathway to citizenship for new migrants to Australia is that you must have lived in Australia for at least four years and that you must have been a permanent resident for at least the last 12 months. You also should not have been absent from Australia for more than 12 months over the course of those four years. So, certainly, citizenship down the road is an option.
Then there’s also the Skilled Independent visa – can you tell us more about this visa and who it’s targeted at?
The Skilled Independent visa is probably the most common and traditional route of entry into Australia for most South Africans. So this is where the Australian government has assessed the labour market needs across Australia and decided on a list of skills that they’re looking to target and to attract to Australia. There are some specific criteria that you need to meet. For example, you must be under the age of 45 and you must be working in an occupation which is in demand. You must have the relevant skills, qualifications and experience.
For instance, a lot of the engineering qualifications and occupations are on the list, for the likes of civil engineers and mechanical engineers. Accountants are also on the list. Secondary school teachers are on the list. There are a lot of medical professionals who are on the list. So, it’s about trying to marry your skills and qualifications with what the Australian government have decided we are lacking within our labour market.
Obviously, we are living in an age where, globally, nationalist fervour has started to increase. How welcoming are Australians to South Africans coming in on either of these two visas?
We’re a country of migrants, so in the greater scheme of things, we’re still quite a young country with at least 40% of Australians who are actually born overseas. This gives you an idea of how many migrants come to Australia and establish themselves in Australia. Overall, I think the Australians are very welcoming of new migrants. South Africans especially seem to settle quite well in Australia because our cultures and our lifestyles – and our weather and what we do – is similar across the two countries. SA citizens do well fitting in and adjusting to Australian culture when they arrive.
Now, there’s this concept of using what’s called a MARA-registered agent in terms of getting these visas. What do these agents do and why is it important to use them, especially if you’re interested in taking this next step?
To provide migration services or advice in Australia, one needs to be registered with the Migration Agents Registration Authority (MARA). For instance, I am a registered agent. So, it’s important to use a registered agent because we operate within a code of conduct. We have certain parameters that we need to ensure that our clients are safeguarded against unscrupulous practices.
Using a MARA agent gives you some confidence and some peace of mind that you’re using someone who has done the right training, they understand the legislation. Every year we are kept to a very stringent CPD schedule, which means we’re up to date as far as new legislation is concerned, and for the clients, there’s some safeguarding there again. If something does go wrong then there’s a central office that you can go to, that you can raise a complaint with if you have to, in order to ensure that you’re getting the level of service that you need. From a clients’ point of view, it just gives them peace of mind and comfort that they’ve engaged the services of a professional migration agent, who does this day in and day out, and he or she is licensed in Australia to provide immigration services and advice.
For anybody who’s interested in going through this process, you at Sable International have offices in Cape Town and Australia as well, correct?
That’s right, yes. So, I personally visit SA a few times a year and work out of our Cape Town office. Whilst I’m here, I see clients, here in the office. I’ll normally spend a few days in Johannesburg as well, where I’ll meet with clients, and then the rest of the time I’m based in Melbourne, Australia in our office down there.
The way the world is these days, a face-to-face consultation is not necessarily required. Although, when you’re engaging someone in this process, it is nice to do it face-to-face and speak directly with the person that you’re going to be dealing with. The process can take 12 months or more so, we’re with you for a long time. It’s a relationship that you need to be comfortable with.
Finally, for anybody who is listening to this or reading this and is interested in finding out more or starting the process – how can they get in touch with you?
The first thing I would encourage them to do is to go to our website, www.sableinternational.com. Have a read through the literature, which is on the website, with regard to the different types of visas which are available. And then get in contact with us through the website. Send us an email or even give us a phone call.
To begin with, what we do with our clients is that we provide a free assessment. So, we just want to assess you, give you your options, tell you what you’re eligible for and then if you wish to engage our services further then we’ll be able to quote you fees and instruct you on what your options are, going forward.
Sam Hopwood, thank you so much for chatting to me today.
Gareth, it was my pleasure, thank you.