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Meet Rebecca: The Exchange Student Who Got a Company to Sponsor Her Work Visa

Frances Chan

Careers Commentator
Hear how one grad convinced a company to sponsor her work visa so she could fulfil her dream of staying in Australia!

Why you should hear Rebecca’s story

Rebecca’s story

Podcast episode


Could you tell us your background story?

Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Rebecca. I currently live in Adelaide, Australia. I am originally from Canada, from Toronto specifically. I've been over in Australia for just shy of four years. 

And I work as the head of content now with a company called Insider Guides, which is a media business based here in Adelaide. We mainly operate within the international education sector. So we create content that is largely targeted towards international students in Australia, international students who are thinking of coming over to Australia and wanna learn more about what to expect from life here and how the education system works and all of that good stuff.

And yeah, I'm responsible for overseeing all of the content that we produce and streamlining our strategic operations in terms of the content that we put out there and refining our content pillars and all of that good stuff. Yeah.

So you were originally an exchange student and then you moved back to Australia?

Yeah, so when I was doing my undergrad, I did a semester abroad at the University of Sydney for about 5-6 months. That was back in 2017.

And I just loved Australia so much that I decided to move back after I finished my undergrad back in Canada. So I moved back at the end of 2019. And yeah, I've been here ever since.

So yeah, my journey in Australia essentially started as a sort of study abroad international exchange student and has now become, working as a young professional in Australia. 

In that case, you probably didn't have the advantage of having a post-study work visa. Did you just move back to Australia and then find a job just like that?

So more or less, yeah, I don't know if I would say it was just like that necessarily. That makes it sound like I snapped my fingers and it was just there waiting for me. 

So as you said, I didn't have the advantage of doing a degree over here in Australia and then going right onto the temporary graduate, the 485 visa, which is the pathway for a lot of international students. 

I did things a little bit differently where I only did a semester here, went back to Canada, finished my degree and then I moved over on a 417 visa, which is the working holiday visa. So I did that and I came over by myself and I didn't really have too many connections that were still here. A lot of the people that I met when I was in Australia the first time around were also international students who had since gone home.

So I was starting from scratch all over again and I moved over here by myself and I didn't have a job lined up, I didn't have an apartment lined up, I didn't have any of that. I just said that I would figure it out once I got over here and that's more or less what I did.

Could you walk us through your evolving legal status in Australia? 

Sure, I can definitely do that. So yeah, it's been all over the place. So I came over on a working holiday visa.

I was on a working holiday visa for three years. So for people who maybe aren't familiar with the working holiday system in Australia, it lasts for one year and then in order to extend into a second and a third year, you need to go and do regional work, which often is farm work in Australia.

So it can be working on a farm, working with livestock, it can be fruit picking, fruit packing, they've since extended it so now it can be hospitality work and things like that, construction is another one, but you need to go and live out in regional and rural remote areas in Australia.

So I did that, I did two rounds of that kind of work to extend my visa both times. The first time I did it, I was doing strawberry picking. So I did that for three months to get my second year visa. 

And then to get my third year visa,I worked as a farmhand for a family that kind of had their own farm in remote New South Wales. So I helped them with their livestock and picking up equipment and just things like that, just being a farmhand for them. And I did that for six months and that got me my third year visa.

And in between these stints of doing remote regional work, I was also doing some freelance writing here and there, sporadically for insider guides at the time actually.

And so when the time came that I was finishing up my regional work, my six months of regional work, they connected with me and said, look, there's an opportunity to join the team full time. We've been really happy with your freelancing work that you've done for us. If you're open to it, then there is a role and we'd like to discuss it further with you.

And so I ended up coming on board full time and moving to Adelaide for that job. And I worked with them for the first little while that I was on that third working holiday visa and they ended up sponsoring me. So they brought me on to a 482 visa, the subclass 482, which is a temporary skilled shortage visa. So that is the one that I'm on currently.

And just back in February, my partner and I actually applied for PR. So we are very close to being permanent residents here in Australia. And yeah, fingers crossed that comes through in the next few weeks, couple of months, that's the hope. But yeah, we're still just waiting at this stage.

What would you say has been the trickiest part of dealing with all these visa changes?

I think for me personally, the sort of feeling that your life is constantly in this state of limbo in a way. And you never have that 100% assurance that you're going to be allowed to stay long-term, past the expiry date of your visa, whichever visa that may be.

And not having the everyday, not rights. I still have like my human rights, obviously, over here in Australia, but not being able to get a car loan out if I wanted to go and get a car or not being able to vote, not being able to just do certain things that Australian residents and citizens can do and just having those limitations on just day-to-day life and certain elements of day-to-day life, I think has been really challenging.

And also just trying to plan for the future is really hard when you don't know for sure if your future in the place that you now call home or your home away from home is going to be guaranteed.

And so my partner and I have both kind of struggled with that a bit because he's not from here either. He's actually Irish. So that's been something that we've struggled to do is to plan our future together in Australia and figure out where we want to be long-term and what we want to be doing and things like that.

Yeah, it's a bit hard when you have a visa that's expiring in six months or 12 months or whatever it may be. So I think that's probably been the trickiest thing to navigate for me personally.

How difficult is it to qualify for the temporary skilled visa and PR?

Yeah, absolutely. So it is a complex system. So for the temporary skills shortage visa, you basically, you need to be working in a job that is on the skilled occupation list. So that is a long list. I think there's over 200 jobs on it. So you need to be working in a profession that is on that list because that's basically the list of occupations that Australia is in demand of.

Like they need more professionals working in these spaces. So you need to be working in a job that's on that list and the requirements of the criteria differ between different occupations.

For example, my occupation as it's stated on the list is copywriter and the criteria and requirements are going to be different than say an accountant or a software engineer.

Kind of the specific requirements they do vary a bit job to job and they also can vary between locations as well. So depending on which state or territory you're applying for your visa within, that can play a role sometimes at least when you get to PR for certain visas, that does play a role.

So for me particularly like applying for the 482 visa, there are so many steps to follow and so much documentation that goes into it.

And I needed to do a skills assessment, which again, depending on your profession, it might be a practical assessment where someone actually comes from the government to your job and they oversee you doing your job and performing kind of daily tasks to make sure that you are qualified and equipped to perform that job and to perform it appropriately.

Whereas if you work more of a desk job or an administrative kind of job, then you have to provide a lot of documentation to prove that you have X years of experience under your belt, that you have a degree in a relevant field that allows you to work in that sector. So things like that.

So you have to do a skills assessment, you have to provide lots of proof of your work experience previously, be it here in Australia or offshore from your home country or wherever else. So yeah, that's a lengthy process.

And then when you apply for PR, it gets even more convoluted, which I guess makes sense. But PR, most of the time -- it depends which kind of visa you're going for and I'm not an expert by any means -- but to my understanding, they are all points-based here in Australia.

So to apply for these permanent residency visa streams, you basically need to be able to prove on the points system that you can score a minimum of 65 points or more. And the more points you have, the stronger your application is in theory.

And so points basically get chalked up to different things. It gets chalked up to your English language skills, your level of experience in your given industry or sector, your age is another one.

So various things get taken into consideration. And that is what calculates how many points that you get. And then you have to, again, upload all of that documentation to prove how many points you can get.

In some cases, and in my case specifically, you may need to be sponsored by a state or territory or by an employer in order to be eligible to apply for whichever visa subclass that you're going for.

So yeah, there's a lot of moving parts involved and a lot to take into consideration. And I'm not an expert by any means, but that's just at a quick glance without boring you too much what some of the factors are.

That sounds super tricky to navigate. Are there any resources that you used or any people you asked for help with your visa situation?

Yeah, so all of this information is available on the Department of Home Affairs website, which is the immigration website for Australia. But as I'm sure many of us know, things aren't always the easiest to understand on government websites.

So I definitely found that to be the case. And I was very lucky actually that I had a sit-down chat with a migration agent who are the registered experts in navigating all of these complexities of PR and visa applications and things like that.

So I did sit down with someone for about an hour just to lay everything out and get an understanding of how exactly it all works. So I did all of the application stuff myself and all of the compiling of the documentation and uploading it to the portal and all of that, that I did myself. 

But just having that preliminary chat with someone who's an expert and can give me that sort of formulaic approach of like “This is exactly what you need to do. This is what's gonna get you to where you want to go the quickest” was extremely helpful. She was super knowledgeable and I couldn't recommend doing that enough.

So yeah, that was a huge help. And then yeah, using the information and the knowledge that she gave me, I was able to just run for it and do it all myself.

But again, that is a very time consuming, tedious process and not everyone might have the time to do that, which is absolutely fair enough. And so if you have the resources and the means to recruit a migration agent's help with that every step of the way, it's absolutely something to consider for sure.

And I imagine it must have been extremely helpful because you were on 6-12 month visas.

That's absolutely a consideration. It was for me being on a temporary visa, as you point out. 

And the other thing too is that migration laws are constantly updating, the rules are constantly being updated. The skilled occupation list that I mentioned before of eligible occupations for PR and skilled visas, that's constantly being updated with new jobs and new roles that are eligible for that.

So it's really helpful to have someone who just has their finger on the pulse of what's going on in the migration sector. Because again, like if you're not in it every day, it's so hard to keep track of what's going on, what's changing, how it affects you.

And yeah, just having that peace of mind of knowing that I had someone on my side and in my corner who knew exactly what was going on was invaluable.

You mentioned while you were on those working holiday visas, you were able to pick up some freelance writing jobs. Could you share how you heard about these jobs?

Yeah, absolutely. So I actually was just, I hadn't really done any freelance writing before, but I had always enjoyed writing and my degree was in communications. And so I had done a lot of writing in my undergraduate degree.

And I just wanted to get my feet wet more in that industry. So I actually went on LinkedIn and literally just typed in freelance writing or freelance writer into the search function.

And I saw this posting from insider guides that they were looking for freelance writers and that they were a business that operated in the international education space and that they created content for international students in Australia.

And full transparency, I had not heard of them during my time here as an international student a couple of years prior, but I just thought what a great fit.

That was how my whole journey in Australia had started in the first place. I had lived experience as an international student in Australia. And so I knew firsthand some of the questions and experiences and challenges that came with that whole journey.

And so I basically just read the description and uploaded my cover letter, uploaded my resume and sent it off for consideration and ended up hearing back and the rest is history really. Yeah.

That's awesome. You always hear about people mass applying for stuff and then not hearing back but it seems like you literally sent out your resume, cover letter, and they got back. So it does work?!

It does, it absolutely works. And again, I think, I don't know for sure, but I think one of the things that probably helped me hear back was again, just tailoring that cover letter to address why I would be such a great fit for the role and why they would be crazy not to give me a chance basically, really.

And again, it was just, it was highlighting that firsthand experience of being an international student in Australia. And leveraging that and just saying, I have insights that maybe you might not have if you're a largely Australian team, like here's that gap that I can fill.

So it ended up working out and the rest is history and here we are.

Did you encounter any difficulties as an international while you were applying for jobs?

Applying for other jobs, yes. When I first arrived in Australia and I was applying for jobs, absolutely, it was a hurdle. Not only is it a hurdle because you only have 12 months on your visa and a lot of these contracts are 12 month contracts and so it's a bit picky if you can't fulfil the entire contract because your visa won't allow you to do so. 

But I think something that I have encountered and I know a lot of other people who are expats have encountered this same thing is that I think a lot of employers see you as having an expiration date because your visa has an expiration date.

And I think a lot of employers are also not very familiar with migration, with visas, with options or opportunities to extend visas or various things like that.

I think it's just such uncharted territory for so many employers and organisations. And oftentimes, fear of the unknown is very powerful and it's enough for people to just steer clear of you altogether. And unfortunately, that is sometimes quite common but it's not always the case. 

And I think if you are the right candidate and you're able to sell yourself in a way that is really compelling and you're able to do your own research into the migration system and opportunities to extend and stay longer and fill that gap that an employer or an organisation might have and really guide them and take that initiative yourself into how you can make it work collaboratively. I think there are a lot of opportunities there and there are a lot of employers that will take you on board and that will go through the process.

And again, I'm living proof of that. Insider Guides had never sponsored anyone from overseas previously, but I did the research and I walked them through what the process would entail and made my case.

And I think there's absolutely opportunities for other people to do the same. 

Do you think it's a good strategy for internationals to walk their employers through the visa process and assure them that it won't be too much trouble for them?

I think it is, absolutely. And again, that was the strategy that I utilised was taking it upon myself and I'll concede that it's maybe not necessarily the most fair thing in the world that, people who are from international backgrounds necessarily have to take on that extra burden themselves.

But I think it can be useful and I think it can be a means to an end. And I think I know it can work because that, as I mentioned, yeah, it was the exact approach that I used with Insider Guides was I was coming to a point where I had, eight-ish months left on my visa and I was saying to them like, look, it's time is gonna come where we need to have this conversation of this is something that you're willing to explore a sponsorship with me.

And, here's why I think it is something that you should explore and not showboating, but like making a case for why and how you are integral to the team and maybe your achievements thus far if you've, been previously working with them in some capacity, whether it's freelancing or you've been given a part-time gig or whatever it may be.

And then just walking them through it and being like, look, it's actually not that big and bad and scary to sponsor someone.

This is the first step. And then this is what happens next. And then once you get this approval, then we'll do this. And then, we wait however many weeks and then we'll get an approval and it'll be done. And that's it.

So I think, yeah, just kind of knowledge is power. And again, I think when it's something that you want ultimately, and a sponsorship is it's mutually beneficial, absolutely, because you're bringing your skills, your experience, your perspective to the employer, and that is invaluable to them.

But of course it's beneficial to you as well because you get to stay more long-term in Australia and continue living this lifestyle that you want to continue living.

So yeah, I think if you're willing to do that research and to arm yourself with that knowledge and share it with your employer, it can absolutely work to your advantage.

That's actually really smart.

Yeah, I think because it really is just the fear of the unknown and it's, it's nothing else, really. Sometimes people are just worried about how long something will take, how expensive it might be, and oftentimes, and I'm certainly not saying this about my employer, do not take me out of context, but a lot of people are lazy and don't necessarily want to take on an extra burden of research or responsibility.

And again, yeah, doing all of that research is tedious and it is time consuming. And so I fully understand why people aren't necessarily jumping to take on that extra workload. So sometimes it ultimately does have to be you if you want that sponsorship.

You also mentioned that it might be expensive. How did you make the case that you're worth it?

That's a great question. I will say, I think the cost thing was one of my biggest reservations in wanting to ask for sponsorship. I don't even remember what the exact cost was for the organisation, but it's maybe a couple thousand or a few thousand dollars from the organisation.

And there are certain costs that need to be paid by the organisation. And then there are certain costs that can be paid by the candidate, which I think is the, like the actual visa application cost for the candidate.

Because there are a few things that you need to apply for before you can even apply for the visa. And those all need to be paid for by the organisation. 

But I think the actual visa application can be paid for by the candidate. My work was fantastic and they covered all of the associated costs. And yeah, I think it ends up being, a couple thousand or a few thousand roughly.

And I think my advice in terms of, for anyone who might be, who might have reservations about asking for sponsorship would just be, I think to consider, again, the value add that you bring to the organisation.

And to also consider the fact that hiring and recruitment and those practices of potentially finding a replacement for you if you were to depart after your visa expired, those processes are extremely time consuming and tedious and difficult.

It's hard to find the right fit for an organisation a lot of the time. And it's also expensive. All of that time, it's billable hours that take away from other operations, other task work, other things like that.

If you're putting up job ads on seek, if you're putting up job ads on different platforms, that's a couple hundred bucks per job ad usually. So that is another cost that you're incurring.

Training someone new is also time consuming and expensive. And yeah, there are costs associated with the alternative as well.

And again, you run the risk of potentially losing a really great staff member who has been so integral to the team and potentially bringing someone on board who maybe isn't as good of a fit, who maybe doesn't mesh with the team as well, who maybe isn't as efficient, whatever the case may be.

And so it's yeah, assessing that kind of cost and reward. And I think just really backing yourself as well, in terms of what you do bring to the team, I think that's crucial.

And I think also just having some perspective, I think for me in particular, when I was thinking about the money that was associated with that visa, I was thinking about it from the standpoint of a 25 year old who isn't necessarily rolling in cash and whatever, whereas you think about that from an organisational standpoint of how much revenue roughly they bring in a year, in a financial year.

And then you weigh out that money, that investment in that visa, it's a drop in the bucket more or less. And when it comes to employee retainment, if your employer is worth anything, they will understand the importance of employee retention and they will do everything to retain you if you are a good, strong worker.

Did you bring up the revenue that you bring in and specifics like that? How did that conversation go?

So I don't think I necessarily had specific examples of revenue that I was necessarily bringing in per se, just because that's not exactly a part of like my job description isn't like really sales or anything like that.

But what I had been doing in the months leading up to having that conversation with them was keeping a record of all of the positive feedback that I had received internally and externally. And this would be a huge piece of advice for anyone who is potentially thinking about doing the same, is keep a little folder in your inbox or like a folder on your desktop, whatever it may be, of just screenshots of positive feedback or reinforcement that you're getting either from like your teammates internally, from clients.

If I had pitched an article and I had written the article and overseen its creation from the ideation process through its development to it going live on the website, and then it was one of our top performers in terms of organic traffic and bringing more people onto the website and expanding our reach and our audience, take a screenshot of that and say, this article got like 30,000 views this month or page views this month. And that was my idea. That was my pitch. And I wrote it and I oversaw it, the whole thing. And that brought us 30,000 views that month. That's a huge win and a huge asset.

And again, having those measurable metrics if it's possible is huge. And again, it might not be the type of thing where you can say I brought in X amount of dollars last month or something like that. Maybe revenue isn't the metric that you're able to track depending on what your role is, but there are other metrics that you can track, whether it's qualitative or quantitative.

And yeah, I was taking screenshots of just little achievements here and there through the months, even if it was just like a Slack message of someone just saying you did a really great job on this. Thank you so much for your help.

It's just proof that you're doing a good job, that you are, it's being verbalised by other people around you, that they see that you're doing a good job and you are making their life easier.

And that you're just creating this organisational flow where everything is meshing. Everything is working. Things are ticking along.

And that again, having been in this sort of full-time working environment where I manage people and I also have internal colleagues as well that I have to work with, having someone that can do that is a huge asset.

So again, I think it would just be focusing on the qualitative and the quantitative things that you bring to the table and just keeping a record of them and then bringing them to that conversation and just saying, look at everything I've achieved in my three months or my six months or whatever that I've been here and you don't want to lose this, do you?

This is going so well. This is great for both of us. Why don't we keep this going and keep this momentum going? Cause if this is what I've done in the first three or six months, imagine what I could do a year from now. 

How did you broach this topic and how do you sell yourself without coming off like you're bragging? It seems like, like you're quite good at it.

I hope it's coming across that I'm good at walking that line and that I'm not just bragging left, right, and centre. I think, and look, I'm very sensitive to that problem and trying to walk that very fine line of not, coming off that you're full of yourself and, you think you're God's gift to the earth, but without also selling yourself short. It's a tricky balance to strike. 

I think a good way to avoid sounding too full of yourself is to focus on the facts, and that's, I think also the role of that kind of keeping those screenshots of the analytics, those screenshots of the, positive Slack messages, those screenshots of, an email from a client that's really happy with something that you did. Cause that's not being arrogant. You're just looking at the facts, so I think that plays a huge role in walking that line too, where you can't argue with facts.

So it's not you having this feeling that you're this amazing asset to the team. It's that the proof is in the pudding and that you are an amazing asset to the team.

So I think that was the messaging that I was trying to relay to myself in the lead up to that conversation. 

And in terms of how I broached it with my employers specifically, I was very transparent with them from the jump when they hired me that I have this amount of time left on my visa. So we are going to need to talk about this at least three, four months from now, like maybe we can schedule a time. And so they were very receptive to that. 

And then when the time came around, I just sent them a meeting invite. And I said, look, as we discussed when I first came on board, the time has now come where we need to start thinking about the future a little bit. 

So again, I think that's another piece of advice, be really transparent from the jump as much as you can be. And that way everyone is on the same page, right from day one, and everyone knows what to expect. 

Let's go for something lighter. Did you experience any culture shock working in Australia?

Yes, I would say that maybe my experiences of culture shock were not as severe as maybe people from other cultures would experience perhaps. I think Canadians and Australians are very similar in a number of ways. We're all pretty easygoing, laid back, the hierarchical power structure within the workplaces is relatively similar. It's all pretty chill on the whole. So I think in that sense, I kind of knew what to expect to a certain degree. But I think there are just other things.

Language is a big one. I swear I still to this day, four years into the experience, learn a new phrase or word every week. Like they just come completely out of left field with something like “squiz” for example “Can you take a squiz at this?” I'll say, “What are you talking about?” And that means, “Can you have a look, a quick look at something?”

So we, being that we read a lot of articles, we're editing a lot, that one gets thrown into the mix a lot. And I had no idea what it meant. So yeah, I think the vernacular has taken some getting used to for sure. 

And I think also just to an extent the style of communication is very different in Australia than it is in Canada. I think in Canada, we tend to beat around the bush a lot. And I think it's in an attempt to be really polite, and we dance around what it is we're actually trying to say or what we're trying to ask for. 

Whereas Australians will ask you straight up what it is they need. They will tell you straight up what is or what isn't working, like they're very direct. And that has also taken some getting used to. And again, they never mean to be malicious or unkind with it. It's just, they are very to the point sometimes to the point that it can come across a bit jarring sometimes. 

So I think those are a couple of elements of culture shock that even now, sometimes I'm still getting used to a little bit.

Is there anything you regret or anything you would redo about your time in Australia?

Wow. I like that you said we'll keep it light and now you're asking about my life regrets. Oh, that's a big one. I don't think so. It sounds so cliche, but, if I had done one thing differently, then everything could be different. 

And I really like my life and I really like my job and I really like the people that I'm surrounded with. And I'm proud of how far I've come in my time in Australia. 

Like I moved over here less than four years ago with two suitcases and not a clue, really. And now I have a great apartment that I love and I have a partner who I've been with for two and a half years. And I have a job that I really enjoy that allows me to be creative and offers me flexibility. And, I'm living in the country that I've wanted to live in since I was first here six years ago. 

So yeah, I don't think I have any regrets and I don't spend a whole lot of time looking back or thinking retrospectively about what I could have done differently because I don't think I, even if I did make a wrong turn, it doesn't feel like I made a wrong turn. And I think that's ultimately all that matters. 

I've been in the situation of dwelling on the past before and it just doesn't get you anywhere. So, I find in my experience better to look forward to. So that's what I'm trying to do.

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