From Basic English to Permanent Residency in Australia: Your Path to Success in 5 steps

Do you want to get permanent residency in Australia? It is a common dream to live overseas, to speak English fluently, to have dual nationality, to experience life in a developed country. However, compared to the amount of people who try to achieve these objectives, it can be said that too many of them fail.

Table of Contents

The Dream

It is a common dream to live overseas, to speak English fluently, to have dual nationality, to experience life in a developed country. However, compared to the amount of people who try to achieve these objectives, it can be said that too many of them fail.

I have lived in Australia as a permanent resident since 2008 and I’ve seen too many people give up and go back to their home country the same way they came years before or, even worse, with less. There is a better way though, and in my opinion the key is preparation. Coming unprepared to live in another country can prove catastrophic. Unfortunately, too many people come unprepared and have a very difficult experience. After years talking to many international students, teaching them, helping them with their problems and listening to their stories, I have come up with a 5-step plan which I believe offers the best cost-time-benefit and to achieve permanent residency in Australia.

Common challenges

Most people come to Australia firstly as a student. It is the best way to be able to stay in the country for a long period of time. However, one of the most common problems faced by international students is that they can’t find a suitable job. They are mostly under employed (and therefore underpaid), and I am certain this is greatly due to their poor English.

Apart from that, there is another unfortunate common challenge. They do not make progress in their English studies. One of the reasons for this is because students are too tired to learn, after working many hours to pay bills, the English course and save to renew the visa. Some even have to send some money home to help family or pay debts incurred to come to Australia.

Another challenge presents when students are placed in the incorrect level: I’ve seen this too many times. When they arrive, the school does not have enough students in their level, so they place the student in a level above (and it’s too hard, the student cannot understand / make progress) or below (it is too easy, the student already knows the content and does not make progress).

Mental health also plays a big part here. Students often have difficulty adapting to the Australian way of life, they miss their family and friends and that takes a toll in their mental health. In an attempt to feel better and improve their mental health, students spend all their free time (and sometimes study and work hours too) with people from their own country. This results in little or no English practice, meaning they do not improve their English level.

There is another point too: sometimes they get a job in their desired area, but students can only legally work (at the time of writing) for 48 hours a fortnight on a student visa, and that is often not enough to pay the bills, the English course and save to renew the visa. So, students work (often illegally) in cleaning or hospitality jobs, sometimes with other people from their own country, to make ends meet. This, again, contributes to low exposure to English and lack of practice, which hinders their progress.

Can you see that there is a common theme here? Low proficiency in English, under employment, lack of funds. It is clear that English proficiency is critical for success, and that happens in any country.

Imagine you are a business owner in your home country in Latin America whose first language is Spanish, and you are trying to hire someone to help you. You receive a resumé which seems perfect: the candidate knows all you require them to know, they have experience, they’re available in the hours required, they’re willing to learn. In summary, they’re perfect! So, you call them for an interview. The first thing they say, with a heavy Russian accent: “No hablo Español, solo ruso.” What do you do? I’ll leave that one for you to answer but I would not hire this person.

And what would you do if the Russian candidate said these things to you (and, for some miracle, you were able to understand them):

  • It’s not fair, people do not give chance to immigrants in this country!
  • You are discriminating against me! I am competent! You don’t like me because I’m not from here!
  • I am a hard worker, and I will do everything to keep this job! I’m willing to learn! Give me a chance!

Again, I would not be able to hire this person, and it’s not because I don’t like immigrants, or I am racist or biased or evil. It’s simply because I cannot understand this person and this person cannot communicate with my clients. Communication is key, but unfortunately many people arrive in Australia with no ability to communicate.

Learning English in Australia

When talking about learning English in Australia, many people erroneously believe two things:

  • That English schools in Australia are much better than the options they can access from their home country
  • That they will learn more easily and quickly just because they’re in Australia, surrounded by English

The first assumption is wrong because education is a very profitable business in Australia and many schools do everything they can to enrol students, but that does not guarantee quality courses. Like mentioned above, they may place students in the incorrect level in the name of profitability. Something that also happens often is full classes: between 10 and 18 students in one class. This happens everywhere, but the more students in one class the less individualised attention the teacher will be able to give to each student.

Curiously, there is something else that many people think will be a great thing, but it turns out making it impossible for them to learn: an Australian teacher. Hang on, you say, that’s why I went to Australia, isn’t it? Well, if you came to Australia to learn English then you should have come for the immersion really. In my experience, this is what students have to say in relation to Australian teachers:

Firstly, students don’t understand the accent. That is normal and completely remediable. As students’ English level increases, they understand the teacher more easily and can fully benefit from having classes with a native. The problem occurs when people arrive in Australia with poor or no English at all and are placed in a class with an Australian teacher.

One reason why this is difficult is because the student really does not understand a single thing that is going on in the class. That is not how you learn something. Learning happens when we can connect the new concept being learned with something we already know. But if you have no idea what’s going on, you can stay in that classroom forever, nothing will change.

I’ll give you an example. Imagine you decide to become a physicist. You go to the best university in your country and just sit there, listening to all the physics lectures. But you do not study at home, you do not do physics exercises, you do not ask questions in class (because you have no idea what they’re talking about!) and you don’t talk to anyone about physics. You just sit there and hope to learn by ‘osmosis’, you hope things will just miraculously enter your brain. What are your chances? You’re “surrounded” by physics, but it is all passive. You are not engaging with it, therefore there will be no retention. It’s the same thing with learning English.

Another difficulty is that some of these native teachers are not trained teachers. They are just Australians who are teaching for some extra money. That means they never learned another language, so they don’t know the struggles of learning a new language. Nor did they get training in how to help others learn. If you don’t understand something they are trying to explain, chances are that a person without training will just say the same thing over and over again (expecting a different result) or they will speak louder. Does that help you? I know it never helped me.

The Better Way: Being Prepared

There is certainly a better way to achieve the dream of permanent residency in Australia and in my experience, it has everything to do with preparation. Remember the 5 Ps? Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. So how can one be better prepared to achieve their dream of permanent residency in Australia in as little time as possible?

Permanent Residency in Australia

The first thing I advise is to take advantage of your conditions in your home country. Most people have a suitable job, a place to live, friends, family, access to healthcare, people to help them and the possibility to go to university.

Most of those are available in Australia, of course, but they are probably much harder and much more expensive to do overseas (especially with poor English).

If you do most of your preparation in your home country (steps 1 to 3 in the infographic), you will be in a much better position to complete steps 4 and 5 in Australia and be on your way to permanent residency.

Learning English in your home country

I could not have given you this advice 10 or maybe even 5 years ago, but nowadays it is possible to artificially create most of the immersion components anywhere, as long as you have access to a good internet connection. Nowadays you can find an excellent teacher who can teach you from another country in the comfort of your own home. Neither is it difficult to immerse oneself with English in a Spanish speaking country, for example. Thanks to technology, it’s possible to, among many others:

  • talk to native English-speakers from anywhere
  • watch TV (news, cartoons, movies, everything!) in English
  • use your phone, computer, and other devices in English
  • learn about and even participate remotely in cultural activities from another country
  • read books and magazines in English
  • make friends and communicate often with native speakers

This is why many people used to go on “exchange”, to experience the immersion. I was an exchange student in 2000. My Rotary exchange program changed my life. One person went to Brazil, and I came here to Australia, and we both experienced a new language and a new culture in a way which would not have been possible without the exchange program. That was then. Now, 24 years later, that is not the case. You don’t need to fly halfway across the world to immerse yourself in English.

I started learning English in 1991. I went to English school twice a week, for 60 to 90 minutes a class. My teachers were all Brazilians who had lived in England. (They were nothing short of fantastic by the way, thank you to all my teachers!) The only access I had to English was at that school. I couldn’t go to the public city library and get a book in English. I couldn’t open my computer (even though I had one) and talk to a native speaker, watch a movie, or read a magazine in English.

My school had a subscription of ‘Newsweek‘, a magazine that is still around nowadays. The magazine arrived from overseas and was available in the English school library for all students to borrow. I will not lie to you; I was a nerd. I probably still am. I loved English and I wanted to learn it so badly! So, every month I waited for the magazine to arrive and borrowed it for 7 days. And with my dictionary (yes, a paper dictionary) I used to try to understand what the magazine was saying.

Seeing the effort I was putting in, and tired of my repeated requests, my grandfather agreed to get cable TV so that I could watch CNN in English. (I was lucky, not many people had financial conditions to get CNN. Thank you grandpa!) He also loved GloboNews and some other channels, but my argument was that I needed more exposure to English. So, I convinced him and I forced myself to watch one hour of CNN news every single day. I was sure it was going to work, and I was right. But in the first month I could understand only a few words. And CNN spoke American English while I was learning British English.

That didn’t matter. I kept going. In the second month, I understood 10% of what they said. In the third month, I understood a bit more. You get the idea. After many months watching CNN daily, I was finally able to take advantage of it and actually understand and learn something.

I’m telling you this story to explain how immersion is the key to language learning and how, nowadays, you can create immersion in English anywhere you are. So, my first advice as to how you can prepare yourself to come here and achieve permanent residency in Australia is this: do not come with zero or poor English. Learn English in your home country, at least up to an intermediate level. Better yet, complete a bachelor’s degree in the area you love and perfect your English while studying at university in your home country.

Advantages of Completing a Bachelor’s Degree at Home

A bachelor’s degree in your area is essential if you want to work in that area in Australia. A bachelor’s Degree from an Australian university would be amazing, but the cost is normally prohibitive to most, as international student fees are likely to be at least 30 thousand dollars a year. So, my advice is this: complete your bachelor’s degree in your country, as well as an English course. Take the IELTS in your country and come prepared to do a master’s degree in Australia.

Let’s start from the beginning. Why do I advise to complete a bachelor’s degree in the home country? Firstly, because it is likely to be much cheaper than in Australia. Moreover, you will have your support network for you through these 3 or 4 (or sometimes 5) years. You will have access to healthcare, better chances of getting a job (not working as a cleaner or dishwasher) and support from family and friends. You are in a familiar place where you understand the education system. You have a place to live. You can fully learn the content because it is being taught in a language you understand.

If you couple that with learning English, be it with a private teacher, an in-person course or any other way you choose, you will not have zero English when you are ready for your trip. In fact, if you are really interested in succeeding you will take the IELTS (or any other approved standardised test) and get a good score, one that will not only allow you to get your student visa but also allow you to get into your master’s Course without the need for any further English training in Australia.

Transitioning to Postgraduate Studies in Australia

A master’s course takes about two years, instead of four years of an undergraduate course. Because you cut this time in half and you actually have an English level good enough to understand what is going on at university, you can really learn what you are being taught. You can take advantage of it, and you are learning something you love, not something you picked out of a random list in an attempt to get a permanent visa. You are truly investing in yourself.

With better English and connections at university, you are in an infinitely better position to get a good part time job in your area. You understand and speak English, so you do not need to work in jobs where you don’t have to say anything or see anyone. You can go out there and do what you love. You can meet new people and really take advantage of the immersion opportunity that living in Australia can grant you.

The Path to Permanent Residency

In two years from your arrival, this is your situation:

  • you have a master’s degree from an Australian University
  • you know many people who work in your area
  • you have had various jobs and experiences in your area of expertise
  • your English has improved dramatically because you really immersed yourself

Compare that with the person who came here with zero English and has been working as a cleaner for the past two years. There is no comparison. But what about the residency, you ask. Well, once you have a high score in the IELTS, a master’s degree from an Australian University, work experience and contact with people who work in the same area, it is much easier to apply for a skilled working visa, which will give you full working rights in Australia. From then, permanent residency is the next logical step.

Final Thoughts

Following the plan I just described, you will become exactly what the Australian government is looking for: a highly qualified professional who has experience, love for what they do and can communicate without trouble in Australia. That will help you take the shortest way to permanent residency.

Planning ahead and preparing yourself will give you an enormous advantage and will prevent you from having countless terrible experiences because you don’t understand what anyone is saying, you don’t have friends, you don’t have a (good) job, you are not making progress, you don’t have any money and you are demotivated because it will take you 12 years to get permanent residency the way you’re going.

I really hope this has served you. Please leave your comments or contact me if you need help with steps 2 and 3.


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