So there’s a pretty big secret I’ve been keeping from you for the last few months. Don’t worry I haven’t done anything dodgy. I’ve just been concealing a teeny, tiny secret that has a big impact on a travel blogger – my visa status does not give me the right to travel.
*truth bomb goes off*
Let me explain.
In 2010 I met a man on Twitter. This man lived in London but was from Melbourne, Australia. His name was Justin. This Aussie expat wooed me, travelled with me and we lived together in London for a couple of years until we decided, ‘hey it’s been cool living in Jayne’s country, let’s go try Justin’s for a bit.’
So in June 2014 we moved to Sydney, Australia (coz beach, harbour, sunshine and stuff) and I entered on a Working Holiday Visa, which allowed me to live and work in Australia for 12 months. Little known fact is that you can be self-employed on a Working Holiday Visa. So I carried on doing my thing, making sure that I stuck to the rule that you must not work for the same company for more than 6 months by taking only short-term social media contracts. All was fine and dandy until Justin and I decided we really liked it here. Business and life in general were going well for both of us and we’d like to stay longer than 1 year. Not a problem for him with his Aussie passport but a slight issue for Pommy me.
We looked into the options.
Option 1: I could do some farm work for 3 months in order to get a second year on my Working Holiday Visa. We both looked at this option and laughed. Anyone who has ever met me will understand but to give you context I was once sent to the grocers to buy cauliflower and came back with a cabbage. I thought it needed ‘unwrapping’.
Option number 2: I apply for a full-time role with an Aussie company and see if they will sponsor me. I’d just spent the last 4 years building a freelance business. This was a stupid idea.
Option 3: We apply for a partner visa for me on the basis of our relationship. Justin and I fully qualified for this option and could tick all the boxes. (There are a LOT of boxes. It took 3 months to gather the evidence on our relationship – statutory declarations, pictures, travel tickets etc – you can read more about this process here.) But there were a couple of catches. Firstly this visa is pricey ($6865 is a lot of flights!) and secondly if you apply within Australia (ie where I currently live) you must remain inside Australia until the department makes a decision on your application. The visa processing time at the time I applied (last April) was estimated to be 12 to 18 months.
But with no other viable options available to us, this travel blogger had to clip her wings.
A friendly lady at the immigration office informed me that my Bridging Visa (this is what they give you to allow you to reside and work in Australia whilst they make a decision) would not come into effect until my Working Holiday Visa ran out. This meant I had inbetween April and June 2015 to make one last trip home to see my family until who knew when.
By this point Justin had proposed (on my 30th birthday in Thailand, the old romantic) so I popped home to celebrate with my family and bid them goodbye with the words ‘see you at the wedding’.
It turns out there are a few exceptions to this no travel rule. I haven’t quite worked out what they are but I did manage to fall under them twice over the last 8 months.
In my experience I found that if you would like to leave Australia whilst on a Bridging Visa A (the one I was issued whilst waiting to the temporary partner visa to be processed) you must apply for Bridging Visa B. Bridging Visa B gives you the right to travel (for certain not-specifically-defined reasons) but applications will only be approved 2 weeks before the date of travel and applying costs $145 each time.
In October a lovely client offered to send me to the travel blogging conference TBEX in Bangkok. They bought me a ticket, I put in my application for Bridging Visa B and then I sweated for 8 weeks waiting to find out if I could go. I didn’t book flights until I heard back because I was already liable for the cost of the conference ticket if the approval didn’t come through and didn’t want flight cancellation fees on my hands too. When the approval did (thankfully) come through it was just 2 weeks before the event so I paid through the nose for flights at the last minute. They weren’t even direct.
The Bridging Visa B that came through was valid for 3 months though – 3 whole months of freedom people! But as it so happened I already had blogging projects confirmed for Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef during that time. (This really isn’t a bad country to be ‘trapped’ – it’s more knowing that I can’t go anywhere whenever I want that freaks me out.)
Fast forward to December and an invite arrives in my inbox to be part of the blogging team for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay – a fantastic experience and wonderful project I’d been lucky enough to be a part of 2 years prior. I accept without hesitating, arranging to have some bonus time with my family before flying back to Oz again. Except I forgot 1 minor detail – my Bridging Visa B was due to expire 1 week before I planned to be back in Sydney. Crossing my fingers, holding my breath, trying not to die – I go back to the immigration office near Central Station and put in a second application for Bridging Visa B. Somewhere in the Aussie Outback I receive the joyous news that it’s been granted and just after Christmas off to the UK I go.
Why do I share this with you now?
Well firstly because of my self-imposed honesty mission for 2016. I just wanted to share that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows running a travel blog (especially if you can’t travel – dur!).
And secondly because I logged onto my IMMI account today (the online system where you ask the Aussie government to let you stay) and it had 3 magic words in the application status bar:
“Assessment in progress.”
Up until this point it just showed that it had been submitted. This small change of status is a big deal.
I don’t want to get my hopes up but after almost a year of not knowing if I can stay in Sydney much longer, asking for permission each time I want to leave the country and not knowing if or when I’ll get home to see my family again this is a joyous step towards having some sort of resolution.
Let’s just hope all goes well and I get the important permission to stay in Australia with my fiancé and regain full travel rights soonish. Afterall, I’ve got my own destination wedding to get to!