Category Archives: Irregularities

Working Holiday -> Dependant Unmarried Partner

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I’m putting this info online because in almost a year of sporadic searching for something definitive I found no useful answer to the question “Is is possible to switch from a Working Holiday visa to a Dependant (unmarried partner) visa whilst within the UK?”.

Note that this info is correct at this time (2007-04-18) but immigration law changes often.

So, the initial situation: I’m in the UK on a 5-Year (expiry in 2011) Work Permit visa sponsored by my current employer. At the time I got the visa Kat, my “unmarried partner”, and I did not have the required 2 years worth of documentation to prove we were partners (not required if you’re married or in a registered civil partnership). Thus Kat got a Working Holiday visa (2 years, work limited to 12 months) and she entered the UK on that, I on my Work Permit visa.

The drawbacks of this situation:

  1. I’m tied to working for the sponsor company (no immediate problem, but I’m planning ahead years).
  2. Kat’s visa is only 2 years and has work restrictions.
  3. After months of effort the Working-Holiday visa has proven a major roadblock to Kat’s attempt to get a decent developer job. One can always work in bars, yay, though the Poms haven’t got around to banning smoking yet (soon!:) so that’s kind of ruled out too. Kat should have trained up as a barista!

The obvious solution is for me to get an HSMP visa (no problem) and Kat to get a dependant visa (we were a bit worried about our patchy documentation, but this was no problem in the end). The main logistical drawback is that, in all our reading and even in phone-advice from the UK Work Permits office, it seemed Kat could only change her visa back in Australia. A process that’d take at least 4 weeks and require my passport (with the only workable solution being: I get my HSMP visa now, Kat stays in .au after our visit later this year, on my return to the UK I post her my passport from the UK, she applies for the dependant visa (AU$225), then gets to the UK ~5 weeks later).

It turns out that all the information we found, and even the initial advice received direct from the Work Permits department helpline, was wrong.

With my HSMP approved (a £315 process) it was time to do that actual visa step FLR(HSMP) to transfer your visa. You do not need to resubmit all the proof documents for (a £335 process — UK visas aren’t cheap). In filling out this form I noticed that there was no clauses that barred me from including Kat as a dependant unmarried partner. Curious about this I gave the Work Permits people another call and asked a more specific question: “I’m in the UK on a Work Permit and my unmarried partner is in the UK on a Working Holiday, can I include her in my FLR(HSMP) as a dependant?”. The answer: YES!

So this is what I did. Posting Work Permits the FLR(HSMP) with our passports and my HSMP docs in one 0.3mm thick folder and the “unmarried partner” proof documents in a 2.5cm thick folder (2 years is a lot of bills and bank statements).

Today, after a tense 4 weeks, our stuff came back complete with fresh UK residency visas (2 year, expiry in 2009, then we can simply get FLR renewals — after 5 years who knows, citizenship?).

One less thing on my worry-list. YAY. And we saved AU$225!

Unmarried Partner Documents

As an addendum the diagram here shows the documentation we provided the Work Permits department with to prove our relationship had “subsisted for at least two years”. We also provided a cover letter that gave a “brief history of us” type of summary.

A chart was knocked up using the Gantt Chart template in Visio, it worked rather well I thought. As much as we like to hate them, Microsoft do good diagramming and spreadsheet software — I have yet to find competitive OSS alternatives to these (though OpenOffice Calc is certainly getting there on the Excel front, I think it’s the charting that’s holding it back at the moment).

HSMP Documents

There isn’t much to say here. The documentation requirements for the HSMP are very clearly spelled out. I submitted original pay slips, ATO tax statements and bank statements for financial proof (and also UK work experience proof, since half the payslips were for the UK). For proof of qualification I submitted my original University of Sydney degree certificate and a letter from the University confirming my degree and also that it was taught in English (it is essential to have the English language proof, if you contact the USyd student services department they’ll look after this for you. Very efficiently in my experience! I assume other Universities will provide similar letters). Given my income, experience and qualification were sufficient for the HSMP this is all I needed, in addition to all the usual identity/age/etc proof.

You need this documentation to get an HSMP approval letter. Then, if you’re already in the UK, you submit an FLR(HSMP) to transfer your visa. You do not need to resubmit all the proof documents for this. However if you’re submitting an FLR(HSMP) for the second time (after your initial 2 year FLR(HSMP) period has expired) then you do need to submit all the HSMP proof documentation (but don’t have to go through the HSMP approval stage again, just the FLR). The FLR(HSMP) forms and guidance all clearly spell out the requirements for this.

Personally I don’t think the, typically rather expensive, services that do the paperwork for you are worthwhile. The most difficult thing is assembling the required documentation (and for HSMP this is simple compared to the unmarried partner proof) and using an agent wont make this part any easier. So you’re paying a lot of money for the services of an experiences form-filler. The main advantage you’ll get is that they’ll do it right and will probably have a clear idea whether or not you really qualify. Since the HSMP consideration fee is £315 and the visa transfer fee is £335 getting something wrong can be rather expensive!

Wherever you go, “agents” are the same

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Real Estate Agents I mean.

The “Real Estate” industry is seriously full of turds. What we have is a group of people who’s job function is little better than commission-paid sales floor staff but who have inane delusions of grandeur, I’m sick of stupid yet condescending “agents”. Unfortunately many people in the industry are actually very well off, and I guess that’s all the grandeur you need in this day and age. Just try not to forget that it doesn’t matter who you are, tenant, landlord, buyer or seller, the industry is geared as best it can be to rip you off if you let your guard down.

As in Australia there are fairly standard tenancy agreements here in the UK, though not so standard that there’s a specific form you can expect. Thankfully the language in the contracts is kept in reasonable “plain English” too, no problem understanding it (the one I have is actually clearer than the one in Australia, it covers exceptions/rules with far less detail though). Back in April 2006 I signed a 12 month contract with a 4 month “break clause” for our place in Rickmansworth. What this means is that after 4 months I’m allowed to end the tenancy if I give two months notice — essentially it is a 6 month assured tenancy and very hard for either the tenant or landlord to exit unless exit is mutually acceptable. The following 6 months continue to be covered by the two month notice rule and, in fact, the wording of the contract is that this case continues indefinitely until either the tenant or the landlord gives notice.

Simple enough, strong lock-in periods are not nice and 2 months is a lot of notice but I can live with that.

So, here’s what a letting agency will (and did) try to do when the 12 months draws to a close. They’ll send you a new contract with a renewed assured tenancy period and do their best to communicate the point “you’d better enter a new contract or you’re turfed”. This seems rather ridiculous, seeing as the current protections of the contract continue indefinitely — the letting agent is pushing the assured tenancy period as “safety” (and push this bit or marketing to both parties as a positive, personally I think this lock-in is a negative for both parties, but less so for the landlord). Even more annoying is the fact that the lock-in was 2 months longer in the renewal than in the original contract.

Why bother with all this paperwork? Simple, it’s for the $$$. The money grubbing sales monkeys in the estate agency get dosh for this. I pay 55 quid for processing, which is stuff all — OK. The landlord pays 1000 quid!

Insane. What’s worse is that immediately the agency posts advertising that the place you’re in is available for let — even if you’ve applied for an extension and no 2 month period of notice is in place until the landlord rejects the extension. They’re really pushing the tenant to become uncomfortable and not question anything and just sign the contract ASAP with no consideration. Worse than that? Nearby agencies in the same chain start calling the landlord asking to be able to show the property and informing him that the current tenants (me!) have chosen to leave, a complete lie! A bunch of cats fighting over that morsel of commission.

Unfortunately the landlord isn’t too keen on contracts and isn’t keen on upsetting the agents — agents are scary. Fortunately he’s a good bloke and is more than willing to let the break clause in the contract cover the whole period. End result? The new contract is completely useless since it provides the same continuing protections that we already have. I still pay my 55 quid, the landlord still pays his 1000 quid and the dirty little agents get their commission. I get out of the uncomfortable situation of being very solidly tied to paying the rent for the property for 8 months, so I’m happy enough despite this not being an ideal outcome in my mind (I’d really prefer it if the agents didn’t get the landlord’s money).

I don’t particularly want to move but I consider my job in the UK to be volatile (at core it’s based around a R&D contract with another company) and in this case being locked into a 950 quid PCM tenancy for 8 months is too high a risk — 2 months is bad enough! We have considered moving, but I can’t see how it could fit in with current complexities in my schedule. Moving is hard, the current place is good, and the location is extremely convenient — the only issue is that quality and convenience come at a high price tag which has been difficult with Kat not working.

Down with the agents I say!

BAA BAA Whisky

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

BAA BAA Whisky
BAA BAA Whisky

Who would have thought there was a positive to BAA airports? Today (Wednesday) I found a definite one. Expecting the worst for security-check time I appeared at Heathrow nice and early, only to walk through to the terror-free inner sanctum with barely a halt. Not sure what to do with more than an hour in a terminal I wandered duty-free outlets until I found Whiskies of the World. On the lookout for my favourite, Lavavulin 16yo, I soon attracted sales staff… it wasn’t long before I parted with 70 quid in exchange for two litres of the golden spirit, not the old favourite 16yo though. [“old favourite”, heh – I’ve only been interested in whisky for about a year, mostly thanks to the lyrical waxing of James and Matt.]

Considering that a bottle of good whisky at Tesco prices is 35 quid (Lagavulin 16yo) I think this turned out fairly well. Especially since what I actually got was a Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition (£41.99) and a Laphroaig Quarter Cask (£29.99). Before I left, Michael (sales guy) pointed out that if I went to their other outlet, at the other end of Terminal 1, I could taste the Laphroaig. So go there I did, and it was a great way to while away the next 45 minutes. The guy in charge there, Raj, was extremely helpful and informative. He and his off-sider (a 20yo law student who made me feel rather old) introduced me to a few whiskies, though I kept it to a conservative 4 tastings.

BAA departure terminal 1, Heathrow: the place to go whisky tasting! Who’da thunk it? They seriously must have had more than 50 whiskies available for sampling. I tried the same distiller’s edition labels of Cragganmore and Talisker – my preference order is:

  1. Laphroaig Quarter Cask
  2. Cragganmore Distillers Edition
  3. Talisker Distillers Edition
  4. Other one I forgot the name of :-/

An interesting point is that, in the normal labels, I rate Cragganmore and Talisker the other way around. The port oak the Cragganmore has been aged in seems to leap-frog it over the equivalent Talisker (Amoroso Sherry cask), it was divine! Ultimately the Laphroaig wins hands-down though. The Lagavulin I can’t rate yet since it wasn’t available for tasting. I’m hoping for an excellent double-whammy with it and the Laphroaig… I’ll find out when I get back into the UK! The tastings were educational, the flavour of each whisky had very similar features to the equivalent “regular” whisky I’m familiar with but extended/deepened by the extra cask time.

This whole duty-free game seems somewhat of a scam – you can buy duty-free on your way out and then pick up your goods on your way back in. If you travel regularly between the UK and EU this is certainly the way to buy your alcohol! What’s more, the guys from these shops aren’t aware of any restrictions on the volume. They know people who’ll take a trip across to Paris just so they can pick up a couple of cases of very expensive champagne at duty-free prices. There are restrictions when bringing alcohol in via air (10 litres of spirit, 80 litres of wine – including fortified; makes Australia seem positively shitty about the whole thing — however the numbers given to me at the airport don’t 100% match what’s on the Heathrow website). These restrictions don’t apply when you’re buying in Heathrow and then picking up on the way back.

On the topic of that which I first sought: they don’t actually supply Lagavulin 16yo. An interesting story there too, essentially they can’t sell it because Tesco does. Since nobody has the buying power and economies of scale to match Tesco it’s simply not worth selling a premium spirit that they’ve added to their line, even at duty-free prices. So the Whiskies of the World guys tell me.

For bonus entertainment, while I was there Jim Murray showed up … just passing through and he thought he’d sign a few copies of his latest bible for them. He even rearranged them so they were in front of all the other books on display. When he first showed up he told a sales guy he wanted to buy 20 copies of his book, the poor dude didn’t recognise him (I think he can probably be forgiven!) but Raj recognised him immediately and “got the joke” (they’d clearly met previously).

I was genuinely impressed by how friendly and knowledgeable the staff at Whiskies of the World were (especially knowing I wasn’t there to buy anything, I’d already done by buying). Of course, since my own knowledge of whisky is decidedly limited, I can only assume they knew what they were talking about 🙂


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

There’s a “login” for the /Personal/ category now. As the login text states: “The password is my middle name (4 letters) + the state I’m from (using usual abbreviation) + my partner’s initials (2 letters).”. Log in once and it’ll set a 1y cookie so you’ll “always” be “logged in” – or if you don’t like cookies it’ll still work as a one-shot.

The purpose of this is just to keep out complete randoms and websuckers – if you’re neither of the above and don’t know my middle name you can just ask! Stuff in the /Personal/ category is typically aimed at family or good friends and will include things like travel plans (most recent entry), personal events and any comments about work 😉

Australian Diaspora

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Reading through my usual online news list today I came across the phrase Australian diaspora in some random opinion piece. Not a phrase I have heard before and an idea I’ve never considered, all my life people have commonly left for foreign shores; but they’re just visiting and will be “back home” soon, right? It set me wondering… I have left Australia with no clear reason to go back any time soon. Many of the people I went to University with have left, are on their way out or wish to leave – even if just “for, you know, a little while”. So why is this? Some say it is fuelled by good old personal greed, the GBP or the USD are better currencies; this argument stumbles though when you realise that many of those who have left relegate “moving back home” into the world of “one day… maybe” and a stronger currency doesn’t mean so much when you stay put. The best I can say along these lines is that it means a trip to Australia for someone living in the UK is comparatively cheaper than a trip to the UK for someone living in Australia.

So why?

Personally if asked to try to draw together some reasons I think everything would boil down to: “why not?”. Realistically someone in my kind of job field can expect to find interesting work in a capital city, and even then you’re really only looking at Sydney or Melbourne. My personal ideal of living in Australia is living “out bush”; when I think “back home” the images in my head are of Dunsborough in the late 80s and early 90s (Incidentally this is a place that no longer exists, sometimes I go back and look for it but it simply isn’t there. It has been buried under something new and shiny and is only extant in diluted wafts here and there. The bushlands where we used to walk, cycle and ride are housing estates; the secluded beaches are Beachside Resorts; the vineyards are a dime-a-dozen. When I try to go back home I am just another tourist in a tourist farm.). The central idea here is that my image of truly living in Australia is that of living outside of the cities, near a nice beach and with scorching hot summers. Think Ocker, True Blue and a Home Among the Gum Trees – I’m one who has often felt ashamed by my lack of a proper Aussie accent.

As it stands Sydney is where it is at for the likes of myself in the realms of working in Australia, seaside country dreams are just that. The question is not “Australia or England?”, it is: “Sydney or London?”.

Once upon a time even Sydney was a place where a normal worker could afford to buy their first home; now this is not so. Once upon a time Australia had great social infrastructure; now this is rapidly eroding. Once upon a time Australia had a political climate that wasn’t entirely in opposition to my personal views; no longer. When I try to think of all the reasons for staying in Sydney I quickly come down to a very simple list: the food, the coffee. Now food and coffee are very important to me, but do not represent an insurmountable problem; wherever you go you’ll work something out. I cook more often now and an occasional barrista receives a bit of extra on-the-job training; and ultimately if you’re in the UK and times are desperate you can fly to Rome for only £50.

With nothing to differentiate Sydney from “the rest” what is going to keep someone there? I’d go out on a limb and make the conjecture that the current political and economic climate have taken Australia down a peg in the “desirable places to live” stakes; but I’m treading on the thin ice of the not-completely-informed here. Once I would have chosen to stick with Australia because “we’re better than the others” – but now we’ve proven ourselves to be just the same. We’ve gone from what in my minds eye is an image of “the home of the free” (in spirit I mean, not free on paper as those legalistic yanks like to see it) to a less palatable “mini united states”. The number of times I heard the phrase “I think it’s time to move to (Canada|New Zealand)” became more significant through my years in Sydney.

Maybe I’m too young, all my mental snapshots of the Australia I’d like to live in come from the interpretations of a child – nostalgic images of summer barbecues, country towns, “the Snowys”, holidays in Exmouth, “Dot and the Kangaroo” and “Expo ’88”. It could very well all be the misleading imagery of childhood fantasy. Still, I like to believe that the idealised but not quite politically correct Australia in my mind really did exist once and I can only hope that one day it can exist again, maybe not on this planet. As it stands Sydney falls well short of the mark, I can take it or leave it.

In the end after all this rambling through memories I still haven’t properly answered the misleadingly simple question: “why?”. The truth is that I probably can’t work out a good answer. I’m living in a world where the idealised “back home” of my youth has dried up, like most things in Australia these days, and in a world without a home does it really matter where you live? The choices seem grey in comparison, ultimately the central theme of life becomes “change is as good as a holiday”.

Here we be today, but change is good and who knows where we’ll be tomorrow.

Down with the Trees!

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Save the trees? Nice idea, but it could ultimately be a fuck up. We’re still living in the dark ages folks. Unless it’s down in ink on a piece of paper most information about you is about as useful as tits on a bull. Worse yet, that idealistic choice to “save the trees” could end up making your life difficult. Down with the trees I tell you!

UK Visas

When it comes to visas in the UK anything short of marriage virtually non-existent. There is entry of “unmarried
” but they make it hard to access, you need two years of documentation supporting your partnership consisting of multiple documents covering the whole period. Typical combinations being tenancy agreements, utility bills and bank statements. These generally must be addressed to both parties (and who ever thinks of that when they get the phone connected?) or can be to individuals but then you need even more documents.

So if you don’t have that vital stack of paper gathering dust in a filing cabinet then you’re quite stuffed. If you ring the consulate they all but tell you not to bother.

We will have enough documentation in a few months, but what then is the situation for us trying to apply for this when already in the UK? Does it indicate a breaking of the conditions on Kat’s Working Holiday visa? At best it is highly borderline, and not possible until I can switch to a settlement visa anyway (HSMP, about 9 months away). And while under the terms of my current visa I can switch to HSMP I don’t think Kat can switch to a dependant partner visa, her option is basically only HSMP. For HSMP she’d have to earn an income in the space of 12 months which is likely to be unrealistic, 12 months is the most time she can spend working under her visa and she can’t be here for the specific purpose of working (if we stretch things too far it could make the visa people unhappy, and then we’re stuffed no matter what we do). We will be going back to Australia in 10 months, so maybe on we can make new visa applications from Australia then (what on earth will our residency status be at that time?). It does seem that the Working Holiday visa was specifically designed with loopholes, so maybe the approach is less strict than it seems? I have heard otherwise.

Thus my previous musings regarding signing a piece of paper to make us “married” by law, but looking over things I’m not sure that that would make it easier anyway. I’m loath to take such drastic measures, I have no respect for the institutionalised concept of “marriage”; we have laws that make it nothing more than a game and the old religious relevance that it had is quickly fading (and not applicable to myself). I do wonder how long it will be before the dinosaurs that run the world will be dinosaurs who make the necessary changes, unless something drastic happens (religious right stages a successful military takeover of the planet), I think change toward my own way of thinking is inevitable. Of course, by then I’ll be one of the dinosaurs and we’ll collectively not understand why the youths of tomorrow aren’t happy with the new freedoms our generation has given society. What’s this with a gay partnership between a young man and a cerebrally enhanced goat needing to be recognised by the state? You’re absurd, absurd and perverted.

I digress.

UK Banks

This one is a better justified annoyance, you simply cannot open a bank account here until you have utility bills (not mobile phone) that show the UK address of all account holders. So you’ll typically be waiting a couple of weeks before a bank account can be opened. Once we had the right documentation opening an account was plain sailing (HSBC, we used Australian bank statements sent to both our names in the UK, the same for our previous address in Sydney and also Scottish Power bills addressed to both of us plus passports for Id).

UK utility bills, now that leads to another matter…


Speaking of Dark Ages, the utilities I’ve dealt with in this country have severely handicapped IT systems. Fancy having a very restrictive limit on the size of the name field in an address! Scottish Power have just this, while our Gas/Elec account is in both our names the correspondence is addressed only to me. When I asked about this they simply said: We just canne do eet captin!. Now if you were married then it’d all be fine, we could fit in “Y & K Seth”. Great, my electricity provider is telling me I should be married; asswipes. Their solution to their IT dilemma is a simple one, two copies of every piece of correspondence is sent to us, both addressed to me but one with content starting “Dear Mr Seth” and the other with appropriate text for Kat, this being the only difference between the two copies.

BT have it worse, they simply don’t support having a line registered in more than one name. My name only, or Kat’s name only and according to their support representative the phone book entry can only match the account holder name, we could get a second phone account though. What? Bloody retarded. I’ve complained about good old Telstra back in Australia before, but I must hand the UK the prize for utility dumbness.

So only one piece of paper from BT and it is not a lot of use for the Kat+Yvan equation and more useful data from Scottish Power, albeit in a retarded form that uses twice as many trees.

Chip and Pin

Here I abort the topic of the sad fact that we must kill more trees to further the machinery of bureaucracy.

Chip and Pin is more common here now, to the point where there are actually retailers who will only accept either it or case and shake their head at your old-skool sign-the-paper credit card. International travelers beware! Luckily supermarkets and servos have not been so stupid, just things like a few phone shops and electronics goods stores. I think it’ll be years before Australia moves onto universal Chip and Pin, and America can hardly be expected to catch up anytime this decade.

Now, in an ideal world they would have created an an interface that lets the shop upload a digital form of your receipt to the card. Why didn’t they do this? 10k of EEPROM should be loads for a typical week and you could have a reader at home to suck the data onto your computer, or freak out all the privacy nuts and have a RFID-style data-suck (encrypted of course, and our credit cards could be an “always on you” private key too!). This all means increasing the number of gates on the card of course and thus the cost to manufacture, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the silicon is already in there. There would also need to be sensibly thought out, in a typical case it’d be some proprietary garbage that will soon have the shit ripped out of it by Schnier and a week later be hacked by a bunch of bored youths.

On a slightly related note, banks still give you cheque books here in the UK and if you want to withdraw more than 300 quid you have to write out a personal cheque to yourself and visit a bank branch. Weird and very interesting how some things are so far ahead of Australia here yet other things are way behind.

Credit Cards

No chance. No credit history, no credit card. From outside the UK? You may as well have been born yesterday. HSBC will likely give us one in three months, Amex require us to wait six months (would have helped to have had an Amex in Australia). For now we’ll have to continue to use our Australian CCs quite a bit, and pay the associated charges. St. George must love us. Does the namesake for the bank have a tomb anywhere? I think I might go and piddle on it, not as something specifically against our bank (I actually like St. George) but more as a gesture toward the inanity of the systems we’ve built around our modern society; ostensibly with the express purpose of making everyday life more difficult and the machinations of evil harder to spot.

Hooray for humanity.

[…and hooray to me who just wasted an hour of his day and thus forced an extra hour in the office on himself, fool.]

Aylesbury Coffee Nut

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

By random chance of web trawling I just found a genuine coffee nut (or should that be “bean”) in Aylesbury, who by chance happens to say good
things about old Toby’s
back in Sydney. I was generically looking for a Toby’s equivalent in the UK, especially around the Ricky/Aylesbury run. What’s more, this guy is a roaster and has a shopfront
in Aylesbury
, of all places! I know where I’m heading for “lunch” today.