January 19, 2016

I never thought it would be easy

I may have told you: I once knew a couple in the UK; she was an Aussie and he was a Brit. They got married and moved to Australia because that was where they wanted to bring up kids, in the great outdoors and the sunshine and all that. They returned in less than two years, however: Aussie bureaucracy had driven them crazy; in particular, having to get a new driving licence every time they moved interstate. Perhaps she'd forgotten the rules. The joke is, Brits who haven't lived elsewhere think the UK is a bureaucratic nightmare. Trust me; it's not.

The first hurdle when we moved here was, of course, the visa. My friend and I aren't married, and that makes-life-easier tick-box can eliminate several hoops of fire at a stroke. We had evidence of jointly designated utility bills (but for too few years); bank-statemented evidence of financial transactions going back to the '90s (but not a joint bank account); and even proof of being each other's beneficiaries (of pensions, for example). But none of that was good enough. We were asked to make declarations about our relationship, to be constructed around the answers to questions of such a deeply personal nature I decided moving to Australia wasn't such a good idea after all. I offered instead to be interviewed in Australia House in London to prove I wasn't a cling-on to an engineer seeking a different life downunder.

Was I prepared to sacrifice a wonderful opportunity for the sake of my privacy principles? I never found out because the visas were granted in record-quick time before I had to choose whether or not to write a fairytale romance.

Four years later came Permanent Residency, and a new range of obstacles, such as police reports – from the UK and Australia; medicals – requiring two appointments because we didn't realise we had to take our passports to the doctor's; and stat-decs (statutory declarations) by Australian citizens who had to have known us for three years. Fortunately, there were one or two.

In trying to be truthful, I inadvertently made more work for myself. In providing details for the British police, I listed another name I'd used in the past, the surname of my children's father. Way back then it had made life easier, because some people in small towns still found it odd if a child's name differed from its mother's, although I had never changed my name officially when I got married. I did not declare this name in the Australian paperwork because it wouldn't have been found here in connection with me. Some eagle-eyed legal in Sydney noticed the discrepancy and asked me to explain. Another stat-dec had to be generated.

A little over 12 months following the granting of Permanent Residency, we applied for Australian citizenship. So soon after PR, this proved to be a relative doddle. The only stress factor was that my friend got his before I did, and the cling-on factor reared its head momentarily.

You might think, after all this, that an Australian passport would be a formality. Nope. A different department presents new challenges, largely in the form of the Post Office, agents for the Passport Office. Last week I was in my local PO and witnessed a poor chap having his passport applications rejected. He'd used blue ink; his signature had escaped the box; and his children's birth certificates were not quite in order. He didn't say a word; he just looked awfully dejected, and completely lacking in the will to continue.

My friend and I checked each other's paperwork, and then checked it again. And one more time. Then, last Saturday, we took in the forms, with trepidation, citizenship certificates, Queensland driving licences, Medicare cards, and photographs duly witnessed by yet more Aussie citizens who'd known us for three years. We'd written in black and kept within the boxes. But we didn't get far: we didn't have our birth certificates with us. They hadn't been included in the list of documents required but were mentioned elsewhere on the form and we hadn't noticed. My photograph was rejected: I was ever-so-slightly inclining my face; my fringe was too long; and the hair at one side was obscuring my face. It wasn't hiding an eye or anything important, just cheek extremities. In addition, we hadn't initialed changes. (When you're afraid of making mistakes on a serious form, you're sure as hell going to make some, aren't you?) My photo-verifier had made a mistake in the naming of names; and my friend's photo-verifier had used blue ink. Go back to start.

My friend took his form into a PO near his office yesterday. His photo was rejected: it was too small, even though it had been taken there, last year. They took another one, and approved his application to go into the system. This morning, I returned to the same place as on Saturday, with most amendments as requested. A different person checked it. He had a query about my birth certificate that I couldn't have answered to save my life: why did it say 'Third' after the name of the town of my birth? I had never noticed that. I guessed wildly: 'Third administrative district?'. He would have to add 'Third' to my application form, he explained, or there'd be a discrepancy with the accompanying photocopy of my birth certificate. 'But, please,' I said in a small voice, 'They won't put "Stockport Third" as Place of Birth on the passport, will they, because there's no such place in the UK?' He went away to call the Department, and then noted my request on the form. He made no comment whatsoever about my photo, unchanged since Saturday. I paid the $254 fee, my application went into the system, and I left as quickly as possible.

Others have mentioned a high rejection rate; how they took the same form to a different PO and had it accepted. If my friend and I hadn't had two different experiences on two different occasions I might have some faith that new Aussie passports will eventuate (at the end of a maximum of 21 working days) without further ado. But I know we're not out of the woods yet. I know some random nit-picky job's-worth processor in the Passport Office – if their bus was late, or they were having a bad hair day, or their favourite team lost the footie last night – might take exception to my fringe. I'm also afraid I'm tempting fate by writing this before I'm clutching an Australian passport in my clammy little hand.

Go back to start? I'm just not sure I could bear it.


  1. Long time reader, first time commenter. It's strange, because my experiences are entirely the opposite. My visa came through earlier than expected, and no problems (the permanent as well as the temporary); and my driving licence was a half hour appointment in Toowong with a jolly man who took my photograph for me. My tax file number was two minutes on a computer and a week in the post.

    The only beaurocracy I've suffered has been Telstra; but so far the government has been a breeze...

  2. Thanks for your comment, James. Relatively few readers do comment, so it's always great to get feedback. Also good to know you're a regular.
    I agree, once the paperwork goes off, the system is efficient, on the whole. It's the minutiae of the rules, which are often couched in over-complicated Australian English, which are daunting. I feel I'm stumbling in the dark.
    We, too, received our visas quickly, as I said, and our PR. Much quicker than the period of document gathering. With the passports, it's good there's a time limit on receipt. I'm just nervous, having witnessed such inconsistency of processing, that there'll still be something they're unhappy about.
    Don't get me started on Telstra!

  3. Ha-haah! I had EXACTLY the same thing happen to me on Monday (AND I was born in Stockport too - so perhaps that's our lot :-P ) - the stupid BS with the birth certificates not requested for the passport interview, but required nonetheless...! AND they had issues with me not using my middle name on the paperwork when it's on my driver's licence...

    But I wasn't taking any crap - I've had 11 years of the stuff over here - the first 4 in just trying to get PR (complete with legal battles); after that, another 5 before I became eligible for citizenship (because they changed the rules while I was overseas, and I had to clock up an extra 3 years when I was only 9 months off eligibility); and then another year of mucking around while DIBP (who I've dealt with as DIMIA and DIAC, over the vast expanse of years...!) while they insisted on me getting a police certificate from a country I'd lived in that doesn't even have a government and sacked all their police force after a military coup....

    I waited an extra year to do the passport app, because I just couldn't face any more of it!

    So, not taking any crap, I said, quite firmly, I'd rather just get all the paperwork out the way then and there, and that I'd bring the birth certificate in later (rather than waiting another week for another appointment, which was, apparently, the only available slot). I insisted on adding my middle name to the various boxes on the form manually, in front of them, and basically made it clear that after all the bloody hoops of fire I've jumped through I'm getting my goddamn way on this one!

  4. Good grief, how did we not know previously about the Stockport connection?!
    The whole issue with names drives me crazy. I haven't used 'Judith' since i left home at 18. In the UK, my bank account, credit cards, utilities, everything except passport could all be named as I wished. But not here. It has to be the same name as on your birth certificate. When you add your 'known name' to account details, no one takes a blind bit of notice. So, I pick up the phone and someone says 'is that Judith?'… time and time and time again. They think you're being difficult if you correct them, and they resent the implied criticism, but it isn't my name actually!!!!
    I have contemplated changing my name officially in the UK (I don't know whether you can do it here) but imagine the hoops I would have to jump through here even if I had the UK paperwork in triplicate? Can't face it.
    I knew you'd had difficulty with PR and citizenship. The extra police certificate seems a bit over-the-top. One could be forgiven for thinking they make up additional rules as they go along, as and when it takes their fancy.
    [Big sigh]

  5. Yes, big sigh - of relief, for now! I must admit, though, that the passport drama is somewhat taking my mind off the long-haul to Europe that my partner and I have planned for April... I'm a white-knuckle rider, so anything to distract me is good!

  6. It's a long way for a fearful flyer. distraction is key. hope there are no more passport hiccoughs for you.