A cautionary tale about finding work in Canberra

Researching a move to a new city in a new country is a lengthy and fraught process. The slightest missed detail can have profound consequences for your prospects in your new home.

I’d like to think that we were meticulous about looking into our move to Canberra. Indeed, the only things that have really impacted us have been a misunderstood detail on Mr Pup’s documentation (cost: A few thousand dollars and an extended stay in quarantine) and our decision to hire the Marx Brothers to handle our furniture removal (cost: lots of mess and damage and endless angry phone calls).

Oh, and the small matter of looking into the employment market here.

Those familiar with the Australian skilled migrant programme will know that Australia manages its immigration according to skills deficits. That is to say, different states manage regularly updated skills shortage lists which, in turn, dictate who will be granted permanent residency visas.

The skills differ by state meaning that, in effect, Australia runs a regionalised rather than a national migration programme. In return for being granted a visa, new migrants must commit to spending their first two years in the state that sponsors their application – in our case, the Australian Capital Territory. I imagine their hope is that inertia and the beginnings of roots in your sponsoring state will conspire to keep you there after the two-year indenture ends, but of course, after that, you are free to move anywhere in the country.

Part of your visa application requires you to provide evidence of your skills and experience, and to supply a range of job advertisements as evidence of that skill being in demand in your chosen region. When we were putting our application together, Mrs CBRbound’s CV matched up to skills shortages in three states – ACT, South Australia and Western Australia, which means we could have chosen Canberra, Adelaide or Perth as our points of entry into Australia.

It wasn’t hard to come up with the job ads. This was prior to the election of the Abbott government and jobs were in plentiful supply in Canberra – all very encouraging to the pre-arrival migrant. However, we missed a very important detail.

Canberra is largely a public sector town and many of its jobs are with the government and its various agencies. As a result, many of the job ads here have a small phrase at the bottom of them: Security clearance required.

It seems innocuous, and one might reason that if you’ve been granted a residency visa, with all the security checks such an application entails, that this would be just another minor hurdle to clear. But here’s the thing – security clearance for government jobs requires Australian citizenship. Put another way, you need to be an Aussie passport holder to apply for these jobs, something that you can only apply for after five years as a permanent resident.

In one fell swoop, Mrs CBRbound became ineligible for around 70-80% of the jobs she was looking at. It’s a detail that I missed (if it was ever apparent) at the research stage, and it complicated our entry into Canberran life.

We can smile about it now because, last week, after a few weeks of temping, MrsCBRbound started a new job at one of the universities in town. It’s a really good job and she’s excited to be there (and we are relieved that she has found something relatively quickly – living off savings really puts a dent in your future plans).

But I wanted to write about our experience for other potential Canberra migrants. I don’t think the information would have changed our minds about which state to choose – our choice of Canberra was based on many more things than just the job market – but financial viability is an important part of any decision to move, especially when there’s a whole family involved, so it’s important to be aware of the idiosyncrasies of the Canberra jobs market before making that final decision.

So far, things have worked out well for us, but that moment when we realised that ‘security clearance’ meant ‘no new migrants’ was a big one, and is worth being aware of.

You can find the latest ACT Occupation List here.

Addendum: a Twitter follower made the following comment, which is an important piece of detail: “perm residents can work for state and territory govts.” Thanks @jonord1 for the clarification.

6 thoughts on “A cautionary tale about finding work in Canberra

  1. Great insight as always. We were lucky that I was able to get a job, but my wife is also finding it hard to get any employment at the moment – even highly degreed as she is. She’s attempting the temp job rolls, casual work apps and we’ll keep on keeping on. It will come eventually. It just means we have to work a little harder at a dream. And with all the lifestyle Canberra offers – it’s worth it. Congrats to MrsCBRBound! Glad you’re all on the way up and up! 🙂


    • Thanks Jason, and congratulations to you too. That first foothold means a lot eh? Hope you are settling in well. There’s a lot to do but plenty of fun to be had too. We’re hoping to get to Enlighten this week and to try the noodle markets.


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