Working in Australia or New Zealand
Can I come to Australia or New Zealand and get a job as a Planner?
Yes you can. It is common for planners from the UK and South Africa to come to live and work in Australia and New Zealand. To a lesser extent we also see planners from the USA and Canada and sometimes countries where people have English as a second language.
Bear in mind that strong written and verbal communications skills are usually essential to secure a planning job.
What’s the catch?
You will need a relevant university qualification and ideally some post graduate work experience in planning, but the biggest hurdle is usually the visa. You must have a visa which permits you to reside and work in your target country. No one can legally employ you without a valid work visa.
Until the global financial downturn in 2009 there was a shortage of Planners in Australia and New Zealand and it was quite common for employers to "sponsor" people for their visa application, which meant the application was "fast tracked" and certain qualifying criteria may be waived. However demand has decreased for the time being so this is less common at present (mid 2011).
That doesn't mean you can't pursue a Planning career in the Antipodes, but it is very likely you will need to make an independent visa application.
How do I get a visa?
Visa applications work on a points system, you get certain points for age, education, profession, work experience and so forth. Things like health and character are also taken into consideration separately.
An employer can sponsor your visa application, and this is often the quickest route, but this involves additional cost and liability for the employer so most employers will only go down this path if they are really desperate and have no other options, nevertheless we have occasionally seen employers advertise the fact that they will provide visa sponsorship. You will probably also see some job ads which list a work visa as a pre requisite.
In Australia certain State Governments may sponsor planners for a permanent resident visa, this is not detailed on the Federal Government immigration web site, you would need to check each State Government department's site. State Government sponsorship can come with some conditions. At the very least you would have to work in that State, but sometimes the sponsor may require you to work in regional areas where they are struggling to attract professional staff.
Generally speaking it is much better to have applied for and gained your visa in your own right. This also gives you greater flexibility, because if you have been sponsored for a visa by an employer you have to work for that employer for a set period. If you get a visa in your own right you can work for anyone.
Once I have my visa, am I guaranteed to get work as a planner?
There are no guarantees, but your chance of success will be greatly enhanced if (a) you already have an appropriate visa, and (b) you can visit the target country for face to face interviews. We know this makes things quite tough but it makes a huge difference and opens up many more opportunities. The same applies to most other professional disciplines.
In both Australia and New Zealand the easiest place to initially get work will undoubtedly be the public sector working in local government planning departments, i.e city or regional councils. Conversely the private sector is made up mainly of consulting firms who are much more concerned with the local experience and contacts the individuals may have and knowledge of local planning laws.
Many employers are very open to planners from overseas but there are some who feel the need for planners to have knowledge of local planning rules and regulations. There is no “rule of thumb” on this, it comes down to the attitude of specific employers, but just because an employer doesn’t advertise that they will consider applicants from overseas doesn't mean that they won’t. Some employers may value the different perspective you bring to their city.
Our advice would be to consider both contract and permanent positions, because it can sometimes be easier to secure a contract position and simply getting that local experience on your CV will definitely open more doors. Contract positions can sometimes lead to a permanent position with the same organisation, and it also provides you with the opportunity to see if it is a place where you want to work.
Please note, planners in Australia are generally required to have very good verbal and written English communication skills.
More on immigration
We once started to compile a guide to the different immigration options but there are so many options which seem to continually change, it became an impossible task.
Here are some useful links which were correct at March 09.
Visa Options Wizard for Australia www.immi.gov.au/visawizard/#vw=%23a_step_2
Both Australia and New Zealand maintain a list of occupations skills "in demand", if your occupation is on that list it means it may be easier to secure a work visa.
At the time of writing, Urban and Regional Planners were on the Australian Government's Skilled Occupation List (SOL). However the list is amended from time to time so we suggest you check here www.immi.gov.au/allforms/pdf/1121i.pdf
The same goes for New Zealand - see page three of the following document www.immigration.govt.nz/NR/rdonlyres/063ECB35-F5D5-44D8-8325-7041A727A9D5/0/1093.pdf
New Zealand immigration for skilled migrants www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/work/skilledmigrant/