English a hurdle for Shandong villagers wanting to live 'Australian dream'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 11:42am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 August, 2013, 9:04am

Apparently it’s not just the rich who are leaving China for a better life overseas. Hundreds of farmers from a little known village in China’s Shandong province have earned themselves a middle-class life, a nice house and an Australian citizenship by emigrating as skilled welders, according to Chinese media reports.

But despite their predecessors’ success which leaves some of their more affluent peers in awe, “Australian dream “ pursuers in Jinan’s Houchu and neighbouring villages are now asked to produce decent IELTS (International English Language Testing System) scores - a higher bar holding back many ambitious applicants.

Under Australia’s revised immigration policies launched in 2011, skilled welders now need to score at least 6.0 in the IELTS listening, reading, writing and speaking tests on a band scale of 1 to 9, Beijing-based immigration consultant Heng Lili told  Beijing Youth Daily.

And although young villagers study hard to score better, the number of villagers immigrating to Australia has dropped sharply since 2007, said a local official. 

But apparently English skill was not so much an issue for the hundreds of villagers, who have made it to Australia in the past decade.  Most of them have settled down in the same neighbourhood in Perth. Many work as welders or carpenters, making 3,000 Australian dollars (HK$ 20,800) a month, said the daily.

Ying Fagang was the man who inspired hundreds of Shandong villagers. While working in a shipyard in Shenzhen in 2005, a foreign coworker who was impressed by Ying’s welding skills suggested he move to Australia where he could be better paid. Ying sought help with an immigration agent, ended up in Melbourne, found work and bought a house there three years later.

Ying's success was soon on the lips of everyone before it fuelled a steady stream of immigrant villagers - many applying as skilled welders.

“Welder”,”fitter-welder” and “pressure welder” were posted on the “Skilled Occupation List” on the website of Australia’s Immigration Department, which was last updated on July 1st. 

A total of 394 skilled Chinese welders applied for Australian visas-a majority of which permanent ones-in year 2010 to 2011, and 454 applied in year 2011 to 2012, according to Gavin McDougall, director of public affairs at the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong. The number of applicants dropped to 87 in year 2012 to 2013.

“These visa applications are driven by employers’ requirements, are influenced by economic conditions and the ability to source the appropriate skills within the Australian labour market,” McDougall told the South China Morning Post in an email.

When asked about the requirement for applicants’ English ability, McDougall said it differs depending on whether the applicant is applying for a permanent or temporary visa. But a better of command of English would work in the favour of the workers, he explained.

“People with only limited English language skills are less likely to be made aware of their work rights or raise any concerns with the appropriate authorities." said McDougall.

“Overseas workers with a high level of English proficiency are able to better comprehend Australian laws, improve their chances for gaining permanent residence, learn new skills and pass on their skills to other workers more easily." he added.

Chinese immigrants have also been making headlines in Africa in recent months. An estimated 50,000 gold diggers from a small town in China’s southern Guangxi province were reported to have struck gold worth more than 1 billion yuan in Ghana. Many were forced to leave recently as Ghana’s crackdown on illegal mining led to an explosion of violence and tensions between the Chinese and the locals.