From kopi to koalas: More Singaporeans moving Down Under for better work-life balance

From kopi to koalas: More Singaporeans moving Down Under for better work-life balance
Singaporeans are moving to Australia for a number of reasons, including a desire for better work-life balance and a lower cost of living.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Daniel Tay, Fadhil latif, Senthil Kumar, Edwin Sia

SINGAPORE - More migrants from Asia are once again looking to move to Australia, after the country completely lifted border controls in 2022.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Australia's tightened restrictions kept skilled migrants out for almost two years. Since it reopened, more people from countries including Singapore, India and the Philippines are heading there to fill its labour shortages.

According to statistics from the Australian Department of Home Affairs, a total of 13,085 Filipinos were granted permanent visas under the country's migration programme from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, up from 9,159 for the same period in 2018 and 2019.

Australia logs its annual statistics from July to June, according to its fiscal calendar.

The number of Indians who received these visas increased to 41,145 in the fiscal year ending 2023, from 33,611 from 2018 to 2019.

The number of Singaporeans moving there is also on the rise.

In the year ending 2023, 1,718 Singaporeans were granted permanent visas under the programme, an increase from 1,135 for the year ending 2019, said a spokesperson for the department.?

Migration rates have grown so quickly that Canberra is pumping the brakes. On Dec 11, Australia announced it intends to halve the intake of migrants over the next two years, tightening visa rules for international students and low-skilled workers.

International students will now need higher ratings on English tests, and they would find it harder to get a second visa to prolong their stay.

But the reforms are not likely to affect Singaporeans too much, as the majority who apply for visas are skilled workers, said Mr Philip Ng, director of migration agency OCSC Global.?

Mr William Lee of Austral Migration Consultancy said although Australia might tighten rules for visas such as those for working holidays, which allow holders to stay for up to 12 months, the new rules will not affect permanent migration.

"Australia is heavily reliant on new migrants to fill labour shortages," he said, adding that migrants contribute to the economy when they set up their homes and through their taxes when they begin working.

Singaporeans are moving there for a number of reasons, including a desire for better work-life balance and a lower cost of living than Singapore's, said migration agencies.

These agencies added that inquiries about and applications for visas under Australian's migration programme have exceeded pre-pandemic levels.

Mr Lee said there has been a 20 to 30 per cent increase in new clients and inquiries.?

"It could be pent-up demand for those that didn't apply during the Covid-19 years, combined with the current Australian government being buoyant on increasing Australia's skilled migration intake over the next year," he said.

Another agency, AIMS Immigration & Relocation Specialist, said there has been a 15 per cent increase in inquiries in the post-pandemic years of 2022 and 2023.

Its managing director Jennifer Ng said a good work-life balance, education and its proximity to Singapore made Australia an attractive choice for Singaporeans who want to move.

Singapore migrants who have moved to Australia said they enjoy the slower pace of life and a less stressful working environment.

Mr Daniel Tay, who moved alone to Adelaide in 2022, cited reasons such as Singapore's high population density and higher cost of living compared with Australia as reasons for his move.

The telecommunications professional, 32, also pointed out that big-ticket items such as cars and houses are more affordable there.

A new car costs about A$30,000 (S$27,000) and one can buy a secondhand model for A$1,500, said Mr Tay, who paid A$35,000 for his car, a Subaru Impreza.

He also bought a two-bedroom apartment for A$250,000, which he said was a "feat which would be likely impossible" in Singapore, as a Housing Board flat would cost more.?

Mr Tay counts among the perks of his new life the opportunity to take hour-long drives on the weekend to the wine-growing Barossa Valley or Victor Harbour to unwind, and not having to deal with Singapore's heat and humidity.

"Temperatures (feel) cosy and I enjoy the winter, when it gets as cold as 5 deg C. Australia also has some of the cleanest air in the world," said Mr Tay, who has a permanent visa.

"Australia is a more liveable place for me. I hope to buy my dream house one day - one with a backyard and a driveway," said Mr Tay, adding that he has no plans to return.

Mr Edwin Sia, 41, moved to Melbourne in August 2023 hoping to achieve a better work-life balance.

In Singapore, Mr Sia, a car mechanic, would often have to work one or two hours beyond the end of his shifts, but now he never works overtime.

"In Australia, if a customer comes 20 minutes before closing time, we will not entertain them and tell them to come back the next day," added Mr Sia, who holds a permanent visa.

Mr Sia's wife and two daughters, aged seven and 10, will join him after they finish the school year in Singapore this December.

That said, those who move to Australia from Singapore told The Straits Times there are trade-offs to be made.

Ms Tania Chattopadhyay, 30, enjoys better work-life balance in Australia, but has had to swallow the fact that she has less income due to Australia's high income tax rates.

The software engineer at a graphic design company moved to Sydney with her husband and one-year-old son in August 2023.

In Australia, residents who earn more than A$180,000 a year are required to pay an income tax of A$51,667 and 45 cents for each subsequent dollar over A$180,000. In Singapore, residents who earn income in excess of S$1 million are charged at a tax rate of 24 per cent.

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"The Australian dollar is also getting weaker. If I had a choice, I'd rather earn in Singapore currency," she added.

Nurse Fadhil Latif, who moved to Melbourne with his wife and three-year-old son in January 2023 on a skilled migrant visa, misses the safety of raising a child in Singapore. He pointed out that there have been instances of stabbing and carjacking in his neighbourhood in southern Melbourne.

Eating out in Australia is also pricier, said Mr Fadhil, who recalled a plate of nasi lemak costing him A$21 and two pieces of plain prata costing A$19.

"Singapore's standard of living in terms of food is much lower considering our hawker culture, where one prata costs $2," said the 34-year-old.

"I can't wait to return to Singapore. Sometimes we think grass might be greener on the other side, but now that I am here, I know that is not necessarily true."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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