It was my first week back in Melbourne and I have already begun to miss the sights and sounds of South East Asia, the difference in way of life has become even more exaggerated by the bitterly cold winter here. For many in Melbourne, this time of year consists of mainly navigating peak hour traffic to attend an office job, then navigating home again for dinner and a few hours of television to finish the day.

Juxtaposing this to the daily life in Thailand and Cambodia, the centrality of work and rest is replaced with the centrality of family and food. Walking down the major thoroughfares of Cambodia, the usual early morning sight is not of men and women rushing around in suits to this or that. However, it is the sight coffee stores filled with large groups of men drinking coffee and markets bustling with women looking for the best product for their families daily meals.

Whilst, of course, this Western emphasis on rest and work is great for a countries productivity and that in turn allows for the extras that many of us take for granted (think heavily subsided health, education, infrastructure and social security). However, there does appear to be a weird catch-22 in that we are lacking the ability of time and environmental conditions to enjoy these extras we work so hard for.

Although as much as I want to return to South East Asia, over the past few months I have gone through the joint process of applying for an Australian tourist visa for a Cambodian friend of mine to visit Melbourne. Hence, in this weeks news and views, I thought I would explain the mostly unknown process of an Australian visa application.

Visitor Visa Subclass 600:

This is the first I have written about my experience of jointly applying for a Cambodian friend to visit me in Melbourne. The process took over two months and whilst not hard was quite frankly anything but a pleasant experience both for myself and the applicant. I have decided not to write anything about this experience until now as I doubted if it was first in my reader’s interest to know and I also wanted to wait out the entire process before giving my judgment.

Now, this has occurred I thought it would be remiss not to share the experience. This decision was made after speaking to a few Australian friends and family about the process all of whom seemed quite shocked. As they had zero knowledge of the Australian immigration system and wanted to werer very interested to know how their tax dollars were being spent and how they were being represented as a country.

The ImmiAccount:

To start with anyone wanting to visit Australia the first port of call is the Australian Immigration website called ‘Immi’. A quick Google and first header will easily guide to you to the sites home page. Where you immediately be prompted to register a username and password that will become your account for the entire process of your visa. After opening your account you are pushed into a multiple-choice questionnaire that will funnel you into selecting the relevant visa stream based upon your responses.

Screenshots from the website:

ImmiAccount 1

This is the first page that appears when attempting to apply for an Australian visa and immediately prompts the applicant to create an ‘Immi’ account.

ImmiAccount 2

This was an error page that popped up every time you log in to the account and was caused due to a webmaster error. If it is confusing to you imagine a non-native English speaker attempting to make sense of it.

Subclass 600:

The most popular of visas to apply for is the confusingly named Australian Immigration Subclass 600 otherwise much simply known as a tourist visa. The Subclass 600, however, does have very strict conditions on what the applicant can and can’t do whilst in Australia.

The visa will ONLY allow applicants to visit family or friends and not allow them to partake in business, medical treatment or work opportunities. The visa has a stated  With a stated cost of $145 and an application processing time of 20 – 25 days.

Visa Agencies:

Many state the main reasons for the confusing names, clunky website design and inability to have a language other than English is to benefit the Visa Agencies Consultants. Organisations that pay a fee to the Australian immigration body to be endorsed by them. Doing some research I was quoted over $900 just for the assistance to lodge the application of the tourist visa. With fees well exceeding over $3000 to assist in the application of a marriage visa.

Biometrics Collection:

As Cambodia is a deemed a ‘high-risk’ immigration country we were informed that a biometrics collection must be undertaken. The biometrics collection is conducted by a third party company called VFSGlobal, an international company that specialises in government security biometrics.

The biometric test involves taking a digital photo of the applicant’s face and digitally scanning all 10 fingerprints. Costing a total of $34 USD, with figures on their website boasting having processed over 200million biometric application globally, there a lot of fat in those margins.

Required Documentation:

This was by far the most complicated component of the application process. After submitting the application with relevant personal detils my friend received quite an unpleasant phone call by an immigration staff member. She was ‘strongly’ advised that we needed to provide the following details within 7 days of receiving the call. If we failed to do so our application would be assessed without the supporting documentation and most likely be refused.

ImmiAccount 3

This is a clip from the email we received, luckily I was able to properly read the sent email and have the knowledge of what documents would be sufficient enough to satisfy the checklist above. However, I could only imagine the stress of a 7 day time period and the confusion for what documents would be needed to satisfy the term ‘provide evidence’ for most first time non-native English speaking applicants.

Summary:

All in all, it took around two months and cost approximately $200 with visa and biometric fees to apply for an Australian Tourist Visa. Reflecting upon my experience with the Australian Immigration system I was uncomfortable with the level of underlying aggression and arrogance that this body appears to operate with. The total power and authority that they have been given by successive governments under the guise of national security have simply gone to their heads.

Whilst I understand there is a need for a strong and thorough immigration system to protect and ensure Australian borders and I know that Cambodia is a relatively poor country. But the aggression to those simply seeking to visit and spend money in the local tourism sector is wrong and reflects very poorly on the image of Australia in general.

The cynic in me is also instantly drawn to the large fees that both the Australian Immigration, third-party agencies and biometric/medical collection facilities charge. Whilst these fees are quite manageable for the most basic tourist visa when researching the family visa options costs start to run in the tens of thousands. It appears that this area would be ripe for these third parties to take advantage of both poor English skills and the often highly emotional process applying for a family visa would be.

Photo of the week:

This segment is always intended as a light-hearted section of the weekly post that I hope does not cause any offence. However, acts as a conduit for discussion about the lighter side South East Asia.

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This photo was taken in Cambodia near the tourist mecca of the Angkor Wat Temple and provided by a regular reader. At first, it may appear an odd and comical sign however there is actually a much-complicated reason behind it…hence I have written a quick explainer.

Explainer:

Whilst in many Western countries common theft is almost always dealt with a respected judicial system (there is the anomaly of a citizens arrest but by in large this is very rare). However, in Cambodia vigilantism still makes up a large portion of how their society deals with crime.

One of the most common punishments for the act of theft is a shaven head (for both young and old). This acts as both a public shaming and a warning to others. This practice was put in the spotlight last year when photos were posted on social media about a young woman who was caught allegedly attempting to steal a mobile phone in a popular Phnom Penh market. Instead of informing the local police the stallholders held her and decided the appropriate punishment would be to shave her head.

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These are stills from a video that was posted on a Cambodian expats forum taken of the incident.

Whilst at first these images do appear very confronting and I can understand the backlash against the stallholders for their actions. Personally, I was uncomfortably reminded of what happened to many French women who were accused of having ‘collaboration horizontale’ with members of the German occupation force after in World War II.

Of course, best practise would be to have a professional and respected judicial system to deal with crime, however, to be honest from the stories that I hear of what happens to thieves in the villages and provinces of Cambodia, she was very lucky to escape with just a shaved head and the public humiliation.

Send me through your thoughts of right or wrong and I will include them in next weeks news and views!

The Week Ahead:

Next week I will be exploring the murky industry that is Thailand’s ‘pretty’ models what would be called promotion girls in the West. After the massive social media storm that has erupted over the past few weeks upon the death of the model-for-hire Thitima Noraphanpiphat in a Bangkok apartment block hours after she attended a party where she was paid to serve drinks.

Please continue to send me through emails of stories, pictures and anything else that you would like to discuss about my favourite region South East Asia.

Harrison White can be contacted at harrisonwhitejournalist@gmail.com