Mohab Gabr shares his extraordinary journey following his arrival as a university graduate, to eventually attaining permanent residency at the eleventh hour and now working on Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN).
Mohab Gabr, 28, arrived in Australia in September 2016, a few months after he graduated from Swinburne University in Malaysia with a degree in communications engineering.
He made the move down under to explore employment opportunities, following a desperate job hunt in Saudi Arabia where he was born and raised, and where his family still resides.
“My friend and I used to visit companies to hand out copies of our CVs, but as time went by, our hope started to disappear,” he told SBS Arabic24.
One of Gabr’s close friends – a Syrian national - had succeeded in obtaining a temporary work visa in Australia and encouraged him to do so.
"I told him my chances were slim because of my citizenship status, I’m Palestinian and all I have is an Egyptian travel document for refugees. Most countries deny my entry even as a student,” he explained.
After much consideration, Gabr applied for a Recognised Graduate Visa which gives engineering graduates with qualifications from specific universities the opportunity to work in Australia for 18 months.
He received his e-visa grant notice in June 2017, two months after submitting his application.
First stop, Melbourne
After an exhausting 24-hour flight with multiple stops, Gabr landed in Melbourne in September 2016.
Despite holding a visa, he felt anxious upon arrival.
"Airport personnel were surprised with my travel document because it was issued by Egypt and says 'for Palestinians'.
"After a short pause, they allowed me to enter the country.”
Considering the relatively short validity of his visa, he began his job hunt immediately after arriving.
He recalls his friend advising him of the challenges that lay ahead.
“[He said] your chances to find a job in engineering and telecom engineering specifically is going to be very difficult but I decided to start applying for jobs and see how I go.”
After submitting more than 85 job applications, he finally got a callback.
“One day I received a call from a company very early in the morning. I’d usually keep my phone on silent mode, but I did not that day.
“They asked me a few questions related to my studies and told me they’d get back in touch if I qualified for the next stage.”
A few days later, the company called him to set up an interview.
“I was so excited. It was a wonderful feeling because it was the first job interview in my life. I had my suit ready, and my heart was jumping with joy.”
Visa expiry approaching
Before he set foot in Australia, Gabr was exploring avenues to stay permanently. As a result, he began setting goals on how he was going to acquire the relevant number of points required for a migrant to apply for permanent residency.
The threshold for permanent residency visas in Australia is 65, though some can be 95-100.
English language proficiency, measured in Australia by tests like the PTE and English Language Testing System (IELTS), can get an applicant up to 20 points towards their applications.
In October 2016, Gabr sat the IELTS test for the first time and says he fell short of the overall score he had hoped for to fulfil the English requirement for permanent residency visas.
As the months ticked over, he began feeling pressure to attain a score of at least eight in each band of the test, including reading, writing, listening and speaking.
After a number of failed attempts, he decided to switch to the PTE test, which is similar to IELTS, in that it can be used to prove an individual’s English ability as part of all Australian visa applications.
“I attempted the test 29 times.
"I did not lose hope and kept trying and ended up achieving a score very close to the required one."
The English language test was not the only obstacle he faced, as permanent residency visas require three years of work experience. As a recent graduate, he only had two years under his belt.
He also decided to sit the NAATI accredited translation test to collect five more points to go towards his visa application, but he was unsuccessful.
"I did not pass the translation test, but there I got to meet an Egyptian man who told me about a sponsored work visa that I can apply for.”
By the end of 2017, his 18-month visa period was about to expire, and Gabr’s employer did not agree to sponsor him further.
However, one of the managers referred him to another company and backed him with a recommendation.
Luckily, he secured a new position with a company, who sponsored him to apply for a 457 Temporary Work Skilled visa.
At the eleventh hour and against all odds, he managed to apply on March 6, 2018, just two days before the federal government abolished the pathway.
“I was very upset and felt that all doors were slammed shut in my face because the government was about to abolish the 457-work visa I was about to apply for.”
After retaking the English test he finally got the marks he required for his application and managed to secure permanent residency in July 2020.
He currently works as a telecom engineer and as a contractor for NBN Australia.
With his newfound freedom, he's planning to get married soon.