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Note from Lisa (March 5, 2011): I wrote this site many years ago when I first moved here, so most (if not all) of the information about work permits is very out of date. Most of the links are likely no longer valid, and many things about immigration and work permits have changed due to the economy in recent years. Although I'm happy to receive emails (the address still works!) and answer any general questions about life in the UK as a Canadian ex-pat, I'm afraid that I don't know much about getting over here and can't really offer any advice. Your best bet is to refer to the UK Borders Agency site at http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/ or get in touch with your local British consulate office. Oh and if you're curious, I'm still in England and am now happily married and a very proud mummy to three children! I am still a technical writer for Citrix, although I am taking a break from the working world shortly.
Updated September 4/00 (see "Get a Job" below)
So you wanna live in England? Well, let's just say you do and move on from there. After doing many web searches and trying in vain to find information for Canadians wanting to relocate to England, I've found very little and decided to write up what I've gathered on this page. Please note that the following text is based on advice given to me by Canadians living in England, actual real live English people and various things I've read on other web sites. Regarding immigration information and work permits, none of this should be taken as official/legal information. In other words, these observations are reckonings based on my own experience, so don't go scampering off to immigration with a print out of this page backing up your story. Boy, am I glad that Canadians don't sue each other over stuff like this.
Right, so on we go.
I did exhaustive searches with various search engines on the internet for any information regarding relocating to England from Canada. You can click on the links at the bottom of this page and explore these sites yourself, but I've summarised most of what I've gleaned on this page. Keep in mind that I'm trying to get over to England on a work permit as a technical author- not as a spouse, fiancee, long lost relative, minister or any of those other exceptions to the rule. The job section will pertain to those seeking employment in the IT industry, simply because this is the area that I have been looking in. A good place to start is to figure out which category you fall under using the HOME office web site (link below). It lists all the rules and regulations for immigrating to England. Click on "Immigration Rules" for full explanations of the various categories. Next, figure out if you want to go to England to work or not as there are a few categories that restrict your ability to seek employment. For example, as a fiancee, you are not eligible to seek employment until you are married to a resident of the UK. Now the fun starts- gathering information and finding out what needs to be done before you make the big move.
Get A Job
A work permit doesn't seem that easy to come by. There are a few loopholes that allow you into the country to work, and unfortunately, none of them apply to me. If your parents or grandparents were born in the UK, you can apply for residence status. There is also a provision for "working holidaymakers" for people between the ages of 17 - 27. If you fall into that category, you can work in the UK for two years (in a job that doesn't "advance" your career). There are a few stipulations to the definition of a "working holidaymaker", so check the HOME office site for details. If you're like me (over 27 and third generation Canadian), you will most likely have to obtain a work permit. You do not apply for the work permit yourself; you must find someone willing to hire you who will then apply and pay for the work permit. Additionally, the person/company hiring you must prove that no suitable candidate within the entire EU has applied for the position. It's a daunting process, and I'm expecting this to be a huge hurdle to overcome. Unfortunately, I don't have much information or insight on this topic but will add more to this section as I go through the process myself.
Update (July 13/00): The lack of a work permit has made it very difficult for me to get an interview with anyone. Actually, that's an understatement- in almost a year of applying, searching, and posting my CV on various web sites, only one company has been interested in interviewing me (and I essentially got this interview through a contact I made via email, who also happened to be kind enough to foist my CV onto his HR department). I got loads of calls and emails from agencies (most of them must have found me on web sites that I had posted my CV to) who didn't notice that I specified that I need a work permit, and who would then tell me they were unable to be of service to me. I think that I finally got an interview mostly because I was recommended by an employee, but perhaps partially because it's an expanding software company that wants to triple their documentation department by next May. They just opened an office in the States, so they need someone who can write for an American audience- this is where my nationality comes in handy. So, I wouldn't say it's totally hopeless trying to get work if you need a work permit, but I would say that it's extremely difficult to find a company willing to go through the process.
Update (September 4/00): After a few delays getting my paperwork in (delays on my end due to former employers going on vacation when I needed signatures from them), my work permit was approved. It was a surprisingly quick process, once it began. The only paperwork I had to submit was copy of my academic transcript, a copy of my passport, and letters from my employers (from the past two years) attesting to how long I was at each job and what skills were used. It literally took the OLS (Overseas Lavour Service) a week to approve the permit. This tells me that people in my field actually can obtain work permits; it's just a matter of finding a company who will invest the time and money in making the application. No simple task.
To get a good sense of the job market, salaries and locations for various IT positions, go to the Jobserve site, TMS site, Kudos site, or the Digitext site (links below) and take a look at their postings. There are numerous job posts on these sites, most of which will tell you the salary and requirements for each job. You'll notice that salaries vary with each region (London salaries are going to be significantly higher than those further north in a city like Manchester) which will tell you something about the cost of living in that area, and you can get an idea where specific occupations are most in demand. From speaking to technical authors in England, I've gathered that most jobs are centred in the London, Cambridge, Manchester and M4 Corridor (Slough, Reading, etc.) area. According to a survey conducted by the ISTC, most technical author jobs seem to be in the financial industry documenting software. Salaries vary widely, as mentioned previously in this section. Contract workers tend to make more money per hour than permanent workers, however benefits (vacation days, medical coverage, etc.) are not usually offered with contract employment. Telecommuting appears to be a relatively new concept in the UK, so very few companies even offer this as an option. I've been informed by an English colleague that you should wear a suit to your job interview. While high tech companies tend to be a little more casual, it's still a good idea to dress more formally for an interview. Software that appears often in Jobserve postings include: FrameMaker, Word, RoboHelp, CorelDraw and various HTML generators if you are required to maintain a web site as part of your position. Something to consider mentioning during an interview or on your CV is the fact that as a North American, you are familiar with American spelling and grammar usage. Some companies require user's guides and other documentation for American customers, so you have the advantage over a European candidate of knowing how to write for an American audience. On the other hand, as a Canadian, you are familiar with English spelling (for example, colour, humour, and labour) and have the flexibility to write for a British audience as well. I would imagine that knowing how to read, speak and write French would be beneficial, even if you're looking for work in England.
As I delve into my job search, I'll be adding more to this section. At this point, I've done a lot of online research and have read many emails from English technical authors offering advice, but I haven't gone on an interview yet. I'll include any significant information relating to job hunting as I discover things along the way.
Update July 13/00: As I mentioned in the update above, I did finally get an interview. I've only had one interview in the UK, so this is by no means a definitive analysis of job interviews in Britain. In my case, the first step was a telephone interview with the documentation manager. We spoke for about an hour, after which he told me that he'd heard enough to want to meet me in person. I made arrangements with one of the women in HR, and flew over to have my interview a couple of weeks later. The interview was with the documentation manager, the documentation team leader, and another HR person. Apart from a brief writing test (yep, the "how to make a cup of tea" one), most of the interview was comprised of discussions about the company and the department. Surprisingly, the majority of questions asked to me were posed by the HR woman. She just happened to be Canadian herself, so I think that's why she was delegated to ask the "nitty gritty" kind of questions (about things like education, relocating, salary expectations, etc.). Overall, I didn't find the interview particularly formal (for some reason I expected it to be more formal than what I'm used to) and the questions were par for the course. Now I'm just waiting for my work permit application to be accepted (or rejected, as the case may be). I've already received my contract and a formal offer of employment, containing my salary rate and relocation expense information. I'm amazed at how quickly things have gone, once the ball got rolling.
Tips: There are a few things I've learned from this experience so far that I think are useful for others in my situation. Here's a list of stuff to ponder.
More to come as the saga unfolds.
Email is such a wonderful invention. I think it's important to find as many resources as possible and try to get in touch with anyone willing to offer an opinion about relocating to England. I posted messages to various mailing lists (click the "Resources" link at the bottom of this page for some mailing list web sites) and got numerous responses. I also sent an email to the president of the STC UK chapter (link below) and posted to their mailing list for information. So far, I've received mail from English technical authors, Canadians who are also interested in moving to England and a couple of Canadian, American and technical authors from other countries now based in England. Through these emails, I've been able to arrange meetings with a few technical authors when I visited England. Making these contacts has proved to be invaluable- hearing from Canadians in England about their experience living there and getting insight on the job market from other technical authors has been a huge help. The ISTC were very good about sending me their monthly publication and a relatively extensive salary survey through the post (it arrived about four days after I wrote to them requesting any information they could offer). If you are a member of the STC in Canada, get in touch with the STC in the UK. All the people who emailed me were more than happy to answer any of my questions and provided a lot of information. Keep in mind that everyone in the UK is five hours ahead of EST, so emailing a bunch of people at their work addresses after noon EST won't accomplish much until the next day.
Overseas Labour Office This office now deals with work permits (it used to go through the HOME office). This site will tell you everything you need to know about getting a work permit. Please go here first to see if your questions can be answered - I am definitely not an expert on this!
Workpermit.com This is the agency that got the work permit on my behalf. Loads of info on all you'll need to know (and your employer will need to know) about getting a work permit.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office - Visa Information The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office's web page with more visa information. It also has a section for general traveller's tips.
ISTC Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators A similar organisation as the STC, this is the home page of the ISTC in the UK.
STC UK The Society of Technical Communicators' site for the UK chapter.
JobServe - The largest source of IT vacancies in the UK A huge site with job listings for the IT industry. This is particularly useful if you're interested in salary ranges and locations for various occupations.
Yahoo UK Newspaper List Yahoo's list of UK newspapers available online. I prefer The Times or The Guardian to read up on the latest news.
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