The new diaspora
Construction worker Modestos Latsinoglou is one of many Greeks embarking on a new life in Australia. His careful approach is ensuring a firm foundation on which to build his family’s future, and a model for others
"They took my dreams away," says Modestos Latsinoglou, referring to a generation of Greek politicians who the 37-year-old holds responsible for the economic crisis in Greece.
"I had to leave my country and my wife and son to find work, to find a future for us all, it was impossible to stay." Modestos is one of the new wave of Greeks coming to Australia. He arrived in Melbourne in October, alone. His wife and 12-year-old son will stay in Greece until Modestos is in a position to bring them over. When that might that be, he doesn't know.
"I want to make something and then I'll bring them here, without a problem. I don't want my family to experience what I'm having to experience. "Many people in Greece think 'I don't pay for anything' come here on a tourist visa, start work and think everything's ok, but it's not so easy. It's easy to go for a blackmarket job, but there's no security for you. If they find you, you won't be able to come back again. That doesn't have a future." As we walk together past a high street shop selling Australia Day flags in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Modestos pauses to roll a cigarette.
"I speak to my wife Maria and son Gabriel everyday for two hours on Skype. Speaking to them gives me my strength," says Modestos, who worked as a concrete boom pump operator in his home town of Drama, before the contracts ran dry for J&P Avax, one of Greece's largest construction businesses.
"The company normally had government contracts. We made the new Athens-Patras road, then all the projects stopped. I looked for a month for another job but I couldn't find one." Modestos says he considered the US and Canada before deciding on Australia. Unlike most Greeks set on making a new life here, he had no extended Aussie family. But after finding his feet in his first weeks in Melbourne, he was sure that he had made the right decision.
"For me this is the best place in the world to come to. Greece has a different life, here there are systems. If you go with the law you'll be ok, if you want to cheat then you'll have a problem. I like the schools for the kids, everything." With his profession not on the Australian Government's Skilled Occupation List, Modestos knew that the only way to make the move, would be to enroll on a certified English language course.
"I did it all myself, I had some help translating some information from English to Greek, but you can do everything on the Internet now, the visa application, everything. I heard the price of using a migration agent and I said, I'll do it myself."
After lengthy and painstaking research on the web in Greece, Modestos flew into Melbourne on a temporary visa. He immediately did the rounds of local colleges offering accredited 'English as a Second Language' (ESL) courses and after weighing up the options, chose the Institute of Tertiary and Higher Education Australia (ITHEA). "The only way I could achieve what I wanted, was first to enrol as a student to improve my English. I didn't do this just to get the student visa, but because if you want to stay here you must learn English. If you don't speak English you can do nothing here."
Modestos is now halfway through his first six month course at ITHEA. He will need to enrol for another six months to ensure his English is up to scratch, which will then make him a suitable candidate for employer sponsorship. With 20 hours a week of studies at college, his student visa allows him to work another 20 hours. The resourceful Modestos has already found a part-time job as a concrete boom pump operator with a local construction company.
"I had a Greek licence for driving heavy-goods vehicles, my operator ticket and so on, and I've done these tests again to get Australian licences. This all costs money," says Modestos. "You need some capital before you come here. I'd say you need 12,000 euro minimum, that's not including the airfare. People come here with too little money and have to go back. They don't understand, you must pay for the course, you must pay your rent, it's not so easy. You must prepare before you come."
Peter Jasonides, Managing Director of ITHEA, says that unlike many who have their hearts set on migrating down under and who come unstuck, Modestos is the perfect example of a well thought-out approach, and one that has the greatest chance of a successful outcome.
"Many people have been given outdated or inaccurate information from friends or relatives in Greece, or even when they've come here," says Mr Jasonides, who has enrolled over 50 Greek nationals as students in the last six months. "The good ones will adapt and adopt. They're the ones that are able to change their mindset. The vast majority come with the wrong mindset and totally misinformed. There are plenty of ways to do things properly rather than trying to find loopholes."
ITHEA's MD told Neos Kosmos that for some, migration from Greece has been a bitter, expensive and ultimately unproductive experience. "We've had people come out here booking and paying up front, not at ITHEA but at other colleges, and they've come to me to try and get some money back from colleges they've enrolled in, because they want to go back."
"My advice is, don't make a commitment to come out here, come first as a tourist, have a look at the place. If you like it and feel you can adapt, then pursue what you want. "Modestos took it upon himself to extensively research the situation. He took the old Greek adage, 'if you hear that there are many cherries available, take a very small basket with you'."
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