From Ahmedabad to Bendigo: Kaumil Patel narrates his tale of becoming a permanent resident
In the early 2000s, Kaumil Patel says friends and peers in his hometown Ahmedabad were struck by the craze to travel to either the United Kingdom or Australia. These were the ‘oasis’ countries to go study and settle down. Kaumil chose Australia. But it took him 14 long years to get his permanent residency. Kaumil’s eventful life took him from Ahmedabad to Melbourne to Chicago, and then finally back to Melbourne. He calls it a story of struggle and surprise redemption.
Arriving in 2006, Kaumil was determined to make it big in Melbourne. He had enrolled for Certificate III in Graphic Prepress and Diploma in Multi-Media from Cambridge International College. He hadn’t envisaged how hard and lonely life would be in a foreign country. He recalls the days when he walked from restaurant to restaurant to find a job and lived in daily fear of rejection. But he wrested long days and nights with skill and fortitude to survive. He had all of that to withstand years of uncertainty only to come out strong.
After finishing his diploma, Kaumil worked in the security division of ANZ bank in Melbourne. But he always wanted to establish his links with the Indian community here and joined the ‘sewa’ (service) at Shirdi Sai Baba temple. He found immense joy in meeting people and being of ‘some’ help to others.
“the 41+48 Gaam Kadva Patidar group is my small Patel community group. There are 245 members so everyone can put job advertising, house advertising and generally be of support to one another”
“I have seen my parents back in India doing a lot for the community, so I got inspired to do my bit wherever I was,” says Kaumil.
He decided he wanted to do something more extra and joined the Salvation Army as well. Working for Project 614, Kaumil was part of a team that was well aware of the struggles that some people can find themselves in.
After working with ANZ, Kaumil opened his own company Sai Krishna Telecommunications as a sub-contractor for Telstra. “As a telecommunication technician, you get the job from the company. It was running well till I ran into visa problems, which meant I could no longer run the company,” he recalls. It would last six months.
By 2008, Kaumil’s wife Smita had joined him in Melbourne and she enrolled in a Certificate III and Diploma in Child Care. But having left his business, he took up odd jobs and struggled to carry on with life. Like every other migrant, he admits life was hard.
But tougher years lay ahead. In 2015-16, Kaumil lost his work rights because of the change in visa conditions. He was on bridging visa. So, he continued with the odd jobs. “But I had spent so many years here I was determined to get my PR.”
Fortunately for him, Smita completed her degree and found work sponsorship from a regional centre in Bendigo. She had five years’ experience in child care and it was easy to find a sponsor. But to apply for permanent residency through employer sponsorship they had to apply offshore. So the Patels chose to go to the US where Kaumil’s uncle lived and the next day after they left, their lawyer applied for offshore Australian permanent residency visa. After 11 years in Australia, they were off for more uncertain times.
However, arriving in the US, Kaumil had the anything-is-possible attitude. “I cycled in the snow to work in stores. After few months I earned enough money to buy a car,” he says. Meanwhile, the prized job in his field of work remained elusive.
Life went on for 17 months before he got the good news of PR being granted to him and his family consisting of his wife and his now eight-year old daughter. “I had saved money in Australia and had parked it here. I had the confidence that I would get my PR so I didn’t move my money from here.”
The money would allow the Patels a safety cushion and mobility arriving in Bendigo in May 2019. However, they faced yet another hurdle of finding accommodation but friends came to the rescue and they were able to finally get a lease transferred in their name after the friends left.
Smita got her job in child care and Kaumil started working at Woolworths and at a chicken factory. He has since resumed his community service. “Smita also works in child care centre during Covid-19, so working people can go to work without being worried,” says Kaumil.
Kaumil runs the 41+48 Gaam Kadva Patidar group. “It is my small Patel community group. There are 245 members so everyone can put job advertising, house advertising and generally be of support to one another,” he says.
He also volunteers at the Bendigo Food Share as a Neighbourhood Co-ordinator and is also a Labor Party Member in Bendigo.
In one year, the Patels have managed to position themselves well from a fringe position. Everyone has a story to tell, but Kaumil’s resilience, hard work and positive attitude makes his PR dream inevitable. “Lord Ram went on exile for 14 years, I look at my life in the same light. So finally I have got what I wanted,” he quips.
What stands out about Kaumil is not so much his own sense of identity or what other people assume about him but his belief that life is about risks and opportunities. He swears by American investor Warren Buffet who “does not keep a driver”. “He says you should save as much as you can, which I believe is the key.”
But that does not mean money is everything, he reflects. “You have to do something different in life. I want to become an entrepreneur some day. Life gives you many options. I am not one to lose.”
Kaumil’s story might not be different from the stereotypes around immigrant Indians but it does fit into the triumphant immigrant narrative.
“Have you heard of anyone getting their PR after 14 years?” he smiles.
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) June 3, 2020