Phi's migration journey

"Growing up as the eldest of four with parents from a non-English speaking background, I’ve had to grow up early and be a self-starter at a young age."

Phi Vo

What was the catalyst for your migration journey to Australia?

Like many 2nd generation Vietnamese Australians, my parents were refugees from the Vietnam war in the late 70’s. I was born in Palawan, a tiny island in the Philippines at a refugee camp where my parents stayed. We were selected to go to New Zealand and lived in Auckland for four years. We then migrated to Australia to join my mum’s family in Brisbane, Queensland.

My parents were quite young when they started their migration journey, Mum was 17 and Dad was 20. They didn’t speak any English, had no money or any education. Just family and their bare hands. It’s hard to imagine being so young and embarking on a life changing journey. Looking back, I think they were quite brave.

Attributes about my parents that I admire is their strong work ethic, determination and perseverance. Qualities I believe I have inherited. Growing up as the eldest of four with parents from a non-English speaking background, I’ve had to grow up early and be a self starter at a young age.

Tell us a bit about what you do and your interests

I’m Lead Law Wrangler at Catalyst Migration Law, a small boutique Australian immigration law firm I started last year in the midst of a global pandemic in May 2020. I work with businesses and individuals helping them navigate Australia’s constantly changing immigration landscape. I enjoy my work and love that no day is the same. I get to meet interesting people from all over the world and be part of their migration journey and help establish their future in Australia.

My interest in law was sparked by two distinct experiences in high school – the public high school I attended was one of the first schools to have a full-time police officer who helped me handle recover stolen personal items and the other was helping my mother prepare and lodge a sexual harassment complaint when I was in year 10. I recall at the time, I didn’t know what a statement of claim was and looked up on the internet on how to write one. I also clearly remember how it felt in the mediation room - I was young, mum did not speak English. I felt the imbalance between us and her employer/lawyer and how mum would have felt so powerless. These experiences made me to want to become an advocate for people and support them so that they don't have to face challenges and legal processes alone.

I took the non traditional legal pathway for my career. I started out working in a small migration services business. It was there I discovered how much I enjoyed working in immigration and interacting with clients. Stints in senior roles at a Big 4 accounting firm, top and mid-tier law firms shaped the advisor I am today. The exposure to complex issues, ideas, innovation and working with different clients on a variety of issues was invaluable.

Outside of work hours, I’m a hiking enthusiast, keen cook and baker (I was a serious contender to appear on The Great Australian Bake Off a few years ago), and enjoy a bit of gardening and spending time with my family.

What excites you about your future in Australia?

I love that Australia is a melting pot of different cultures and there are so many beautiful places to explore and see. I’ve been lucky to have access the best of both worlds – my cultural heritage and the freedoms and opportunities that come with growing up in Australia.

2020 was a year of change for many people, myself included. I went from employee to business owner and employer. As I embark into my second year running my own practice, I am excited to see what we can achieve at Catalyst in terms of migration services delivery and how we work with our clients.

On a personal front, I'd like to travel and explore more of Australia and one day own a hobby farm and run a bed and breakfast.