In a profession where alumnus Yossi Witkowsky could have worked for a number of major corporations or law firms in South Africa, he instead chose to make a difference from the ground up in his adopted home country.
Witkowsky and his family immigrated to Australia in February 2020 where he now works as an immigration solicitor at Stephens & Tozer Solicitors, which was established in 1904 and is one of the oldest law firms in the State of Queensland. Here he deals with migration law cases focused on work sponsored visas, student visas, family visas, temporary migration, permanent migration, and appeal and review applications to the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
“At present, I am involved in quite a few cases at Federal Court level wherein visa holders are being deported back to their country of origin upon breaking the law in Australia and in some cases will find themselves heading back to a country where they have no family, friendship or financial ties,” he elaborates.
“In some instances, a person may have been in Australia for 30 years and have no ties to their country of origin.”
As heartbreaking as cases can be, it is the “immediate difference [he can make] to more than one person’s life” that brings him immense joy.
Witkowsky matriculated from Livingstone High School and enrolled for a BA (Law) at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in 1993 after developing an affinity for the institution thanks to his cousin, another law alumnus. He also completed his LLB degree in 1998.
“Going to UWC was an easy decision, because of what it stood for. I wanted to do law, because of UWC’s dedication to human rights and its commitment to helping people.”
While at UWC, he was involved in UWC Street Law, which provides preventative legal and human rights education to various communities, prisons, and places of safety. He also volunteered at NICRO where he provided free legal advice to marginalised communities in South Africa.
“It was important for me to give back to my community, because besides gaining experience, I found it gave me great joy.”
After successfully completing the University of Cape Town’s Legal Practical Training, he was employed as a candidate attorney at the law firm of Y. Ebrahim and Co. Inc. in Cape Town in August 1999. He continued working for the law firm after being admitted as an Attorney of the High Court of South Africa, whereafter he joined the Road Accident Fund as senior mediator. He also worked for various large national and international blue chip companies as in-house legal counsel. But he “wanted something different”.
“I made a decision in 2017 with my wife to go and practice law in Australia. It was no longer about money. I wanted to gain global experience and make a direct difference in people’s lives.”
Witkowsky left the corporate world and decided to study full-time to obtain his credentials to become a solicitor in Australia. For two years he worked 15-hour days while running a legal consultancy. He sold his house to pay for his studies, moved into a two-bedroom cottage on his parents’ property with his family, and cashed in everything they had.
“Moving to Australia was not easy. I arrived here on 15 February 2021 and shortly thereafter the Australian borders closed. COVID pushed all my expectations down the drain. We stayed with friends for a few months – much longer than we planned to – and it took a while to find a job. But it also allowed me time to do some introspection and decide what area of law I wanted to practice in.”
Being an immigrant himself, Witkowsky says he feels that he can better identify with his clients.
“I know what they are going through emotionally and I am able to better assist them through the process because of that.”
Today, three years after Witkowsky and his wife made the decision to move abroad, he is living his dream.
“I think if you want to reach your dream you have to have tunnel vision, be willing to sacrifice it all, let everything go, and do whatever it takes to get there.”