In March 2021, the number of Bridging visa holders in Australia mounted to a historic high of over 350,000. But what are bridging visas, and what rights and conditions do they come with?
When someone applies for a visa in Australia, they are granted a bridging visa to let them stay in the country lawfully until a decision on their visa application is made.
There are multiple bridging visas that come with different conditions and rights, depending on the applicant’s circumstances.
- Bridging visas are a "bridge" between one substantive visa and the other.
- Only BVA and BVB holders can depart and return to Australia while holding a bridging visa.
- BVC and BVE usually come without work rights, but people can apply for permission to work.
What are bridging visas?
All non-citizens in Australia must maintain their lawful status by holding an appropriate visa. But when someone's current visa runs out and they haven't yet received their next visa that they applied for, a bridging visa helps them maintain their lawful status in Australia.
"Obtaining a bridging visa isn't an outcome; it’s part of the outcome process, and that outcome process may be a new visa whilst in Australia or the making of arrangements to lawfully depart Australia if you have been unlawful," says Alan Rigas from Alan Rigas Solicitors.
A bridging visa acts as a bridge between lodgement of a visa and the determination of that application.
There are multiple Bridging visa subclasses, such as BVA, BVB, BVC, BVD, BVE, BVF and BVR.
The rights these bridging visas grant and the conditions imposed on them vary significantly.
"There's a hierarchy. They start off with your BVAs, and you keep going down, and the lower you get — it's like the depths, you know, of Dante's Inferno — the more challenging it becomes, not only for the way you get them, the circumstances that you get them, but also the conditions that may be on them, the time that you hold them," says Ravi Vaswani, a migration solicitor at PocketLegal in Sydney.
If you do a comparison between the BVA and the BVR, it's two worlds apart.
Bridging Visa A (BVA)
A BVA is granted to someone who makes a valid application for a relevant substantive visa in Australia while holding a valid visa.
Generally, a BVA will have the same conditions attached to it as the visa held at the time of application, explains Mr Rigas.
"For example, if you hold a visitor visa and you make a student visa application, you'll be issued a Bridging Visa A," he says.
People on a BVA can apply for permission to travel overseas for a limited period of time, but they will need to be in Australia when a decision on their application is made, which is one of the most significant benefits of a BVA.
Bridging Visa B (BVB)
When a BVA holder applies for permission to travel overseas, they make an application for a Bridging Visa B.
A Bridging Visa B allows the visa holder to depart and return to Australia during a specified travel period while their application for a substantive visa is processed.
"Now, this allows you to exit Australia, and generally, it carries with it the same conditions as the BVA. So most people will use it, come back, still be on their BVB. Their BVB will no longer let them travel but will act the same way as the BVA they held when they left the country," explains Mr Vaswani.
Bridging Visa C (BVC)
Like a BVA, a Bridging Visa C is also granted when someone makes an application for a relevant substantive visa in Australia but not while holding a valid substantive visa. It is granted when someone applies for a visa while holding a bridging visa or no visa at all.
For example, someone on a visitor visa applies for a student visa. They are granted a BVA. After their visitor visa expires, they decide to apply for a different visa, a sponsored work visa. Because they do not hold a substantive visa when applying for this visa, they will be granted a BVC.
A BVC is also granted to a visa applicant if they were unlawful but weren't detained before making the visa application.
Generally a BVC comes without work rights, explains Mr Vaswani.
"[A BVC] allows you to stay here whilst your visa is processing, but generally, it has a no-work condition attached to it," he says.
"You can apply for it. And, if successful at that time, they'll issue a new BVC without that condition on it."
If a BVC holder leaves Australia, they cannot come back unless they get another visa.
Bridging Visa E (BVE)
A Bridging Visa E lets you stay lawfully in Australia while you make arrangements to leave the country, finalise your immigration matter or wait for an immigration decision, explains Mr Vaswani.
A Bridging Visa E is where you are an unlawful non-citizen, so you’ve become unlawful. Your bridging visa has expired, or your bridging visa has been cancelled.
So a person presents to Home Affairs to regularise their status.
"You want to make arrangements to leave the country, but before you do so, you want to avoid the dangers of being detained and then deported," says Mr Vaswani.
An application for a BVE is also made if your visa has been cancelled and you want to apply for a review of the cancellation decision.
Mr Vaswani noted that once someone holds a BVC, they can apply for a whole plethora of visa subclasses (including skilled work visas) that they are unable to access if they hold a BVE. A BVE holder will generally be able to apply for only a handful of visas, such as a protection visa, partner visa or medical treatment visa.
Applying for work rights
Usually a BVE, like a BVC, does not come with work rights.
But people who have been granted any bridging visa without work rights can still apply for these.
Applicants would typically need to demonstrate financial hardship for work rights to be granted in this situation.
Bridging visa duration
The period that a bridging visa remains in effect depends on a number of issues, explains Mr Rigas.
"Generally, if you applied for another visa, the bridging visa will remain in effect for 35 days after the visa application is finally determined," he said.
So that could be for 35 days after the Department of Home Affairs has made a decision to refuse the visa and the holder does not apply for a review of that decision or 35 days after an unsuccessful review application.
"In the 35 days, you are expected to make arrangements and depart Australia or apply for another visa if you are able to," Mr Rigas explained.
The duration of a BVE may be fixed for a shorter period, such as to provide the Department with the evidence of departure arrangements, or it may be for a longer period if the holder has applied for a visa or a ministerial intervention request.
There are also some less common types of bridging visas.
BVD, BVR and BVD
A Bridging Visa D (BVD) is granted when someone tried but was unable to apply for a substantive visa.
For example, an authorised officer was not available to interview them at the time, or they did not pay the correct charge or they filled out the wrong visa application form, but they will be able to do so within the next five working days.
They might then be eligible for a BVC.
A Bridging Visa R (BVR) is for people who are in immigration detention but their removal from Australia is not reasonably practicable. This allows them to be released from detention pending their removal.
A Bridging Visa F (BVF) is used exclusively for suspected victims of trafficking or slavery who do not hold a substantive visa. This type of visa is granted very rarely.
In some cases, it's possible to apply for a bridging visa directly to the Department of Home Affairs, but in complex circumstances, it's advisable to seek legal advice as soon as possible, especially if the visa has expired.