Settlement Guide

Love and partner visas in the time of COVID-19

Source: Getty Images/John M Lund Photography Inc

Travel restrictions and social distancing measures of COVID-19 are further delaying processing times for partner visa applicants within and outside Australia. According to the Migration Institute of Australia, just under half of partner visas lodged in the last financial year were granted.


  • Prospective partner visas holders are unable to enter Australia even after being granted a nine-month permit to stay.
  • Processing times of partner visas are expecting significant delays due to lockdowns and travel bans.
  • Few partner visa applicants are still able to enter Australia on visitor visas.

John Hourigan, the national director of the Migration Institute of Australia says of the 85,000 partner visa lodgements in the queue, only 40,000 were processed this financial year.

In the COVID-19 environment, partner visa applicants are expected to experience further delays than the usual average processing time of 18 months.

That means you’ve already got an over two year wait period of applications in the pipeline.

Couple kissing
Getty Images/Maskot

Maggie Taaffe, principal lawyer and migration agent at AHWC Immigration Lawyers says inconsistency and the lack of transparency with visa outcomes have caused stress and anxiety among her clients who are unable to visit their partners in Australia or abroad.

She says isolation is a common feeling shared by her clients, some are financially stressed while others are worried about starting a family as they get older during long waits for visa approvals.

We also have people experiencing mental health problems because they just have no idea when all of this ordeal is going to end.

Hourigan says it is still possible for some offshore partner visa applicants to enter the country.

They can apply for a visitor’s visa by seeking consent of the Australian Border Force commissioner to travel, and that approval may come down to the documentation they submit to prove their de facto relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

Both Hourigan and Taaffe say their practices are observing tremendous difficulty in prospective marriage visa holders getting a travel exemption during COVID-19.

Taaffe says even while many prospective marriage visa holders have a visa and a partner in Australia, travel exemptions are not being freely granted.

They are in a situation where they only have nine months to enter the country so there will be visa expiries for the prospective marriage visa holders.

While Taaffe is concerned that those already granted a fiancé visa may need to start the entire application process again after travel bans are lifted, Hourigan, on the other hand, thinks it may be a matter of the Department simply reissuing the visa.

In some cases, they may have to provide a new notice of intention to marry.

Grounded Qantas fleet
AAP Image/Darren England

It isn’t any easier for onshore partner visa applicants.

Peruvian-born Luciano and his Australian partner Drew lodged their partner visa application over five years ago.

As Luciano had overstayed on his visa before meeting Drew, their application was initially denied and sent to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, or the AAT, for review, then to the Federal Circuit Court, and is now back with the AAT again.

Drew says applicants often think the process is just filling out two pages but it has turned out to be a very lengthy and costly exercise in their case.

What type of bed you sleep on? What toothbrush a person will use? Do you have leathers? They can look into SMS. They can look into phone call history. Anything and everything that you can imagine.

Luciano and Drew
Luciano and Drew

Hourigan says a successful visa application also comes down to how well you document your relationship including evidence of continued communication while the couple is separated, financial transactions, and shared household.

According to Taaffe, once the partner visa application is lodged, other documents such as police certificates and health examinations are also required.

The tricky part is that these character certificates and healthy examinations are only valid for 12 months which becomes a guessing game.

Taaffe says organising documents isn’t always easy at the best of times, even more so during COVID-19, for applicants who need to arrange biometric data outside their country.

Drew strongly recommends that fellow partner visa applicants seek legal advice and take time to be prepared to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars over a lengthy period.  

The Department of Home Affairs does not answer questions on partner visa applications that are within the quoted processing time.

If your processing time has been quoted as 21 to 28 months, the Department of Immigration would not respond to a query before the end of that 28 months.

Taaffe and Hourigan both recommend that the best thing to do in the meantime is to keep submitting your supporting evidence such as records of regular emails and social media communications.

Taaffe also advises that partner visa applicants register their de facto relationship in territories and states where they are able to do so, to help the chances of their visa claim being approved, and possibly a travel exemption down the track.

Meanwhile, Luciano has managed to gain the the right to work as a chef on his bridging visa. He believes that as long as he maintains a positive mindset, he will eventually get his visa.

Drew on the other hand, is hoping to finally gain some clarity to plan for their future together.  

You can follow Luciano and Drew’s visa journey, along with the emotional stories of other migrants and families, on the new four-part documentary series “Who Gets to Stay in Australia?” on SBS TV premiering at 8:30pm on Wednesday 1 July.

Travel ban

Please note that the comments provided in this article are general advice only and do not apply to all circumstances. If you are concerned about your visa status, it is best that you seek legal advice as soon as possible.

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