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'Married but living apart': Australia’s partner visa processing times blow out due to COVID-19

Swapnil and Monika Source: Supplied

Lives of nearly a 100,000 Australians are in limbo as they wait for their partner visa applications to get approved, which is taking an average of two years to get processed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Jaskomal Kaur hasn’t seen her Melbourne-based husband Aditya Rajput ever since they got married in India in April last year. Her husband had lodged an offshore 309 visa application days after they tied the knot, hoping to start his new life in Australia.

But other than receiving an automated message informing that their case was now being processed, Ms Kaur says they have not received any intimation from the Department of Home Affairs regarding the status of their application since April this year.


Highlights:

  • Nearly 100,000 Australians are in the queue waiting for partner visa grants
  • Offshore partner visa applicants are having to wait for nearly two years to get approvals
  • Department of Home Affairs says they continue to process partner visas 

“It’s been over 15 months and I am beginning to lose hope of reuniting with my partner. I have spent all my first occasions that are considered auspicious in the Indian culture alone at my parents’ house, instead of celebrating these special moments with Aditya,” she says.

'Life in limbo'

Offshore partner visa applicants like Ms Kaur are currently having to wait for around two years to be approved to live with their spouses in Australia.

The 31-year-old who is waiting to start a family now fears that these waiting times and the application backlog that currently sits at 100,000 may further inflate due to the processing delays caused by disruption of visa processing services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have a feeling that with the processing pipeline backlog continuing to surge, we may have to wait for even a longer period to get an approval. I hope that the government understands and addresses the issue of backlog as this too is a crisis that is impacting their own citizens and permanent residents,” she adds.

Labor MP Julian Hill.
Labor MP Julian Hill.
Labor MP Julian Hill

Raising the plight of couples caught out by the processing delays in the Parliament on Monday, Labor MP Julian Hill called the federal government to address the growing backlog and the “perverse consequences” of the COVID-19-induced border closure on the partner visa applicants.

"Yet right now, as we debate this motion, the lives of nearly 100,000 Australians are in limbo, desperately waiting for years for this miserable government to grant their partner visas.

"Australian couples are suffering, separated for years and hearts pining. Relationships are now stressed or broken as waiting times continue to increase,” said Mr Hill.

partner visa
Swapnil and Monika
Supplied

'Slow and expensive'

Also waiting in the queue since June 2019 are Swapnil Patel and his wife Monika, who are now expecting their first child.

“We applied for a partner visa last year in June after which my wife joined me here in Melbourne on a tourist visa. Since then we have just been prolonging her stay by applying for new visitor visas as nothing has moved as far as our application is concerned,” says Mr Patel.

The 33-year-old would be father claims the entire process has caused him financial and emotional duress as he has already spent months in waiting and close to $11,000 on multiple visa applications but still doesn't know if his wife would have approval before their child arrives into the world.

“We have spent $8,000 on the partner visa application and then at least four visitor visa applications since each of them is valid only for 3 months on top of the fee that you pay to the migration agent.

“It’s a double whammy for us because if they open our case now, Monika will have to exit the country which poses an even bigger challenge since she is pregnant and to make it worse, there are hardly any flights to India,” he adds.                

Partner Visa
Couples in queue for partner visa grants sign a peition seeking reforms to the visa processing system.
Getty Images

'Department continues to process partner visas'

According to the global processing times available on the Department of Home Affairs website, 90 per cent of 309 partner visa applications are processed within 24 months.

On being questioned if the offshore application process had been temporarily stalled, a spokesperson clarified that while processing has been impacted, the Department continues to progress partner visa applications.

“Some applicants may currently have difficulty providing requested checks, such as health, character or biometrics, because these services may currently be unavailable in their country.  Until the requested checks are completed, the visa application cannot be progressed and finalised,” said the spokesperson.

'Australia is losing out on skilled migrants'

Frustrated with the waiting period, couples in the queue have banded together and lodged a petition seeking faster processing and reforms to the partner visa system. At the time of writing, the petition had close to 9,000 signatures.

Melbourne-based migration agent Navjot Kailay who has been spearheading a similar campaign says partner visa applicants must be given “top processing priority” as they can be crucial to Australia's post-pandemic recovery process.

“At a time when the country needs highly skilled migrants, it would be a wise idea to speed up the grants to partners of Australians waiting for approvals, because they already have financial and emotional support here and wouldn’t be a burden on the Australian government.

“Australia is in fact losing out on skilled migrants by not addressing the issue of partner visa backlog,” he added.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Find out what restrictions are in place for your state or territory.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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