More than 1,000 Australian partner visas have been cancelled after being identified as either bogus or belonging to people living overseas.
Experts say the system is being swamped by the popular route for permanent residency, but lawyers believe the government has come down too hard.
Each year, thousands migrate to Australia using partner visas, but the government is cracking down on those abusing the system.
1053 visas have been cancelled since July 2010. Some of the cancelled visas were exposed as fake relationships, but most involved people with permanent or temporary visas who were outside Australia.
"I think it's only the tip of the iceberg of potential fraud that could be associated with partner visas," said immigration expert Dr Bob Birrell at Monash University.
Dr Birrell says the role of partner visas has changed over the years.
"Partner visas are no longer a boy-meets-girl arrangement, as in the past where young Australians went overseas, met a prospective partner and brought them back to Australia," he said.
"Partner visa now is part of a chain migration process. A great majority of recently arrived migrants from Asia, India, China, Vietnam - when they're looking for a spouse they go back home."
The number of migrants using partner visas has increased by almost 15,000 in the past decade to 47,500 in 2013/14.
The highest number of applicants are from China, the UK and India, and the number is also increasing among students.
Dr Birrell says a backlog is contributing to the spike.
"The partner visa is the last remaining "as-a-rite" entry point to Australia," he said.
"Partner visas do require an assessment after two years, to establish whether or not the relationship is genuine and continuing, but hardly any of such assessments turn up a negative. And I think that's largely because the department is just simply swamped."
He believes Australia should adopt a tougher stance, similar to that in other countries.
"Right across Europe this is a similar problem, they've acted far more aggressively in trying to control this than we have in Australia. Ours is the easiest access to migrant visas by comparison to other developed countries. "
"The minimum age for the sponsored partner is very low. It can be as low as 16, whereas in Europe now it's quite common to find it pushed up to 24, that's the case in btoh Denmark and the Netherlands - it's 21 in the UK."
Partner visas for married and de-facto relationships make up about 77 per cent of family migration.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the federal government must be vigilant in stopping those who seek to abuse the program.
Migration Lawyer Dr Kamal Karunadasa personally handles dozens of partner visa applications each year. He believes the government has unneccesary restrictions.
"Bogus claims have to be respected, there's no doubt about that," Dr Kamal Karundasa.
"But for genuine people it should not be like that. The government should encourage for people to come, because it is linked with the human rights situation, say every Australian citizen has a right to select a partner."
Of the 1053 cancellations:
- 31 were cancelled for the provision of incorrect information and or bogus documents.
- 108 were cancelled for people with temporary visas in temporary visas in Australia or temporary and permanent visas of visa holders outside Australia.
- 809 were cancelled for people with a permanent or a temporary visa to be cancelled, without notice, for visa holders who are outside Australia at the time of cancellation.
- 72 were consequentially cancelled for people for visas held by members of the family unit of a person whose visa has been cancelled under one of the provisions above.
- 33 cancelled for permanent or a temporary visa holders on character related grounds.