Every year, tens of thousands of Australians jointly lodge visa applications with their foreign partners.
It can be a stressful time. The complexity of the paperwork and the lengthy processing times – not to mention the costs – can put a lot of pressure on relationships.
Here are nine things you need to know to give your application, and your relationship, the best chance of success:
1 - It's expensive
At almost $7,000, Australian partnership visas are among the most expensive in the world.
We wish we could tell you there was a good reason for that, but the Immigration Minister himself struggled to justify the cost to us.
“It has gone up a lot, particularly in the last three-to-four years,” Joy Hay from True Blue Migration in Melbourne tells SBS.
“It’s been called the ‘love tax’, because it is a fee that people are willing to pay to stay with their partner,” she says.
Peter Michalopoulos, director of Ethos Migration in Melbourne, says the price can often come as a shock to people, but the news only gets worse.
“A professionally represented Partner visa application would cost you in excess of $10,000,” he says.
“It’s not just the application fee, you also have to factor in health examinations, police checks in Australia and any countries you’ve lived in for more than 12 months in the last 10 years – which can sometimes be tricky.
“Then there are migration agent or lawyer’s fees, which would be about $3,000 to $5,000 for a partner visa application.
“If you’re going to invest that amount of money, it’s important that it’s done right the first time, minor mistakes can become very costly down the track.”
2 – It can take more than a year
The Department of Immigration doesn’t technically cap partnership visas – they’re barred from doing so by legislation – but they do have a ‘planning level’, which essentially limits the number of applications which are processed each year.
The ‘planning level’ is currently 47,825 visas per year, but roughly 70,000 applications currently sit with the department.
That’s partly why wait times have blown out to 12-to-18 months.
It can be an anxious wait – you can expect to hear little or nothing from the department while your application sits in line.
Joy Hay tells us that onshore applications tend to take longer, with offshore or prospective marriage visas taking about 12 months to process.
Given the lengthy wait times, supporting documents have been known to expire before applications are even looked at.
“Health and police checks are only valid for 12 months, so we advise clients to do it eight-or-12 months after the initial application,” Hay says.
3 – You don’t have to be together for 12 months if you’re married
There are two paths to recognition through the partnership visa program – the de facto path and the married path.
While de facto visas require a 12-month relationship, the married path has no time requirement.
Both paths still require evidence of a genuine, ongoing relationship.
SBS confirmed with the department that same-sex couples are not eligible for the married path, even if they are married overseas.
However, the 12-month de facto wait period does not apply if a couple is registered with a federally recognised state or territory relationships register.
Relationships registries operate in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.
4 – Evidence is crucial
“One of the most common pitfalls of partnership visas is that people think that their relationship is genuine, therefore they think the department will think that,” explains Zeke Bentley from The Migration Place in Brisbane.
“The Immigration Department have openly stated that they are targeting partner visas due to the high number of false applications, so they are scrutinised,” Bentley says.
Partners need to demonstrate their relationship with a range of evidence in different areas, Joy Hay says.
“That includes financial evidence, co-habitation evidence and social evidence,” she says.
Evidence might include co-owned assets such as cars or property, joint bank accounts with several months of activity, and joint utility bills or leases.
Social evidence may include photos, joint travel records and detailed statements from friends and family members.
Accuracy, consistency and a high level of detail will mean personal statements carry more weight.
“Written accounts from friends and relatives can be used as evidence, but the trick is to make them as detailed and accurate as possible – searching through email and Facebook records to nail down dates and other details is advisable, and all statements should be cross-referenced for consistency,” Bentley says.
Glenn Rayner, with My Migration Agent in Adelaide, recommends continuing to add evidence as the application sits in the queue with the department.
“Make sure that you constantly are updating your information. There’s nothing to stop you after two or three months uploading additional information – Christmas photos, travel documents, that sort of thing,” Rayner says.
“That sends a very strong message to the case officer that you care about the visa and you care about the relationship.”
You should also be aware that the Immigration Department will cross-check your information with public records and social media posts, so you should flag and explain the reason for any inconsistencies.
Immigration may also contact family members to verify the relationship.
5 – Long distance relationships can be hard to prove
Peter Michalopoulos believes long distance relationships, in which partners aren’t cohabiting, can be a challenge to provide evidence for.
“It’s important to explain that due to the nature of your relationship, you don’t have evidence of cohabitation, but you have other evidence that it is a genuine relationship,” Michalopoulos says.
If you don’t have evidence of co-habitation, then it’s important to strengthen social and financial evidence, he adds.
Tickets and bookings to show visits to each other and strong, detailed statements from family and friends, as well as an explanation of why you aren’t living together, will be important to verify a genuine relationship.
6 – Honesty is important, but so is context
All the migration agents we spoke to stressed the importance of honesty throughout the process.
False claims can get you barred from future applications and will undermine character assessments.
Honesty and complete information is particularly important when it comes to 'Form 80', the identity and character assessment form.
“If you lie about who you are, you can potentially be banned from applying for 10 years – if you lie about other important information you can be banned from applying for three years,” Rowena Prasad with Migration Downunder tells SBS.
“You have to disclose something as minor as a drink driving charge which occurred 20 years ago when you were eighteen and failing to do so can jeopardise the entire application,” Bentley adds.
But it’s also important to provide context and ensure you don’t over-emphasise information.
“You’ve got to be candid and you’ve got to be forthright – but by the same token, you can give too much emphasis to over-explaining minor issues which could raise their concerns.
“Some people will put too much emphasis on minor relationship difficulties – everyone has their tiffs but you don’t need to make it sound like a breakup.
“You have to be really careful that you don’t give a misleading impression.”
7 – Health restrictions can be harsh
The partnership visa application process requires health checks both on the applicant and on any children they have – even if they don’t live with them or intend to bring them to Australia.
“Children have to pass a medical as part of their biological parent’s partner visa – even if they’re not going to be coming to Australia,” Joy Hay tells us.
“That can be a bit of a shock to people, particularly if they’re estranged from their former partner."
The rationale behind this is to anticipate whether there will be a potential burden on Australia’s healthcare system if the child comes to the country at any time in the future.
All medical issues for the applicant or dependents should be declared, Peter Michalopoulos says, otherwise an application could be deemed misleading.
Minor ailments such as asthma are unlikely to be an issue he says, but assessors will be looking to screen out applicants with conditions which would require regular care, checkups and hospital visits.
Such conditions may include physical or psychological disabilities, as well as cancer and HIV, as well as other blood illnesses.
“Unfortunately it can be pretty harsh,” Michalopoulos says. “The government’s aim is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Australian community and its citizens, their priority is looking after Australians.”
“Our job can be very challenging at times, because as you get to know individual cases you can understand the challenges they face and sympathise with them, however applications must be assessed by the relevant laws and we must respect that.
“There is the option to apply for a waiver – but you need to provide compelling reasons that your condition will not excessively cost the Australian community or disadvantage access to healthcare for Australians.
“There are always opportunities to present a case forward, there are always options, but it’s important that applicants are aware of these requirements prior to lodging an application,” he says.
8 – Character issues should be dealt with upfront
As part of all visa applications, it’s expected that the applicant is of good character and good standing – which means criminal records or suspicious activity can earn you a denial.
“The Australian Government wants to ensure that you don’t have a substantial criminal record or relationships with organisations that have been involved in criminal conduct,” Peter Michalopoulos says.
“If people have been served a term of imprisonment of twelve months or more – even if wholly suspended – that would be enough to fail the character test."
Suspicions relating to people smuggling and other serious international crimes can also result in denial, even if the applicant has never been convicted.
Any child sex offence convictions will also result in denial.
Not everyone who fails the test is a serious criminal, and there are avenues for appeal.
"Some applicants are not criminals at all, they have made a silly mistake over 20 years ago and now have successful careers and lives, but unfortunately fail the character test,” Michalopoulos explains.
“There is an opportunity to put forward a case that the Australian community won’t be put at risk if the person is granted a visa and the Department does have discretionary powers, however, again, these can be very challenging,"
In a recent change, Australian sponsors must now also submit criminal record checks as part of the application.
If the sponsor has a significant criminal record, or one relating to people trafficking, the Immigration Department will alert the foreign partner – and if the sponsor refuses to grant consent, the visa can be refused.
9 – You need to get your timing right or onshore applications
The migration agents we spoke to consistently stressed the importance of abiding by visa deadlines, or you risk major issues in future applications.
“It’s incredibly important that if you’re lodging in Australia and you’re on a substantive visa, that you don’t wait a minute past when your visa here expires,” Peter Michalopoulos says.
Breaking the conditions of that initial visa can lead to a bar on future visa applications, which can only be overturned if there are strong compassionate grounds.
“It can be very hard to overcome that, and it’s really risky when you’re paying that high application fee,” he says.
After lodging an onshore application, you will likely be eligible for an interim bridging visa while your partner visa is processed.
That bridging visa – which includes Medicare access and work rights – only comes into effect when your initial substantive visa expires.
Want more information?
This guide is tailored to partnership visas, but you can find an even more comprehensive guide to Australian visa applications here:
Below is the Department of Immigration’s official booklet about partnership visas, eligibility and the application process: