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Australians married to someone who is not an Australian resident are having to wait longer to be with their spouses or de facto partners, which in some cases is putting relationships under an increasing strain.
Partners of Australian citizens or permanent residents who apply for a partner visa from outside Australia are waiting up to 26 months, in some cases longer, before they can start living together in Australia. Newly married couples waiting to be together say this is an “awfully long time”.
“Our lives are on hold just because they [the Department of Home Affairs] are taking 30 months to decide whether a person is good enough to live in Australia with their partner,” says Abi Sood who is awaiting an outcome of his wife’s partner visa application.
Offshore partner visa applicants can come to Australia on a visitor visa before their partner visa application is decided. But Mr Sood says the uncertainty surrounding temporary visas keeps people like him on tenterhooks.
“You have to start a family. How does one do it unless they are together and with visitor visas, we don’t know how long they allow the partner to be in Australia,” he tells SBS Punjabi.
Visitor visa squeeze
But in some cases, even visitor visas are very difficult to get.
Bikramjit Singh who runs a trucking business in Melbourne got married to an Indian national in May last year. His wife, Reena, applied for a partner visa four months ago. In the interim, she also applied for visitor visa in order to be with her husband in Australia.
But the young couple is now struggling to keep their relationship going after back-to-back three visitor visa refusals.
“There’s so much stress at the moment because we never thought it would be so difficult just to be together,” Mr Singh tells SBS Punjabi. “Some of my wife’s relatives are beginning to have doubts about my intentions - whether I really want her to come to Australia because it does happen in some cases.”
Mr Singh says after the first refusal in January, he supplied every possible evidence to support Reena’s visitor visa application. But to no avail.
“I attached my bank statements showing over $100,000, my offer to pay a bond and my wife’s bank statements. But no.. the visa officer again refused and this time saying she won’t go back because she already has lodged a partner visa application,” he says.
The visa officer, in refusing the visa, said she had not indicated the presence of any family members in India that could be a reason for her to return after her visit, even as her parents live in Jalandhar, Punjab.
“I place no weight on [her] family as an incentive to return, and consider her family ties to India to be outweighed by the presence of her spouse in Australia,” the visa officer recorded among reasons for visa refusal.
“Due to [her] intention to reside permanently in Australia, by her marriage to an Australia permanent resident, I have concerns that [she] may be induced to remain in Australia for a longer period than the validity of their visa.”
The Department also concluded that Reena did not have a strong employment and financial incentive to return to India.
Sunil Sharma, a migration agent who helped Reena submit her visa application, says he is experiencing an increase in visitor visa refusals to those who have already applied for a partner visa.
“It [the number of visa refusals] certainly seems to have gone up during the past 3-4 months. The application of the law isn’t consistent. One applicant can have his visa refused whereas another may have an entirely different result with the same set of documentation,” he tells SBS Punjabi.
Increasing demand for partner visas
Mr Sood says partner visa applications shouldn’t take more than 12 months to be deiced. He has started an online petition to bring this issue to the attention of the government.
The Department of Home Affairs says the demand exceeds the available places for this visa in the annual migration program which has led to an increase in the waiting times.
"There has been an increase in the proportion of higher risk Partner visa cases. The Department is committed to ensuring integrity in all visa programs and has a duty to thoroughly assess the genuine nature of visa applications irrespective of their background," a Department spokesperson told SBS Punjabi.
The number of partner visas has remained 47,825 in the annual migration program planning levels since 2014-15 despite the demand increased by more than 7 per cent in 2016-17 over the previous year to 56,333.