John McQuaid, Director of Arrive Australia, talks through the ins and outs of Partner Visas. Originally from Northern Ireland, McQuaid has been in Australia since the early 90s and now lives in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, so he knows a thing or two about the old migrations business…
Every year, the Australian government grants around 190,000 permanent residence visas. A little over 60,000 of these visas are allocated to the family stream. Partner visas take up a whopping 47,000 places in this family stream each year. This figure does not include the many thousands of people who join their partners on temporary visas such as the 457 visa, student visas or New Zealand family relationship visas.
So what are partner visas and how do they work?
As the name implies, these visas are for overseas nationals who are in a relationship with an Australian permanent resident, Australian citizen or “eligible” New Zealand citizen. There are a number of different options to consider: The most appropriate visa application may depend on whether you have been living together and for how long, or are engaged or married. In all
cases, strong evidence of a genuine and on-going relationship is needed. This applies even to married couples, so simply rushing out and getting married won’t make a person eligible for a partner visa.
Probably, the most common applicants are couples who are in a de facto relationship – living together, but not married. The normal immigration requirement for a de facto visa application is that the relationship must have existed for at least 12 months prior to the date of the visa application. This usually means showing that you have been living together for at least 12 months; however, migration regulations do allow an exception where the de facto relationship has been registered under an Australian State or Territory law.
Currently, NSW, Queensland, Victoria, ACT and Tasmania allow de facto relationship registration. This works for Heterosexual and same-sex couples. The rules are different in each state but generally all require at least one of the partners to be considered resident in the state. On approval, a certificate is issued. This relationship registration certificate is accepted by Immigration in lieu of 12 months relationship evidence. So, it is possible to make an application for a partner visa with less than 12 months evidence.
What evidence do you need to show to prove your relationship status?
The partner/de facto visa application will still need to show proof that the relationship is genuine and on-going. Examples of documents that assist in evidencing relationships include: Statutory declarations by you and friends, photos, joint and/or separate utility bills, joint bank accounts, envelopes postmarked and letters coming to the same address, rental agreements, phone bills showing calls to each other, joint membership of clubs etc.
For couples who have been together for less than three years, the initial partner visa is a two-year temporary visa. On the two-year anniversary of the first application, couples need to show evidence that they are still together to allow grant of permanent residence. Where couples can give evidence of a long-term relationship of more than three years, the application can go straight to permanent residence.
How much is it to lodge a partner visa?
Partner visa applications can be made in Australia or from outside Australia. The visa fee is currently $7000, but this is liable to change at any time. If the overseas partner has some other temporary visa in Australia, it’s usually better to lodge onshore in Australia. You can find the latest fee here on the official border.gov website.
There are long processing times for partner visa applications (expect around nine to twelve months), however, when applying in Australia, a bridging visa is granted. The bridging visa comes into effect when your current visa expires, allowing you to stay in Australia until a decision is made on your new application. Recent changes mean that bridging visas for partner applicants have no work restrictions; this means that once the bridging visa comes into force, you can work full time for any employer for any length of time. There are long processing times for partner visa applications; expect around nine to twelve months depending on where the application
For anyone who has met the love of their life but not lived together, there is a prospective marriage visa. This is a nine-month visa that allows the overseas partner to come to Australia, and the couple then have nine months in which to get married and apply for the second stage two-year visa mentioned above. To apply for a prospective marriage visa you need to be in a genuine relationship, show you have met and know each other and have set a date to marry.
Partner visas have no upper age limit, English language tests or skill requirements; as a result this stream has been one of the most abused with a high rate of bogus applications. The Department of Immigration conducts many checks on applications. Most importantly, it is critical to have a well documented application so think about asking a registered migration agent to assess your best option and perhaps assist with your application: mia.org.au