Following the 2020 Budget released on 6 October 2020, the Australian Government last night released important details about changes coming to the Partner visa program. This post sets out everything we know so far about the key changes.
The Department of Immigration has announced 160,000 overall permanent migration places in the 2020-2021 migration year. This maintains the usual migration intake and is encouraging news as it suggests that the Federal government is aware of the important role that immigration will play in the COVID19 recovery.
For potential partner visa applicants there are dramatic changes coming to the program. While there is no fixed date for these changes to commence, we anticipate that all the changes will commence in the next six months.
Increased Program Caps
The government has increased the number of yearly places allocated to Partner Visa Applicants. While the government has long denied that the Partner visa program is capped, the number of Partner Visa grants has remained fixed over the past few years at around 40,000 while the backlog of undetermined applications has increased to 100,000.
Following the budget, the government has announced that 72,300 of the 77,300 proposed places in the family stream will be allocated to partner applicants. This means that processing delays might not be as common moving forwards.
No Increase in Visa Application Fees
Unexpectedly, there was no increase in the Partner Visa Application Charge announced. It may be that further Partner Visa Application Charge increases will be forthcoming next financial year.
Prioritisation of Regional Applicants
Budget papers indicate that where the relevant sponsor resides in a designated regional area, the application will receive priority processing. The usual definition of ‘designated regional area’ is all areas outside of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. (However, it is worth noting that the definition of a ‘Designated Regional Area’ for partner visa prioritisation may differ from the usual definition.)
This isn’t a very significant benefit as it primarily benefits individuals who are already settled onshore. However, it may represent a faster pathway to Permanent Residency.
Commencement of the Sponsorship Scheme
While legislation was passed a few years ago, the government has now formally indicated that the family sponsorship framework will be applied to Partner visas.
The sponsorship framework will mandate character checks and the sharing of personal information as part of a mandatory sponsorship application, and subject the sponsor to enforceable sponsorship obligations. These changes will complement existing family violence provisions within the Partner visa program.
This change will:
- separate sponsorship assessment from the visa application process for family
- sponsored visas;
- require the approval of persons as family sponsors before any relevant visa
- applications are made;
- impose statutory obligations on persons who are or were approved as family sponsors;
- provide for sanctions if such obligations are not satisfied;
- facilitate the sharing of personal information between a range of parties associated with the program; and
- improve the management of family violence in the delivery of the program by
- allowing the refusal of a sponsorship application; and cancellation and / or barring of a family sponsor where inappropriate use of the program or serious offences are detected – especially those involving family violence
In practical terms, the changes under the Partner visa program will require an additional application process for the sponsoring party to be approved (“the sponsorship application”) prior to the visa applicant becoming eligible to apply for their partner visa (“the visa application”).
It is unclear the length of time that the sponsorship application will take to be processed. It is anticipated there will be an additional charge attached to the sponsorship application of around AUD300-400.
It is anticipated that, once the changes have commenced, this new process will lengthen the overall application time for both onshore and offshore visa applications by adding the additional process of the sponsorship application.
If you have the opportunity to apply prior to the changes, this may mean that the overall processing time of your Partner visa is reduced.
The changes will substantively affect you, however, in the following cases:
- if you are progressing a pathway onshore with a substantive visa that is due to expire within the next six to nine months and have not yet applied for a Partner Visa.
If the sponsorship application should turn out to be lengthy process, this may pose concerns for the period of stay for potential visa applicants under their current or proposed visa.
If you are in a position to expedite your visa application, we suggest it may be in your interest to do so. Given the law has already commenced for this change, the Department may implement it at any point.
English Language Requirements
The Government will introduce English language requirements for Partner visa applicants and their permanent resident sponsors. These changes will help support English language acquisition and enhance social cohesion and economic participation outcomes.
At this point, it has not been stated what level of English will be required. We anticipate that the Department will require functional English.
If you are considering applying for a Partner Visa and your partner does not speak fluent English, you should consider applying at your soonest convenience before the changes commence.
COVID-19 Related Visa Application Refunds
Prospective Marriage visa holders will be able to access a VAC refund. Temporary skilled workers and visitor visa holders will be eligible to have the VAC for a subsequent visa application waived, to allow them to return to Australia once travel restrictions are lifted.
The provision of a refund mechanism for Prospective Marriage visa applicants is strongly suggestive that the government will not extend travel exemptions to Prospective Marriage visa holders. At this stage, there are only limited circumstances where applying for a Prospective Marriage visa will have merit.
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