[UPDATE] Changes To The Partner Visa Program For 2021

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Following the 2020 Budget, there are coming to the Australian Partner Visa program in 2021.

It is now understood that the major Sponsorship changes are set to commence in April 2021. With this in mind it is recommended that potential visa applicants consider the changes carefully as it may affect their eligibility.

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 three to six 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. It is now understood these changes will commence in April 2021.

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. It is expected that these changes will commence in late 2021. The proposed changes will not affect applicants applying prior to this date.

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.

Onshore Grants For Subclass 309 Applicants

Applicants for Subclass 309 visas are normally required to be outside Australia at the time of both application lodgement and visa grant. Ordinarily, applicants who are in Australia on temporary visas can leave and return to the country relatively easily in order to meet this requirement.

Disruptions to international air travel, and border restrictions implemented as a result of COVID-19, have however created considerable difficulties for affected individuals. A
significant number of people – recognised as the partner of an Australian citizen or permanent resident – have been onshore since the onset of the pandemic, and unable to
leave the country in order to have their visa granted as required. With limitations on airline passenger numbers, and caps on international arrival numbers in Australia, tickets are extremely expensive and flights unreliable. Inward travellers, except those arriving on a quarantine-free flight from New Zealand, must also quarantine at a designated facility for 14 days on arrival, usually at their own expense.

As a result the government is proposing the grant of Subclass 309 visas onshore on a temporary basis, throughout 2021 only, after which time the current processing requirements would resume. This Bill has currently yet to pass parliament.

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