Tag Archives: Partner visa

Partner Visas – What’s new October 2011?

It’s common for DIAC to see a surge in onshore Partner visa applications (Subclasses 820 / TR and 801 / PR) when there are significant changes taking place in other visa programs.

Here of course I mean the significant changes in General Skilled Migration (GSM) program – New smaller Skilled Occupations List (SOL) + New tougher Points Test + multiple changes to Priority Processing + the large group of Priority 5 applicants waiting in limbo + the prospect of the new SkillSelect program (Expressions of Interest) from 1 July 2012. It is also important to see the turmoil that has existed in the International student sector in this light as well – DIAC and the Federal government’s clear policies to cause structural changes in this sector have led to significant falls in enrolments, College closures and a great deal uncertainty for current and potential students. All this leads potential applicants to consider the Partner option if it is available to them.

DIAC have increased the allocation to the Partner visa category by 8% for this year but the surge in applications is running higher than the extra places. This means, other things being equal, slower processing times. Onshore Partner average processing is currently at about 9 months. DIAC in September 2012 were processing cases lodged in November 2010 with 14% of allocated cases being decided in 1 month.

This can all seem confusing and understanding the terminology here is important or rather it’s important not to get confused.

Allocated case – application assigned to a case officer for processing (taken out of the pipeline of lodged applications)

Average processing time – from the date it is allocated to a case officer

The time between lodgement and getting allocated to a case officer – the pipeline of applications

So you lodge the application, wait in the queue, get allocated to a case officer who then assesses the application and makes a decision. So remember there are two time streams running here from when you lodge to when your application is allocated & from when your application is allocated to when a decision is made. The quoted numbers refer to the second time stream.

Rejection rates are at historic highs right now running at 5% for onshore 820 / TR and 7% for onshore 801 / PR. First this is not surprising as there are more applications due to the factors above and some of those will be ‘marginal’ for want of a better word. In addition there has always been a ‘market’ in fraudulent Partner applications but this new rate of refusal is above the long-term average. Second more 801 applications (Second Stage processing) are refused as unfortunately relationships breakdown.

It’s interesting to hear that DIAC have recently made 200 random home visits to applicants for Partner visas – checking to see if the reality matches the paperwork. These visits have led to outcomes that mirror the current higher refusal rates for these visas.

I’m often asked if priority processing is an option for Partner visas. The simple answer is yes and that DIAC will consider requests on a case by case basis. You’re not going to be moved up what is basically a chronological queue just by asking. You’ll need a substantial reason to get processed with priority. This could involve some complex personal or employment circumstance. If you feel you have a case worthy of consideration it does no harm to ask.

The best advice for Partner applications is to do your level best to have every necessary document included when you lodge the application. Make your application DECISION READY. Filling in a few forms, attaching a pile of photos and a relationship registration certificate will guarantee that you’ll be at the long end of the processing timeline. It’s up to you to prove to DIAC that you have a ‘genuine’ relationship!

That’s a Price Rise -15%

I’m not sure if I should equate the 1 July 2011 rise in DIAC’s Visa Application Charges (VACs) to (a) that famous Paul Hogan quote from Crocodile Dundee when he said, “That’s not a knife. That’s a knife.” as Mick Dundee pulls out a huge bowie knife to frighten a couple of muggers with a less impressive blade or (b) perhaps to the pricing policies of Australian Utility companies.

I’m thinking that the latter comparison is more appropriate as in the knife demonstration the muggers only got scared off – it was a no foul. For visa applicants and utility consumers alike demand is highly inelastic – we get to pay no matter what the price or price rise if we want to play.

For General Skilled Migration (GSM), Partner (onshore & offshore), Child. Parent, Other Family, Employer Nomination (ENS), Business Skills and Temporary Business (sponsors & visa applicants) the price hike is a massive 15% (Working Holiday applicants get to pay 17% more!).

Is this shameless exploitation of a vulnerable sector?

Well when your price rise is 4.5 times the highest annualised rate of inflation measured by quarters since March 2009 at 3.33% and the only comparable rise in prices recently have been Fruit at 14.5% and Vegetables at 16% you’ve got to think so.

You now get to pay $2960 (was $2575) to lodge your onshore application for residence and $1995 (was $1735) for an offshore migration application.

Our Treasurer is fond of pointing to recent natural disasters to explain almost every challenging negative statistic of late perhaps Immigration Minister Bowen can play this card to explain how he and DIAC arrived at this number.

If it was just a case of “well if people want to come here let them pay for the privilege” this form of fund raising could slip under the radar like all our recent asylum seeker boat arrivals but every Child migrant has an Australian parent, every Partner and Australian significant other and every Parent at least one Australian child.

Minister Bowen’s massive price rise is a kick in the guts for all these Australians. Perhaps they’ll all have forgotten by the next election?

As an afterthought for those of you with an interest in numbers – the increase in fees (just the extra $385 onshore and $260 offshore) will raise about $60,000,000 for the Federal government. (185000 in the 2012/12 program x average fee increase). Ball park figures I’m not pretending to be the Treasury. Nice little earner though.

New Lodgement and processing arrangements for Partner (Temporary) (subclass 820) visa applications

Lodgement and processing arrangements for Partner (Temporary) (subclass 820) visa applications

  1. In short the DIAC now want all applicants to send their applications by post or courier and
  2. They have condensed the number of centres processing applications to four (4)
  • NSW processing NSW applications at Lee St in Sydney
  • Victoria processing Victoria in Lonsdale St in Melbourne
  • Queensland processing Queensland, ACT & Tasmania in Adelaide St Brisbane
  • WA processing WA, SA & NT in Wellington St Perth.

The Factsheet issued by DIAC on this change in the FAQs section gives as a reason for this latest change under the heading -

Why have lodgement and processing arrangements been changed?

The department is undergoing a wide-ranging transformation program to position itself as the best immigration and citizenship organisation in the world. Reducing the number of locations at which we process these applications allows us to achieve greater consistency, efficiency and service excellence.”

 

So I guess the logic goes this way people in ACT, Tasmania, SA & NT are now unable to stroll into a DIAC office and lodge their application therefore we must make it equally difficult for everyone, hence lodge by post or courier.

DIAC seem to specialise in changing where applications are processed using an almost stream of consciousness approach. It happens so often that one could perhaps use it as a topic for a doctoral thesis and I’m certain this all change happens at significant direct cost to the taxpayer but I suppose it is good that they aim to be ‘the best immigration and citizenship organisation in the world’.

 

My problem is twofold…

  1. A year ago I could make an appointment at DIAC’s Partner section on Level 2 at Lee St, Sydney and arrive with my decision ready application and the happy couple and have the 820 visa in the applicant’s passport in 30 minutes. Efficient, even impressive… ‘People Our Business’. Then they closed this system using resources and efficiency as the reason. Next came – arrive with the application and sit down with an officer who receipted it and got back to me usually very quickly. Then came – give me the application over the counter and we’ll get back to you which finally led to a new service standard of 9 months to process an 820 application (on average) – some faster obviously others slower. Now the counter is closed and all direct communication has ceased to be replaced by post or courier. I’m missing the improvement in this progression to becoming the best immigration organization in the world. Is it just me who can’t see how an applicant is better off?
  2. Second, and this may be a minor point, but it is a reality – often couples lodge applications with very little time to spare before a current visa expires – sometimes even on the last day before they become illegal. How is this new system dealing with this problem? People shouldn’t be so silly I know but the reality is they often get into difficulties and last minute applications happen. Can we now rely on the notion that as long as it’s dated stamped as received by DIAC before the visa expires that a BVA will be issued? What’s the policy here? No FAQ answer on the Factsheet. Does this now mean that you cannot take your visa expiry as the last day to lodge an application – how long should we add backwards to allow for Australia Post – a day, a week, longer?

Oh yes one other point of interest.

I had a Migration Agent friend who was turned away by the Sydney DIAC counter the other day and told he’d have to go down the road to the Post Office to send the application in to DIAC Sydney before they’d accept it. Then I read this in the Factsheet…

Can I lodge my application in person?

We prefer that you lodge your application by mail or courier directly to the relevant Partner (Temporary) Processing Centre. You may also lodge it in person at any office of the department if you prefer. Applications lodged in person will be transferred to the relevant Partner (Temporary) Processing Centre.

 

Now that’s confusing! I’m taking a copy of the Factsheet with me next time I walk up the hill to lodge an 820 application at Sydney. I guess that also means that applicants in ACT, Tasmania, SA & NT (and even in NSW and Victoria) can in fact lodge an application over the counter or does it?

Registered Relationships – Partner Confusion

Over the last month I‘ve had a string of clients in my office telling me that they have been in contact with Immigration / DIAC by telephone in relation to lodging an onshore Partner application. In each case they have been de facto couples that have registered their relationship in NSW through the system that began on 1 July 2010 through NSW Births Deaths & Marriages.

Their question to DIAC has been about the connection between the 12 month relationship / cohabitation requirement for a de facto couple prior to being eligible to lodge a Partner application and formal Relationship Registration.

Some have been told that those with registered relationships still need to meet the 12-month requirement. Others have been informed that relationship registration definitely removes the need to have been together for 12 months in all circumstances and some that it depends on the situation and that relationship registration may be considered in place of the 12-month rule. Some have been told all three!

So we have the full gambit of possibilities being advanced by the DIAC contact centre – No, yes and maybe.

Last week to clear up this confusion for a client I went up to the Partner Section in Sydney, rather than calling and the answer is simple with a few provisos.

  1. A Registered Relationship, like a marriage, makes a de facto couple eligible to lodge a partner application without the 12-month wait. DIAC will of course require proof of the veracity of the relationship as has always been the case and common sense tells you that the shorter the registered relationship the more they will need convincing. So that’s a definite YES with a qualification.
  1. DIAC are aware that NSW Births Deaths & Marriages requires no proof of relationship in order to access relationship registration and therefore the simple act of registration while opening the door to the application does not substitute for actual proof of the genuine nature of the relationship. That’s the MAYBE.
  1. I was told that they would not accept a receipt to show that the application for registration has been made as evidence of registration. Remember this process has a 28-day cooling off period and that the actual certificate of relationship registration is not issued until after the 28 days has expired. So you need to have the registration certificate in-hand when you apply or at the very least proof that it has been issued.

I was cautioned about last day applications and here the reference was to relationships that began immediately prior to being registered so that a certificate had been issued basically just in time for the applicant’s visa to expire and to allow a Partner application to be lodged. This of course looks like a manufactured rather than genuine relationship / application. I need to add a note of caution here myself by saying that this scenario may be possible but I think it would be very difficult to convince a Case Officer of the genuine nature of such a relationship.

DIAC’s War Against the Migrant Family

No you’re not misreading the title.

I’m prompted to pen this article by Immigration Minister Bowen’s latest assault on the place of family in our system of migration. On 25th January 2011 Minister Bowen capped the number of visas in what is known as the ‘Other Family’ stream at 750 visas down from 2500. Here we are talking about Carer, Remaining Relative and Aged Dependent Relative Visas. With approximately 5000 applications in the current pipeline in this area this decree moves the processing time out from a notional 2 years to crazy 6.5 years.  Of the 750 visas available, 500 will be allocated to Carer visas.

Before I comment further on this heartless move let’s just recap the other attacks already taken by our Federal Labor government in recent times in the realm of family related visas.

  • A new GSM Points Test from 1 July 2011 all but eliminating the ability of immediate family to assist by sponsoring a skilled family member.
  • Halving the number of visas available for Parents thereby doubling the processing time for Parent applications from an already unrealistic 6 -10 years to a cynical 12 -20 years.
  • The blow out in processing times for both onshore and offshore Partner – Spouse and Fiancé applications – in some cases this has gone from 30 minutes at a pre-arranged appointment to 9 to 10 months for decision ready / complete applications in Australia, which is nothing short of astounding.

Now the Minister has stooped to kneecapping the most vulnerable applicants and their Australian families in the Other Family visa stream.

Why? To save money? What government saves money by actively penalising its most vulnerable citizens? Answer: Your Federal government.

For a family to apply for a Carer visa they must have an Australian family member with what amounts to a permanent, independently assessed by the Federal government, medical problem or disability – serious and usually heart-rending stuff. When you need this sort of help its not in 6.5 years time, its now. My experience of people who must make these applications, and I’ve seen quite a few in the last 14 years, is that their situations are so compelling and distressing that you would not wish them on anyone. This is a shameful action from a government that has squandered an almost unbelievable amount of our money in its 4 years in office on impossible website dreams, insanely priced new school buildings and poorly administered schemes like the home insulation debacle.

Let’s look at the other two visas in this area that will get access to 250 visas per year – Aged Dependant Relative and Last Remaining Relative.

  • To be an Aged Dependant Relative you’ve got to over the retirement age and your Australian family needs to have been supporting you virtually fully financially for at least the last 3 years prior to application. You must be able to pass the medical, so there are no big Medical costs for Australia on the immediate horizon.
  • To be a Last Remaining Relative – this is possibly the hardest permanent visa to get due to the stringent criteria that apply – you must be the last non-Australian member of your family standing, so you’re on your own in a very real family sense.

Both these small groups of people are certainly less immediately needy from a family perspective than the Carer subclass but they none the less hold unique places in Australian migrant family structures.

I’m sitting here wondering what is going on at DIAC and in the Minister’s office. What’s the agenda here? No one is seriously suggesting a return to the old days of total ‘family reunion’ once one family member managed to get residency in Australia. However when we see a series of targeted actions, over quite a short period of time, that quite pointedly discriminate against even the most modest or compassionate needs of Australian migrant families questions need to asked.

We, as citizens should be given answers and explanations for these decisions and by that I don’t mean the political spin that surrounds so many government decisions.

If we are ‘saving money’ – How much? What were the other options?

If this is an area that DIAC perceives as subject to significant fraud then perhaps they need to get their act together and ask more questions of applicants and not go for a quick fix shotgun approach that penalises genuine applicants.

I know DIAC and the Minister’s office read these articles so who’s game to give me an answer?

DIAC Processing Times

If you’ve somehow been watching or engaging with DIAC by way of a visa application you will have noticed that processing times for almost every application imaginable have been steadily increasing. I think it’s now fair to describe this slide into slowness as a ‘blow out’. Partner applications that were decision ready were regularly granted at appointments in 2009 and early 2010 over the counter (in 30 minutes) they are now taking 9 months to process.

Overseas posts have always been slow to process Partner applications but the trend here is also disturbing. One post has just quoted 10 months. An application I lodged at the same post 6 months ago came with an acknowledgement letter anticipating a 6-month wait.

Employment Nomination applications for permanent residence, the Federal governments preferred pathway, where they stress that they are assisting businesses in a ‘market or demand driven’ employment process were taking 2 to 3 months (sometimes less) in late 2009 – they now quote 5 to 7 months. These applications were all being processed at DIAC Parramatta but under new arrangements many applications have been sent to Melbourne and Perth for processing to ‘speed up’ the processing time. I’ve now come across two ENS applications where only part of the application was sent from Parramatta to the new office and they have emailed asking for the bits that are missing that they have somehow lost. In another instance I was told directly by a Case Officer that the procedures in Perth were different from those in Sydney and that what was granted in Sydney would not have been granted in Perth. My response was that it was my understanding that the Migration Act and Regulations were Commonwealth Legislation and that meant things were the same in Perth and Sydney! I got a frosty response to say the least but it did change the way this application was being assessed.

General Skilled Migration applicants have now become resigned to waiting years for anyone to even begin looking at their valid applications as the Minister has spooled through a dizzying array of ever changing priority processing arrangements. Even applicants for Temporary Residence in the 485 subclass Skilled Graduate area are waiting 12 months or more turning this visa from an 18 month work permit into something that could well come close to three years when you count the time waiting on a Bridging Visa.

If you’re in the Parent visa queue (normal not contributory) I saw a report that new applicants are being told that the 6 to 10 year wait is now 20 years. The previous Immigration Minister, Senator Evans cut the number of these visas available in any one year in half recently and this seems to have doubled the waiting time.

By any objective standard these processing blowouts are impressive. Many other words spring to mind – demoralising, outrageous and unbelievable are three.

Not every area seems to be affected. So far the DIAC section processing Business Long Stay visas (subclass 457) with their associated applications for Standard Business Sponsorship and Nomination continue their impressive turnaround times and this is greatly appreciated by business clients and agents.

Why is this happening?

Yesterday I sat waiting for almost 30 minutes to make a deposit in the Business Section of my bank. There were only two people in front of me and at least three staff, who I have previously seen serving on the counter milling in the background. When I finally got served the teller said… “Were short of staff today.” I restrained myself and tried to smile. Is this the problem at DIAC? I’ve never seen an area of Federal Government with so many ‘senior staff’. Every time I turn around someone at DIAC has issued a new senior staff flowchart. I’ve given up trying to figure out why or what they all do. Is it a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians? Is DIAC an employment growth centre?

 

Perhaps resources are being diverted to other jobs within the department; we hear a great deal about the processing of asylum claims and the need for more and more detention facilities to house asylum seekers. Is this where the human resources have gone?

Partner Visas and the NSW Relationship Register

From 1 July 2010 NSW has put in place a Relationship Register (NSW Relationship Register Bill 2010) to provide legal recognition for persons in a de facto relationship. This applies to all de facto couples regardless of their sex. The NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages, administers the register.

Now why am I telling you this?

For one very important reason – before the register couples in NSW, who were not married, had to have been living together for 12 months (there are a few exceptions or caveats to this) before they could lodge a valid Partner application. Married couples were not similarly constrained by this regulation (2.03A). However this regulation does not apply if the relationship is registered under a prescribed State or Territory law. There are of course legal implications to registering a relationship and anyone considering this is well advised to seek appropriate legal advice, but it does open the door for de-facto couples to lodge a Partner application without meeting the 12-month living together requirement. GOOD NEWS!

Removing the Section 48 bar for onshore Partner applications

It is not often that I get to give out simple good news on my Blog.  From 14 September 2009 a large number of onshore Partner visa applicants, that is applicants for the onshore combination UK 820 (Temporary) and BS 801 (Permanent) Partner visas, as either de facto or married couples, who would have previously had to leave Australia to lodge their applications, can make their applications in Australia and remain here while their applications are processed.

This is the result of Migration Amendment Regulations 2009 (No. 10) Select Legislative Instrument 2009 No. 229. This new piece of legislation relates specifically to people who are in Australia and, have either had an application refused or a visa cancelled onshore. Prior to this amendment the vast majority of these people were required to leave Australia, as Section 48 of the Migration Act 1958 applied to them and placed a bar on them making an onshore Partner visa application (or any other application for that matter). As of 14 September 2009, and provided their visa refusal or cancellation was not under the section 501 Character provisions, those who are in genuine, continuing and mutually exclusive de facto or married relationships will be exempt form the section 48 provisions.

Put simply many who would previously have had to depart and be separated, often for many months, from their spouse while an Australian overseas embassy processed their Partner application, can now apply and stay in Australia. This is a massive victory for common sense and the Minister should be applauded for making this change. Too often unnecessary hardship, stress and pain was caused when genuine couples were torn, apart for long periods, by a section of the Migration Act which was never, I’m sure, intended to create such an unpleasant outcome. People in genuine relationships were punished for failed applications of any sort and often minor breaches of visa conditions that led to visa cancellations. The Minister has ended this punitive process with this section 48 exemption.

To take advantage of this new provision:

· the applicant cannot have been refused or cancelled under the s501 character provisions,

· they may not have previously been refused a spouse, de facto spouse or interdependent visa since last entering Australia,

· they must be sponsored by an Australian citizen, Permanent Resident or Eligible New Zealand Citizen on Form 40SP and

· they are required to provide two statutory declarations (on for example Form 888) declaring that their relationship is a genuine married or de facto relationship.

This is of course in addition to making the normal UK 820/BS 801 Partner application, which already included the 47SP Sponsorship form and the two 888 Statutory Declarations, with all the appropriate documentary proofs of identity, character, public interest and the financial, social and emotional aspects of a genuine relationship.

It is of course important to get good clear advice from a registered and reputable migration advisor (Registered Migration Agent or Accredited Immigration Law Specialist) if you feel this change applies to your circumstances before rushing in and lodging an application.

Client Audit for the last 6 months

I thought it would be interesting to do a quick audit of the nationality and visa category of the clients who have come into my office for consultations in the last 6 months. Below are the continental groupings and countries in alphabetical order and the percentage (%) each represents of the total followed by a breakdown by general visa category related to their visit.

In all 26 countries

By Continental sub-group

Africa (17%)

South East Asia (6%)

South America (5%)

Sub-continent (27%)

Europe (11%)

Middle East (2%)

North America (4%)

Pacific (28%)

By individual country

Australia (5%)

Bangladesh (1%)

Canada (1%)

China (2%)

Columbia (5%)

Fiji (14%)

India (21%)

Indonesia (1%)

Iran (1%)

Italy (3%)

Kenya (1%)

Malaysia (1%)

Nepal (4%)

New Zealand (4%)

Pakistan (1%)

Philippines (5%)

Senegal (1%)

Singapore (1%)

South Africa (8%)

Tanzania (3%)

Turkey (1%)

USA (3%)

United Kingdom (8%)

Vietnam (1%)

Zambia (1%)

Zimbabwe (3%)

General visa categories

Family (3%)

Partner (15%)

General Skilled Migration (47%)

Employer Nomination (5%)

Humanitarian (2%)

Business (6%)

Student (10%)

Visitor (2%)

Merits Review (6%)

Citizenship (1%)

Other (3%)

What conclusions do I draw from all these figures?

  1. The majority of clients ask questions about General Skilled Migration.
  2. My practice draws client from diverse group of countries and ethnic groups.
  3. My advertising represents less than 50% of the clients by target market.
  4. I still get a strong number of client referrals from my previous days as a Registered Migration Agent (1997 to 2004).
  5. It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions!