Budget 2020-21: Potential Changes to Australian Partner Visas

The release of the 2020-21 Federal Budget detailed significant changes to the ability of migrants to apply for and be granted Australian partner visas. Foremost amongst the changes are requirements associated with the family sponsorship framework following the Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2018 (Cth). This article details the substantive changes made to the Partner Visa criteria and application processes.

What are Australian Partner Visas?

Partner visas are designed to permit the spouse or de-facto partner of an Australian citizen, Australian permanent resident, or eligible New Zealand citizen, to join their partner in Australia to live with them on a permanent basis. Depending on whether the visa applicant lodges their application onshore or offshore, different streams will be applicable. The primary partner visa classes are as follows:

  • Partner visa (Permanent) (Subclass 820/801) – intended for onshore applicants applying to live in Australia with their partner on a permanent basis.
  • Partner (Migrant) visa (Subclass 309/100) – intended for offshore applicants applying to live in Australia with their partner on a permanent basis.

Note that it is standard procedure for an applicant to be first granted a temporary visa – with a permanent visa available after a period of two years from the date of being granted the temporary visa.

Significant Changes to the Australian Partner Visa Program

1. Two-stage Application Process

In recent years, an Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident acting as a sponsor would lodge their sponsorship application simultaneously with the prospective visa applicant’s visa request. This will no longer be the case from November 2021, with both applications needing to be filed separately – the sponsorship application requiring assessment and approval before the visa application can be lodged. It is not yet known the precise date that this will commence, but late in the year is expected.

The Federal Government’s intention behind this change is to allow the Department of Home Affairs the freedom to disclose “adverse information” about the Partner sponsor to the prospective visa applicant or vice versa – for example, any relevant criminal offences or domestic violence matters –in order to help protect the potential applicants from the risk of harm or exploitation.

It remains to be seen, however, whether these changes will increase delays and costs for applicants, especially burdensome when combined applications for temporary and permanent visas can cost up to AUD$7,850 and normally take between 11-26 months to process. Further costs are expected in relation to the Sponsor Application component.

Sponsors will also have statutory obligations to provide adequate accommodation, ongoing support and financial assistance to the sponsored partner, and notifying the Department of Home Affairs as to any changes in their circumstances. Fines or restrictions on future sponsorship ability may apply for breaches of these obligations.

The changes also allow provisional Partner visa holders and particular Prospective Marriage visa holders who are victims of family violence to continue their application for a permanent visa despite their relationship ending.

2. Partner Visa Annual Intake Expansion

The Federal Government has expanded its capacity to grant partner visas for the 2020-21 financial year, almost doubling the 37,118 granted in 2019-2020 to a total of 72,000 places. An additional 5,300 places will be reserved for other family visa applications. The Federal Government hopes the additional places will reduce visa processing time, whilst also adhering to their commitments to rural Australia by prioritising visa applications in designated rural areas.

Already, there has been significantly improved processing times for Partner visa processing with as little as 31 days from visa application to visa grant in some cases. 

3. Offshore Application Changes

The Federal Government has acknowledged the difficulties of international travel caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, making provisions to allow applicants who lodged their Subclass 309 visa applications offshore and are currently within Australia on another visa, to have their Partner Visa granted onshore in Australia without the requirement of having to go offshore.

Note, however, that this is only a temporary arrangement, and lasts until the end of the COVID-19 concession period (which commenced on 1 February 2020). At the time of this article, the conclusion date of the concession period has not been announced.

4. Prospective Marriage (Subclass 300) Visa Extensions and Refunds

For applicants who were successfully granted a Prospective Marriage (subclass 300) visa where the visa was valid between 6 October 2020 and 10 December 2020 and were unable to marry their partner due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Federal Government has allowed them to enter Australia to marry their partner up until 31 March 2022. Those whose visas expired prior to 6 October 2020 and could not enter Australia may be eligible for a refund, with any similar future application they might make prioritised.

If you believe you have been adversely affected by these changes and are seeking legal advice, would like to know more about partner visas and your rights, or are looking to apply for a partner visa, the experienced Migration specialists at Corney & Lind Lawyers are here to help. Contact our friendly team on 07 3252 0011, or email us your enquiry at enquiry@corneyandlind.com.au

This article was written by Jackson Litzow and Simon Mason.

Consulted Sources

Department of Home Affairs, ‘Public consultation on the English language requirement and the new sponsorship framework for the Partner visa program’, Reforms to Partner visa program (Public Consultation Program, 17 March 2021) <https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/how-to-engage-us-subsite/files/consultation-paper.pdf>.

Department of Home Affairs, ‘COVID-19 Visa Concessions’, COVID-19 and the Border: COVID-19 visa concessions (Webpage, 14 May 2021) <https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/covid-19-visa-concessions>.

Department of Home Affairs, ‘Partner Visas’, Partner Visas (Webpage, 27 November 2018) <https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/sitesearch?k=partner%20visas>.

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