Have you lodged (or are thinking of lodging) a Partner Visa either in Australia or offshore, and you are feeling that you have little idea what is going on with your applications at the current coronavirus time?
Our experiences with offshore and onshore Partner Visas at Corona time.
We thought we would write this short blog post to let you know about our experiences with Partner Visas and Prospective Marriage Visas at this time. We will also cover Bridging Visas and the potential for being granted a Visitor Visa if you are currently outside of Australia.
We will arrange the article according to various possible scenarios.
I have lodged a Subclass 309 Partner Visa, and I am currently outside Australia and my partner is in Australia.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) announced that certain people who were trapped offshore could seek an exemption to travel to Australia. The exemptions included Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents, and also family members of Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents, amongst others.
In order to apply for an exemption on a family basis, an applicant needs to show that they were in a de facto or married relationship with an Australian citizen or an Australian permanent resident.
Once the exemption parameters were announced and set in motion, it was immediately apparent that the Border Force officials were not equipped to decide whether or not someone was in a partnership relationship with an Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident, even if they were provided with the relevant evidence.
We assume that by way of policy, the DHA, and the Australian Border Force (ABF) made a decision that only applicants who had applied for the Subclass 309 offshore Partner Visa, or who’d been granted a Partner Visa or a Prospective Marriage Visa met the necessary requirements to demonstrate that they were in a de facto or marriage relationship with an Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident- and thus eligible to be granted a travel exemption.
Consequently, applicants who had lodged their Subclass 309 application were able to secure an exemption to travel – but were only able to travel if there were able to secure a Subclass 600 Visitor Visa. (There were also cases where individuals who had lodged onshore Subclass 820 Partner Visas, and who had travelled offshore, generally on a Bridging Visa B were able to secure a travel exemption to return home to Australia to their partners).
This arrangement has caused a lot of pain and heartache for those who have not yet lodged their Subclass 309 Partner Visa application and who are effectively stuck offshore.
Australian citizens and Australian permanent residence are prevented from travelling outside of Australia unless they have strong compelling compassionate reasons – which seem to only include serious illness and death of a family member.
Consequently, couples have been separated now for extended periods of time, and partners cannot even travel to visit their loved ones overseas.
Subclass 600 Visitor Visas offshore applications.
Even those who have lodged Subclass 309 Visa applications are experiencing serious delays in Visitor Visa processing when they want to come to Australia to be with their partners.
Initially, visitor visas were being granted to offshore Subclass 309 visa applicants who had already lodged the visa offshore. because of the apparent ban on people entering Australia who had not already lodged a Partner Visa application, some applicants lodged the Subclass 600 Visitor visa and awaited a visa grant before lodging their Subclass 309 visa application.
The reason the applications were made in this order was that if a person holds a Visitor Visa (or another type of visa) prior to applying for a Subclass 309 visa, it is technically possible to apply for a Bridging Visa A upon arrival in Australia. Clearly, this provides a great advantage to such an applicant as it allows them to stay in Australia during the processing of the Subclass 309 visa (which is almost as good as lodging the Subclass 820 Visa onshore). The associated Bridging Visa A, however, does not provide work rights.
As at the end of June 2020, we have noted that Visitor Visa applications lodged offshore have stagnated in their processing and we suspect that processing has been largely suspended until the borders reopen. Some visitor visas are being granted, but these appear to be few and far between.
We anticipate that if a person does not have a Visitor Visa either at the time of application for a Subclass 309 or afterwards, it is unlikely that they will be granted one in the near future. Whether or not the DHA would grant a visitor visa on compassionate grounds at this time is moot.
I have lodged my Subclass 309 visa and I have a visitor visa.
Anecdotally, and from our own experience, we have found that there is little consistency in decision-making across the board with respect to the travel exemption applications.
Some applicants are refused multiple times or alternatively hear nothing back from the DHA, and some lucky applicants are granted the exemption on their first application. It is hard to pick a pattern with respect to exemption applications.
Some of our applications, which are accompanied by submissions and evidence, our being granted quickly and some are taking a long time. It is difficult to predict at the time of request whether or not the application will be granted, or simply placed in a queue.
Our view is that if you have a visitor visa, and have lodged an offshore Subclass 309 Partner Visa, keep making applications for an exemption to travel, every time you have one refused, or alternatively every time you have waited more than a couple of weeks for a response.
Don’t forget that upon arrival in Australia, you must enter quarantine for two weeks at a hotel of the government’s choice (state or territory government), and the expenses for the two week stay will soon be borne by the visa applicant.
The Queensland government recently published its costings for the quarantine hotel stays, which commence from 1 July. Individuals will have to pay around $2,800 for the two week period, couples, $3, 710 and a family of four would have to pay $4,600.
I have been granted a Subclass 309 Partner Visa
If your visa grant has been issued, you should have no problems being granted a travel exemption to join your partner in Australia.
Onshore Partner Visa applications (Subclass 820)
Whilst slower processing of Subclass 820 Onshore Partner Visa applications has become apparent, we are still receiving Subclass 820 visa grants, as well as Subclass 801 grants, which of course is the permanent Partner Visa.
Processing times are variable. We have had Subclass 820 visas granted in 3 1/2 months, and some of it stretched out to over 12 months. Where there is an area of complexity in a Subclass 820 visa application – either health or character for example, applications are taking much longer to process.
I have lodged a Subclass 820 Partner Visa, and I am currently on a Bridging Visa A. I want to get a Bridging Visa B and go home to visit my family.
Currently, Bridging Visas B are not being granted, and there is no provision to grant a Bridging Visa B on a compassionate basis.
Those of you who have lodged Subclass 820 Partner Visas therefore, are essentially trapped in Australia unless you leave the country on your Bridging Visa A (unless you have another visa) – but should you do this the Bridging Visa A disappears as you leave Australia, and the only way that you would be able to return to Australia would be via a Visitor Visa, if you were lucky enough to be granted one.
Should you return on a Visitor Visa, you must then endure a three month period without work rights – but you would be able to reclaim your Bridging Visa A during that three month period, and enjoy work rights at the end of the three month period, when your visitor visa expired.
I have lodged a Prospective Marriage Visa – can I get a Visitor Visa to come to Australia to see my partner?
Unfortunately, the DHA is not currently granting Visitor Visas or travel exemptions to Prospective Marriage Visa applicants.
I have been granted a Prospective Marriage Visa – can I travel to Australia?
Because a Subclass 300 Prospective Marriage Visa is not a permanent residence visa, we have heard anecdotally that travel exemptions are generally difficult to obtain even when the Subclass 300 visa has been granted – although we have had travel exemptions granted to such visa holders.
This position has resulted in extreme stress for Subclass 300 visa holders because of impending expiry dates, and the uncertainty about when the travel restrictions will be lifted.
The DHA’s stance appears to be that if your Subclass 300 visa expires before you are able to travel to Australia, you will need to apply for another Subclass 300 Visa.
If you have been granted a Subclass 300 Prospective Marriage Visa, we recommend that you continue to apply for the travel exemption on the basis you have an Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident partner who needs you to be in Australia with them.
I am offshore, and my Bridging Visa B has expired!
The option as stated above is to apply for a Visitor Visa in the hope that it will be granted. then you will need to apply for a travel exemption (you can do both applications concurrently, but clearly you cannot travel until you have a visitor visa). Once you return to Australia you may reapply for your Bridging Visa A, and once your Visitor Visa has expired you will be entitled to full work rights.
Upon your return you will be required to spend two weeks in quarantine in a hotel of the state or territory government’s choice – where you entered the country.
Need help or migration advice?
Why don’t you take advantage of our free telephone consultation service, which we are currently offering during the pandemic. Book your free consultation here.
Also, check out our Facebook group, which now has over 1000 members – and where the information centres around the COVID crisis and its effects on Australian immigration.
Finally, we have some handy COVID resources on a website which you will find here.