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By Anna Gorna

The Australian Immigration Department has been planning changes to the Australia partner visa application process since introduction of the Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill in 2017. So far, changes have not been formally legislated, though the October 2020 federal budget review shed some light to what we can expect in 2021.

What might change for Partner visas?

English language requirement

The Morrison Government is to introduce a requirement for partner visa applicants and sponsors to show they have a functional level of English at the time the permanent visa is approved. The requirement will apply to applicants and sponsors who are passport holders from countries other than Australia, UK, USA, Ireland, Canada or New Zealand.
In order to show evidence of a functional level of English, applicants will be required to sit a formal test or attend at least 500 hours of free English language classes through the Adult Migration English Program (AMEP). The program has seen an expansion this year by removal of limitations on migrants’ access to free English classes. Migrants can now access as many hours as they need to reach vocational English. The new measures will provide further opportunity for migrants and new citizens to maximise their opportunities in Australia, including job opportunities and social cohesion.

Upfront Sponsorship approval

The Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2016, passed by the Federal Government in 2017, was to introduce a sponsorship framework for the sponsored family visa program. Amongst other things, the framework requires the assessment and approval of sponsors; imposes statutory obligations on sponsors; provides for civil penalties and administrative sanctions for breach of sponsorship obligations; and facilitates sharing information between relevant parties. The Family Sponsorship framework commences by introducing a mandatory sponsorship approval prior to lodgement of Temporary Sponsored Parent visas, subclass 870 introduced in 2019.

The Government plans a similar system to apply to the Australia Spouse visa applications. The change will require Australian sponsors to be approved before their partners can apply for a visa. Currently, both Partner visa and sponsorship applications are lodged at the same time, yet sponsorship is the time of visa decision requirement. The move would require sponsorship to be approved prior to the visa application. The pre-visa assessment of sponsors will protect vulnerable applicants from potential family violence in case a sponsor has a history of violent or sexual offences which are not known to the applicant.

The introduction of the sponsorship approval as a requirement for a valid Australian Partner visa application may attract some challenges to applicants, including:

• Increased cost of the entire process – the current partner visa application fee is AUD$7,715. It is already one of the most expensive family visas in the world. Introduction of an additional sponsorship application will certainly attract additional cost.

• Further delays to the process- Australian partner visa applications take between 12-27 months to process depending on where the application is submitted. An extra stage will add to the already lengthily waiting times.

• Applicants who arrive in Australia on a tourist visa will have limited time to have sponsorship approved in time for expiry of their tourist visas. In addition, having a sponsorship application submitted or approved could make it difficult for a person who enters Australia as a visitor to demonstrate they are a genuine temporary entrant.

Regional applicants to be given priority

In line with the Government’s commitment to regional Australia, priority will be given to applicants and sponsors who are based in Regional Australia.

Increase in Australian partner visa allocation for 2020-2021

In the October 2020 budget review, the Department allocated 77,300 places for partner visas for the 2020-2021 financial year. This is almost a 50% increase in visa quota under the Family stream. The increased capacity in the migration program numbers will help to clear up the backlog of Partner visa applications. It is reported that over 90,000 cases are awaiting decisions.

It is estimated that the changes might come into force around November 2021 though no specific date has been announced yet. If you are considering applying for an Australian Partner visa, now is a good time to prepare your application ready for submission.

For professional assistance with the Australian Partner visa application, contact our experienced Australian migration agents: [email protected] or call us on 0207 427 5976.

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