Written by Senior Immigration Lawyer, Pamela Pau

What is the current process and what do the sponsorship changes involve?

Under the current system for partner visas, the Australian sponsor and the visa applicant can lodge the sponsorship application and visa application at the same time. This will be changed to require the sponsorship application to be lodged and approved first before the visa application can be lodged.

When will the changes take place?

These changes to the sponsorship process have been a long time coming. The Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2016 was passed in late-2018. It had been anticipated that the change would come into effect in 2019 but there were delays and then the onset of the COVID pandemic.

In October 2020, the Australian Government announced that there would be an English requirement introduced for partner visa applicants and their Australian Permanent Resident sponsors. It is expected that the changes to the sponsorship process will be implemented in November 2021, at the same time as the new English requirement is introduced.

Why are the sponsorship changes being introduced?

The changes are being introduced as part of the Australian Government’s broader initiative to prevent domestic violence, and protect visa holders and their children who may be in a vulnerable position. Whilst there are domestic violence provisions within the current framework, partner visa holders who are suffering domestic violence may be reluctant to seek help because they are worried about their visa status, they may be geographically isolated from their family and friends or they may be subject to threats by their sponsor to cancel their visa.

Under the current system, Australian sponsors are required to obtain police checks and the Department can disclose the sponsor’s convictions to the visa applicant. When the sponsorship changes come into effect, by making it a requirement that the sponsorship application is lodged and processed first, it appears the rationale is that disclosure of any relevant offences to the prospective visa applicant could cause the applicant to reconsider whether they still wish to proceed with their partner visa application.

What are the implications?

One of the big unknowns is how long the Department will take to process the sponsorship application. The Department has not yet provided any indications at this stage as to how long they expect to take to process sponsorship applications. If the Department will process the sponsorship quickly, then depending on timing and individual circumstances, this may not be too much of an issue if applicants can factor this into their timelines and plan accordingly.

However, if there are delays in processing the sponsorship application, then this will affect onshore visa applicants because they will not be able to lodge their visa application until the sponsorship application has been processed and approved by the Department. This could create more complications for further visa applications made in Australia, or it may also force applicants to apply for their partner visa from offshore.

I am planning on applying for a partner visa. What do I need to consider?

For applicants who can meet the partner visa criteria, it is best to have the visa application lodged under the current law and before the changes come into effect.

As the visa criteria is onerous, the Department fees are extremely expensive and the Department assess each aspect of a partner visa in detail, it is best to get the visa right the first time around.
The partner visa is not a visa that should be rushed. It is best to plan in advance to ensure that you and your partner have sufficient time to gather your evidence, work on addressing any risk factors or aspects that are currently weak and need to strengthened and ensure you can meet the criteria at the time you lodge the application.

Disclaimer: Please note this information contained in this article is current as of 11 January 2021 and subject to change. The information contained in this article is of a general nature only and does not constitute legal advice. Individuals should not act on the basis of the information contained in this article without first seeking formal immigration law advice.