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Modern Australian Migration: The Diversity of Overseas Partner sponsorship.


Diversity in Partner visas

Australia has one of the most inclusive and non-discriminatory policies towards marriage in the world and that is reflected in the Partner Visa rules, regulations and policies adopted by case officers when assessing an application by an Australian citizen or Permanent Resident who wishes to sponsor a partner from overseas to reside in Australia. Long before same-sex marriage became law in this country on the 9th of December 2017, the Immigration Department has recognized same-sex relationships. Firstly, an Australian could bring to Australia for settlement someone who they claim was their adult dependent. It may be an aged spinster Aunt or it may be a long-term live-in friend who had always been financially, physically and emotionally dependent on the Australian sponsor. Without so much as putting it in words, such relationships often included a same sex partner in an era when such matters were still taboo in public discourse. Later still, the Immigration Department created the category of De-Facto Partner. Without publicly saying so, but understood by all migration lawyers and agents, this category included Same-Sex partners. In other words, Same-Sex partners who could not lawfully marry overseas or in Australia previously were still allowed to settle permanently in Australia as a lawfully recognized couple.

Increase of Intercultural Relationships

The advent of the internet and the springing up of social media platforms has enabled more Australians to meet and get personally connected with other people overseas. Online dating platforms also allow single men and women of all ages in Australia to find a partner overseas. The introduction of temporary visas for younger people to come into the country as international students, working holiday tourists, or skilled temporary workers has also created opportunities for local Australians to meet and form long-term relationships with people from all countries and races whom they would otherwise never have the chance to know. The fact that one in five Australians speak another language other than English at home also means an increase of introductions to potential marriage partners overseas through family and friends. Because of its generous immigration regime, Australia has become one of the most culturally diverse places in the world.

Types of Visa

Partner Visa (Onshore/ Offshore) – This is suitable for couples who have been formally married overseas or in Australia and the marriage is recognized under the law of the country where it took place. There is only an issue if one of the couples is still formally married to another person and the divorce has not been finalized. Nevertheless, the case officer will still require good evidence that the marriage and the relationship is genuine.

De Facto Partner - If a couple is not married but can prove from documentary and other oral evidence that they have been in an exclusive relationship for a minimum of 12 months, they will qualify for the De Facto Partner stream of the partner visa. Generally, the case officer will need proof that a couple have cohabited at the same residence/address for 12 months before applying for the visa. However, if there are good reasons for a break in that 12 months such as one of the partners having to be interstate or overseas for a short time on business or other urgent family matter, then the 12 months of cohabitation is still accepted as unbroken.

Both the partner visa and the De Facto partner visa can be applied for while the visa applicant is overseas or in Australia. Applying onshore has the advantage that the applicant does not have to wait overseas for anything up to 2 years for a decision. If the application can be made onshore the visa applicant is automatically granted a bridging visa to stay and even to work until the final decision is made.

Prospective Partner Visa (Fiancée Visa) - Where a couple find that it is impractical to cohabit together for 12 months whether overseas or in Australia and they do not yet wish to commit to being married unless there is certainty about the overseas partner’s visa status, they should consider the Prospective Partner Visa (Fiancée Visa).

There are less requirements for this visa than for a full partner visa. The couple have to only demonstrate that they have a commitment to an exclusive relationship in future and have physically met each other. There is no need to show cohabitation nor financial sharing. The Fiancée Visa is designed to allow the overseas partner to come to Australia for the purpose of marrying the Australian sponsor.

Two Stages in Partner Visas

Just like local Australian couples who are from diverse cultural backgrounds, those who found a partner from overseas will to some extent face cultural barriers. However, like any other new migrants, when sponsored partners relocated to Australia, they often face many more challenges including communicating in English, cultural shock, home sickness, sense of isolation and loss of the accustomed support network back in their home country.

The immigration department therefore normally grants the partner visa in two stages. The visa applicant is usually allowed in on a temporary 2 years visa and if at the end of that period the marital relationship is still on-going and committed then the visa applicant can progress to the permanent resident partner visa.

Who Qualifies for a Partner Visa

More correctly, this question should be directed at both the Australian sponsor and the visa applicant, regardless of whether they are a Fiancé, Spouse or De-facto partner. Listed below are some of the minimum requirements.

The Australian Sponsor:

  • Must be an Australian citizen, Australian permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen.

  • Must demonstrate that he or she is of good character and, in particular, does not have a history of violence or sexual abuse against women or children or public violence generally.

  • Prove they have the financial means and accommodation available to support the incoming partner and his/her minor dependents.

  • A sponsor who has previously sponsored another overseas partner (and the former relationship has ended) will face certain restrictions when applying a second or third time.

The Partner visa Applicant:

  • Must pass the Character test.

  • Meet all required Health criteria.

  • Is no longer in any other relationship and able to demonstrate that they are committed to the relationship with the sponsor and that the relationship is current, on-going and exclusive.

Authenticity of the relationship

The case officers when assessing the authenticity of the relationship will often look at factors that are indicators of whether the relationship is genuine. This includes the couple’s:

  • Common language used to communicate with each other.

  • Mutual friends and shared social life.

  • Shared finances and assets.

  • Family and friend’s support for the relationship.

  • Factors such as age difference. Even if there is a large age gap, case officers tend to consider other commonalities and are satisfied that the couple does not see the age difference as being an issue.

  • Multiplicity of previous relationships.

  • Inter-racial and same sex relationships are accepted without question and should not be an obstacle to visa applications.

Elizabeth Yuen