ABUL RIZVI. Partner Visas – A Lesser Known Dutton Scandal

May 3, 2019

At end June 2018, the Government had allowed a backlog of over 80,000 Partner visa applications to build up. These are overseas-born people who are married to, or intend to marry, Australian citizens or permanent residents. Rather than take steps to deal with the backlog, Dutton started to cut down on the number of Partner places available, even though the law requires spouse visas be managed on a demand driven basis. His successor David Coleman has decided to continue the scandal.  

By voting down amendments to s86 and s87 of the Migration Act (the capping powers), Parliament has twice (in 1989 and 1996-97) made it clear it expects visa applications for spouses of Australian citizens and permanent residents to be processed on a demand driven basis. Nevertheless, the Coalition Government has allowed a backlog of over 80,000 partner applications (ie including fiancees) to develop. It has allocated only 39,799 places for partners in 2019-20 – the same as in 2017-18 (see Chart below). This can only result in the backlog continuing to grow and the law continuing to be flouted.

The Coalition Government has announced changes to processing of partner visas by adding a formal step of approving the Australian sponsor before the partner can lodge a visa application. However, implementation of this additional step has been postponed.
Note partner visa application fees are approaching $8,000 – well in excess of actual resources being allocated to the processing. Also note that at end March 2019, there were 5,396 active partner cases at the AAT. The set aside rate at the AAT is around 50 percent.

Home Affairs appears to be managing the informal ‘queue’ by delaying the allocation of processing officers to partner cases. This has led to processing times blowing out to over 2 years and many partners by-passing the off-shore partner visa process and entering Australia on a visitor visa and then applying for a partner visa onshore.

Home Affairs actions are both morally and legally indefensible. This approach does nothing to improve the integrity of the visa system and is also a wasteful way of using resources as Home Affairs staff are distracted from processing work to answering queries and criticisms for the delays.

Allowing the backlog of partner visa applications to continue to rise while restricting the number of places is unsustainable. It will eventually lead to a legal challenge.

Government must get back to processing partner visa applications efficiently, with integrity and according to law. This will require making more places available in the 2019-20 Migration Program.

Abul Rizvi was a senior official in the Department of Immigration from the early 1990s to 2007 when he left as Deputy Secretary. He was awarded the Public Service Medal and the Centenary Medal for services to development and implementation of immigration policy, including in particular the reshaping of Australia’s intake to focus on skilled migration. He is currently doing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies.

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14 thoughts on “ABUL RIZVI. Partner Visas – A Lesser Known Dutton Scandal

  1. Thanks Abul for the series of depressing articles on our immigration system. I have been reading your postings for months now and they fill me with dread, anger, frustration. Here is a brief picture of my story.

    I have a partner of 3.5 years in Ethiopia – a ‘high risk’ country according to the Department of Home Affairs. I have been to Ethiopia 4 times to see my partner but due to financial, health, family and work commitments and constraints both ends have not been able to get over since Nov/Dec 2017.

    We tried to get visitor visas twice (2016, 2017) for the legitimate purpose of my partner visiting me and my family. We were naive to the extreme. No and No. We were NOT aware of/did NOT intend to then apply for any other form of visa when my partner arrived in Australia. He was refused for three key reasons – no evidence of travelling to ‘countries similar to Australia’ and returning to his country (i.e. we don’t trust you) and his modest financial assets (we don’t trust you unless you are rich) and the circumstances in Australia and Ethiopia (i.e. you won’t want to go home as Australia is so fantastic, rich, welcoming for a black man). I am being cynical.

    We have applied for a Partner Visa. It took just over 6 months to get the paperwork together and the application was submitted last June. This February we finally got a request for further information. Not too much. Now the police check is in I asked how much longer until a decision is made – the Department is unable to provide any estimate. The processing time is up to 20 months (it has extended slightly since we first submitted). Meantime our relationship is on a knife’s edge after the refusals and time taken and effort of maintaining a long distance relationship.

    Where is the consideration of the lives being ruined, including those of Australian citizens who have paid their taxes, contributed to society and have happened to fall in love with someone from another continent ++?

    I wrote to the Minister and Shadow Ministers and asked for a meeting to explain our situation as I was so incensed by the ‘Au Pair’ affair. No such meeting granted.

    Much more to say including what my partner and other Ethiopians think of the Australian government and people based on our immigration policies/system and our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers….


  2. I hope a Labor Government soon with a new Minister will act quickly to fix this mess. I have a personal interest with a lawyer step son expecting a son next month with his French fiancée. They have made an application and are waiting….Both are well qualified.
    My local MP in the new House seat of Canberra could be Alicia Payne the Labor candidate. Another reason to vote for her. There are other good reasons too. My legal career from age 16 in Cooma to now at 75 in Canberra included time in the APS in Immigration. Thank you all for this most helpful information that was mostly new to me.

  3. My response on this article is based on my interest in immigration starting from the Whitlam Administration (1970s) and getting to meet “Big Al”, the late Hon Al Grassby, Minister for Immigration through my participation in many NGOs (ethno-specific and multicultural) and continuing till today.
    In the 1990s, the easiest visa to get is the spouse visa (class 100) and all is needed is to prove “genuine and continuing relationship”. Hence, the quickest way for a single person to become permanent resident of Australia is to marry a permanent resident or citizen of Australia.
    All went well for 2 decades except for a few cheats and the growing “xenophobic” fears planted in the community by the Prof Blainey (in the 1980s) and later the emergence of “racial” policies of One Nation (1990s). If immigration stats were to be available which correlate the applications with the source country, then the figures will support the perception that there are “too many non-Europeans” are entering the country through spouse visas.
    Despite the claims of many Immigration Ministers that their immigration policies were non-discriminatory, the practical aspects of it did not match. “Covert” discriminatory regulations were slowly embedded in the Migrations Act where there is no “literary” evidence of discrimination, but the outcome is the long queues in primary decision making and the AAT (Immigration Tribunal). Consequently, there are too many “Happy Birthday” cases now then it was 20 years ago. (A case sitting for more than one year is a Happy Birthday case in the 1990’s vernacular).
    A good example of regulations that disadvantage one group of applicants from another is the use of English proficiency in Citizenship applications and Skilled migration categories. In some categories, those from English speaking countries like UK, NZ, Canada, US etc. are exempt. The arguments for English proficiency are noble, but it do have unintended consequences; Or are the intention of introducing English proficiency deliberate?
    Further fine tuning of the regulation saw the introduction of temporary spouse visa, sponsorship, higher application fees and “capping” (setting a quota on the number of applications per year), makes it harder and expensive for the applicant and the sponsor. (Note: capping came into use when the Hon Philip Ruddock was Immigration Minister by limiting the number of parent’s visa in the 1990s).
    In fact, capping and higher fees, particularly in the family reunion scheme, disadvantage the poor who hope for family reunions are reduced. The need for the presence of their parents in Australia of struggling young Australian families has been shown to be beneficial.
    Of course, the “noble: reason for the defense of the integrity of the visa system particularly against cheats and “serial” marriage sponsors is great however, good and genuine applications like the case mentioned by Beauden Leonard Gellard, get caught in the net. I can assure readers that he is not alone in the forest.
    There are many issues in Immigration that needs to be well discussed and debated in a sensible and non-antagonistic manner. I remembered the former Immigration Minister, the Hon Gerry Hand, who instigated community consultations on immigration policy nation-wide where latent displeasure and disappointments in the public can be brought up to the surface. The next incoming Federal government should take note of this pent-up feelings in the community regarding certain unpleasant aspects of immigration policy. Some reform is needed.
    In my experience, prospective applicants should consult a Registered Immigrant Agent (RMA) for advice as the regulations are getting more complex and the novice applicant can make errors that sometimes, result in a point of no return. Mistakes are not often forgiven. For example, an error of omission in supplying a Police report for a 485 visa (Temporary 2-year work permit visa for foreign students) can get their application rejected.
    For those who cannot afford immigration advice, there are pro-bono RMAs in community organisations and Federal MP’s office that may be able to help.
    Finally, Mr Abul Rizvi has been too kind to call his article “A Lesser Known Dutton Scandal” whereas I am inclined to called it a far-right attempt to scare the daylights out of gullible Australians voters of imaginary “racial” threats in order to maintain power.

  4. Where a application for the partner visa is refused… is that 8000 dollars retuned to the applicant or stolen by the Australian Gov.???….As i understand it the immigration process is vetted with no possible right of reply to the immigration dept and all fees paid kept by the dept..in the case of a refusal.
    A cash grab by the Australian Govt..

  5. Maybe this was why George Christensen was spending so much time in the Philippines. Oh no, wait a minute, his girlfriend has received a partner visa from, guess who : the same Peter Dutton !

  6. Abul

    How the sentiment has changed, eh? Not only are we now charging an exorbitant application fee, but going slow on what used to be seen as “demand driven” and thus not subject to numerical limits. It is a depressing new era.

    1. What has happened to the immigration system we together developed is depressing Peter.

  7. This current Government is riddled with abuse of the very people it is elected to protect and misusing its power without legal basis if done by anyone in business or society would result in criminal charges.

    I believe politicians should be accountable to the law and not their ideals.
    It was clear last year when Dutton boasted he kept the numbers of migrants down with increased credibility checks that he was lying.
    Partner visas did not have a legal limit therefor the 20,000 unfilled migration places could have gone to these partner visa applicants ready for grant.

  8. In how many cases is this treatment tipping the balance for Australian expats trained at our expense in Australia deciding not to return with their (possibly equally well qualified) partners?

  9. My concern is situation with Partner Visas. We are already waiting for 13th month.

  10. Thanks Abul, John

    I thought I’d write my situation that has been caused by this direct policy. My situation is no where near as bad as some of the stories people are sending to me, but I think my case highlights how Australian citizenship is actually a handicap for family Reunification in Dutton/Morrisons Australia. I am a 5th generation Australian who has been married to my wife for 2 years, and we are currently expecting our first child in July. I only mention this, because an argument against the grant of Partner Visas by people with antimigrant views is that it somehow encourages “chain migration”. We met when we were both at the same University, 4 years ago and have been in a serious de facto relationship for the year prior to being married. Given both the cost ($7000 dollars) and time for processing (24+ months) for the partner visa, my wife and I were forced to move to NZ just to be in the same country. Whilst NZ is a great country and we are both able to live together here, the impending arrival of our (Australian) child has made this situation far more urgent for us, given we are alone in New Zealand without extended family, and this has made me realize the inherent unfairness in the Australian immigration program.

    My main issue is that as an Australian Citizen my Family reunification rights are behind that of so called “skilled migrants”. It is my understanding that no waiting period, or rigorous examination of the skilled migrants’ family is applied at all – with full working rights and Medicare benefits awarded to the entire family upon grant of the principle applicants visa. Moreover, the skills of myself or my wife, the fact I am 5th generation Australian, or the fact our child will be an Australian citizen by descent is not taken into account when prioritising the processing order of Partner Visas.
    Both my wife and I are highly skilled with a large amount of relevant work experience. I have degrees in Commerce, Computer and Mathematical science and an honours degree in Economics from the University of Western Australia. I am an Associate of the Actuaries Institute of Australia. All my skills are in high demand, and I am currently working in STEM related fields such as Data Science. In fact, there are 4 or 5 occupations on the Skills list that I could apply for if not for the handicap of my Australian citizenship. My wife has a Masters degree in Finance from University College of Dublin, and a Phd in Agricultural Economics from the University of Western Australia (where we met over 3 years ago).

    In my previous career in Australia, most of my work colleagues were former international students, who were sponsored to become permanent residents under the “skilled immigration” program. This included their partners and children. Despite myself having the same skill set and being an Australian citizen, the Australian government immigration policy has implicitly made the judgment that overseas foreign students are more valuable than an Australian citizen with a foreign spouse. In fact, to add insult to injury to our situation, my previous employer hired a “skilled migrant” to replace my position when I was forced out of Australia. It is my understanding his entire family has been brought over and are now on the way to permanent residency. This absurd situation shows how Australian citizenship has been devalued by the policies of Dutton/Morrison. If I could somehow renounce my Australian Citizenship, I could easily apply for a place in the “skilled migration” program, and my family would be on the way to Australia in far less than the estimated time of 12-24 months for the partner visa program.

    A final minor point is the cost of the visa relative to the “skilled migrant” program. Partner visas are the most expensive, costing twice as much as “skilled visas” (despite the ability to convert to permanent residency for the entire family on skilled visas) at $7,000 dollars. Whilst my wife and I are lucky enough to be able to afford this, I assume many in similar situations cannot. Moreover, it highlights the priorities of the Australian government – which is to encourage skilled migration at the expense of family reunification of Australian citizens.

    My large extended family is outraged by the treatment my wife and I have received (especially since my grandmother’s first great grandchild will be born in NZ, and will not be able to meet for at least a year), so this issue could sway a lot of the 50,000 Australian families currently waiting for reunification – in short a significant vote winner across the country in key senate races. This situation has become more pronounced in the past 4 years over the term of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government, so an upper estimate would be approximately 200,000 Australian families affected by this policy. Moreover, I believe most of these families would not be familiar with the ease at which other non-family migrants are able to migrate to Australia. Educating Australians more broadly about this unfairness would create some political capital that could be used to clear the partner visa backlog.

    To summarise, why should I, a highly skilled, 5th generation Australian who has been married to my now pregnant wife (carrying an Australian citizen by descent) for 2 years have to wait 12 to 24 months for the right to live in my own country with my extended family, simply because I choose to marry someone from overseas? Why was my only option to move overseas to stay with my wife, rendering my Australian citizenship useless in the right to live in my own country? My entire life has been built about not having to rely on anyone (government or otherwise). To have my families future entrusted to Dutton and Morrison and the partner visa que has been my first experience at having to ever rely on the government and it has caused me a lot of stress, anger and depression. Something has to change.

    1. Mr Gellard’s story is one which more Australians should hear.
      We are parents of an Australian citizen, a university educated young woman who is waiting for her UK citizen husband’s Partner Visa to be approved. While we knew visas were taking a long time to be processed, we assumed it was public service incompetence. It was only after reading this article and the replies, especially Mr Gellard’s, that we realised there has been a deliberate lack of action by the Coalition. We also had not realised that Parliament has twice confirmed the legal requirement on governments of all persuasions to act on such applications, nor that such inconsistencies exist between the skilled migrant visas and partner visas (an Australian citizen with a foreign partner can’t come home, but must live overseas for about 20 months, while a skilled migrant can immigrate and bring their family into Australia in a shorter timeframe!). The $7-8000 fee for such an absence of service is an embarrassment to Australia.
      How can we draw this situation to the attention of our fellow Australian citizens? No one I have spoken to about this article had any idea.

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