Anyone who has done it can tell you why there is no good checklist for the Australian Partner Visa Process aalso known as an Australian De Facto Visa. Isn’t exactly straightforward. Trying to get my head around it for the first time nearly left me with a headache.
Lists abound full of words like “might” that make the whole process even more confusing. The immigration website was a labyrinth to me, with a ton of info about Australian partner visas sprinkled across multiple website pages. I never found an official, simple Australian Partner Visa checklist – probably because there are too many different situations for a one-size fits all, easy, reassuring list.
To top it all off, shortly after forking over the huge sum of cash required to apply, we discovered several things we’d have liked to know months earlier. Thanks to that, I’ve written up an entire series about the Australian Partner Visa, starting with my Australian Partner Visa Application tips below.
Important 2019 Partner Visa Updates:
- While 10 June 2019 was said to be the latest implementation date for the 2017 proposal to change the Australian Partner Visa application process, as of 1 September 2019 I see no new procedures on the immigration website. The proposed change would require sponsors to apply first and be approved to sponsor before the applicant can submit an application. I’ve read that the change is to prevent application rejections due to dodgy sponsors and to decrease family violence (which is apparently more prevalent among partner visa couples, because it causes an imbalance of power?). According to an SBS-published migration agent (article published 1 July 2019) this change is still on deck.
Those in the Australian Partner Visa scene seem to agree that adding this hurdle will extend already long visa wait times. And potentially increase the total cost to the couple as there will now be two-steps. This SBS article estimates a 12-week wait for sponsors to be approved, but also says it may still be possible for applications to be lodged at the same time.
The two-step change would especially impact people applying onshore. If an applicant is in Australia, and hoping to stay there (and get medicare and work rights!) by submitting their 820/801 visa application (which qualifies them for a bridging visa), but can’t submit the 820/801 until their sponsor gets approved by the department… you can see the additional life-instability and nail-biting wait times this potentially adds, hey? For 309/100 applicants, it seems to me there are fewer life logistics that depend on getting sponsor approval, but the increased wait times have the same added stress potential. That’s the part of this whole process that couples seems to struggle most with. We did!
Conventional wisdom is to apply as soon as possible, before the rules change!.
- After 1 July 2019, the cost of the 820/801 and 309/100 Partner Visas and the 300 Prospective Marriage visa went up another $555 to $7,715.
What’s the difference between the 820/801 and 309/100? They are basically the same visa, but the different numbers denote where the applicant is when submitting the application. If the applicant is in Australia (e.g. they are just finishing a working holiday visa) they apply for an 820/801. If the applicant is outside Australia (say a UK citizen got into a relationship with a traveling Australian and is currently in Europe) then the applicant selects 309/100. I’m sure, internally, for the Department of Home Affairs, it is important to keep things separate. On the please-give-us-a-visa side of the aisle, it’s just a technicality.
- You now must lodge online.
There is no longer an option to lodge with paper forms. So look out for old information online that encourages you to check the difference between online and on-paper processing times. It used to be true that some offices processed paper applications faster than online offices. It’s my understanding that is no longer true/possible!
Other 2019 Update:
- As of December 20, 2017, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection was folded into a new department – the Department of Home Affairs. As you read online about how to apply for an Australian Partner Visa, you may see references to “immi” or the “DIBP” – former names for the Department of Home Affairs.
Things to know before starting your Australian Partner Visa application:
- You can’t start submitting evidence until you’ve completed the applicant’s application form and paid the fee. Once you’ve paid, you have access to the upload screen.
- You may see talk online of needing to fill out a 47SP form, but you won’t find the form anywhere official. Why? The applicant’s online account starts with the 47SP form broken into several screens. You ARE filling out the 47SP as you proceed through the beginning stages of your application… without being told that it’s happening.
- The series of pre-payment questions require you to summarize certain facets of and give some details of the evidence you’ll be submitting. We found it difficult to answer all the questions without devising some system to organize our documents and information.
- The Australian immigration department has you assign an “Evidence Type” label and a “Document Type” label to every single thing you upload. Knowing those labels as we gathered and sorted our data would have saved us a ton of time. We finally answered all the 47SP questions, paid our fee, arrived at the upload screen, and discovered the department’s system was broken down into tiny pieces. We had grouped things on our end. Oh no!
Tips for Online Australian Partner Visa Applications:
In lieu of a good Australian Partner Visa Checklist, these tips will help you organize as you gather your information:
1. Start now
As of the first few months of 2019, wait times are averaging 21 months for onshore applicants bsource and 14 months for offshore applicants csource… so get cracking! The sooner you pay your Australian Partner visa fee, the sooner you join the queue. If I’d known this when we applied, we would have paid the application fee the day we became eligible (instead of two months later when we were ready to start gathering documents).
When we did start, we thought it would take us three days to gather everything together. Nearly two weeks later, my de facto partner and I were still going strong. And trying not to kill each other. Even with the benefit (punishment?) of two people being able to work on it eight hours a day for consecutive days, our Australian Partner Visa application took us a total of two and half weeks. Granted, my partner and I are both very thorough individuals. dwho writes blog posts about this stuff? People like me! However, it’s likely you’ll find yourself surprised about just how long it takes to contact all the people doing stat decs, follow up, comb through emails, dig through bank statements, track down phone records, make copies of papers, get fingerprinted, order official documents, wait for official documents, etc.
2. Look at a sample visa
I realized, after dozens of comments on this post, that it would be helpful for people to actually look at the Australian Partner Visa Evidence my de facto partner and I submitted. People are always asking how exactly we satisfied the categories and looking to gain confidence in their own evidence situations. Sorry it took me waaaay longer than I thought to get it ready for public consumption. More on all that here.
3. Ask in forums or ask officials
My de facto Australian partner and I really struggled to find good resources out there. Among all the Australian Partner Visa forums, I found Australian Visa Forum particularly helpful. The Australia Forum is good, too.
You’ll see in the comments I regularly refer people and their questions to the immigration department’s Americas Service Centre and Europe Service Centre, but contact info on the immi website no longer seems to exist. I could not navigate to a phone number for the “Global Services Centre” in Australia, but it is still referenced on other countries embassy pages. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of these phone numbers, but I have captured what the internet still offers before it all disappears:
- Global Service Centre: +61 2 6196 0196 (9am to 5pm Australian EST)
- Americas Service Centre +1 (613) 238 1040
You may see references in places to a Partner Migration Booklet – a PDF once published by immigration that seems to no longer exist. The most recent copy I can find on the internet (not on the immi website) is from 2017.
4. Plan your filenames
I’m sure it helps to have your evidence PDFs named things like “Social Aspects of Relationship, joint travel” vs. “amy brian europe.” However, it will save you a ton of time to think about this when you are creating the files instead of when you go to upload them.
5. Outsmart the payment fee
If you’re applying from within Australia eso visa subclass 820 and the cash you want to use to pay for the visa is already in Australia, this is super easy for you. You just pay by in-country bank transfer. However, if the cash you want to use to pay the visa fee is outside Australia, you’ll get stuck with a $70-140 payment fee. Unless you use this secret.
6. Group things together
The total files limit is 60 files at 5MB each. Running out of uploads is a significant concern. We organized our evidence to minimize our uploads. I think it made our C.O.’s (Case Officer’s) job easier to group things.
As an example: if you had three invitations to upload for “Social Aspects of the Relationship Invitations Joint” and didn’t combine them into a single file, your poor C.O. would have to open three different files to examine your invitations, vs. just scrolling through a PDF.
My de facto partner and I often combined things their system would normally break into several different uploads. More on this later.
7. Upload with care
You can’t un-upload something!!! I think you also can’t write over the top of an existing file. I’m sure the reason is to prevent fraudsters from patching up holes in their lies. However, this also means that you can easily waste one of your 60 uploads. The only way to correct an error is to re-upload the corrected version. (E.g. we once realized a document’s references were wrong – i.e. we said something was on p.8 but realized it was actually p.23.) Not only do re-uploads waste your quota, but too many will make a mess for your C.O. as well.
8. Include it again
While you should still consider your upload quota, you should know you’ll have to upload some documents more than once. For example, I uploaded my passport a number of times to fulfill various categories (travel document, citizenship, identity).
Don’t be afraid to include a document more than once if it makes sense in another group. E.g. our housemate’s stat dec was also evidence toward “Couples are living together” and “Length of the de facto relationship”. So it appeared in three different documents that we uploaded (stat decs, living together proof, and length of relationship proof).
It kept our C.O. from having to notice that one of our stat decs supported other categories as well. We tried to take as much work out of the process as possible for our C.O.
I’ve also seen it emphasized over and over how important it is to be transparent and thorough. Tons of migration agents advise vehemently against the attitude of “well, if it’s not enough evidence, they’ll just ask us for more.” The agents say, “No, no, no! If it’s not enough evidence, they will very likely just reject your application!” Our evidence was ridiculously thorough. Probably more thorough than it needed to be. But we never regretted dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”.
9. Make a decision about medical and character checks
The conventional wisdom for years has been to wait until asked by your case officer to get medical and character (police/background) checks. We… didn’t realize that. With my budget-minded approach to life, I saw an opportunity to get the medical requirement fulfilled cheaply while traveling through Thailand, at one of the approved facilities. When we submitted our application 6 months later, I only had 6 months validity left on my medical checks! It ended up working out. But if our visa hadn’t been approved before the checks expired, I would have had to go back to the doctor and pay for the whole thing all over again!
The same happened with my FBI clearance (I’m American). I read it takes three months and thought, “Stuff it! I’m not going to wait to hear from the department. I’m just going to submit the check and hope that by the time it arrives, the department has already asked for it. Worse case scenario, I have to get it and pay again. Best case, I already have it and our application can proceed more quickly than it would have otherwise.” Again, it worked out in our favor to have done this.
But because it hasn’t worked out for other applicants, the advice has long been: don’t gamble. Just wait until you’re told to get the medical/police checks and then get them. Even though it delays your application’s approval. (E.g. with the FBI clearance. If I’d waited, instead of being approved thirteen days after first being contacted by the department, we would have spent another 90-ish days waiting on the FBI.)
Starting in March 2018, I began hearing about “fast tracking” of visa applications. One migration agent’s site explained that the department now makes attempts to fast-track “front loaded” applications – e.g. applications that already have medical and character checks (police clearances) ready to go upon lodgement and are “decision-ready.” Basically, upon being assigned to your case, can your case officer open your documents and quickly see all the paperwork, files, and proof they need? It seems like this may have been true for us (my case officer would not comment). Our visa was granted 5 months (159 days) from date of lodgement, and 13 days after we presume our files were first opened by the department (on Day 146, we were contacted by not-our-case-officer with a request for an additional police clearance that I then proved I didn’t need.)
I’m in no position to give advice. But if I had to make the decision again, I’d probably do what I did before… after reading through forums to see how often it had backfired on other people!
10. Keep your relationship information fresh
We only did a very mild version of this. We were so hopeful our application would zip right through that we didn’t even consider that it might languish in the immigration queue for months… or a year… causing us to need to provide continuing proof of our relationship.
We updated our application when I traveled back to Australia on a tourist visa – on day 112 in our visa application timeline. The immigration department told me to do this so that when I finally got a C.O., they would know I was in Australia and would need to remind me to leave before (hopefully!) granting my visa. (I had applied offshore – a 309/100 visa – which cannot be granted while the applicant is in on Australian soil. I had to leave the country – I took the cheapest flight I could find to get out of OZ for five days – so my 309 visa could be granted and then activated upon my entering the country.) However, submitting a “hey! I’m going to be in OZ on a tourist visa for the next 90 days” note in our application does involve the subtext of “Hey, we are still in a relationship and still spending exorbitant amounts of money to be together and to arrange our lives together.”
The advice now is… don’t stop collecting evidence just because you’ve lodged your application and submitted a bunch of documents proving your relationship is real. Keep saving those wedding invites addressed to both of you. Keep tucking aside bank statements with relevant expenditures. Note emails or phone conversations that are specific, new milestones for your relationship. Not only could this be important for getting your 820/309 visa, but you will need this information for the next (final!) stage (801/100) of the partner visa.
That’s it! Hope that helps clear up some of the confusion about how to organize yourself as you go about preparing for the crazy Australian Partner Visa Application process!
Our Australian Partner Visa Evidence
Our Australian Partner Visa Application Timeline
Another Applicant/Sponsor Couple’s Great FAQs
How to Avoid the Credit Card Surchage When Paying for the Visa
Whoa. I can’t believe all this is free.
Can I buy you a drink?
I’ll take an oaked bourbon on the rocks.
Or a Penfold’s Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cab.
Or a prickly pear margarita.
Or a flat white.
Or water. I drink a lot of water.
Or my favorite super-legit hangover pills.
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