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Partner Visas under scrutiny

DIBP is acting quickly to cancel dubious partner visas with already over 1000 partner visas cancelled, including permanent visas, over the last 3 years.

It has been estimated that over 30 per cent of marriages in Australia involve migrant spouses. And the numbers are increasing as visa regulations in other classes get stricter. This has led to greater scrutiny of both applicants and visa holders by DIBP.

Monash University migration lecturer, Dr Bob Birrell has reportedly said that the huge backlog of cases was putting enormous pressure on migration officials.

"They are literally swamped with the client load, it's very difficult to seriously evaluate whether the relationship is genuine and continuing," he said in an interview with the Herald Sun.

Over the last three years, DIBP's increased vigilance on partner visa holders and applicants have led to high-level of refusals and cancellations. Over 1000 permanent and temporary partner visas have been cancelled on grounds of  bogus claims, bad character and incorrect information.

According to the Herald Sun report the number of partner visas issued annually has doubled since the early 1990s, with some 50,000 processed in 2012-13. A further 58,000 applications were in the pipeline as of June 30 last year.

Almost 12,000 spouse and partner visas were issued for Victoria last year, including more than 2000 to Indian-born people, 1245 for Chinese and about 1000 for UK-born applicants.

More than 100 visas were cancelled in the six months to December 31, 2013, 228 were cancelled in 2012-13 and 713 between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2012.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been reported saying that the figures showed the Abbott Government had to be vigilant to stop people abusing the program.


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  • Beatriz Leoncini
    Beatriz Leoncini Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Thanks Jerry, for this article.

    I think that as RMAs, we should also be vigilant about this issue and about these figures - whilst there is clear rules about what a genuine and continuing relation should be, at the end of the day, it depends on the judgement calls of case officers who often get it wrong and are overturned at the MRT because the relationship was clearly genuine and continued beyond the 2 years... I may agree with Bob Birrell on the short comment you've quoted but my experience is that often, his short comments are either preceded or followed by negative ones either about Australians being duped by the overseas hordes who see partner visas as a relatively easy way to get into the land of milk and honey (and how the community must be saved from this, both financially and physically) or the overwhelming financial cost of this process... particularly if he was interviewed by the Sun Herald - the full interview could inform those who are not familiar with Professor Birrell... (however, I'm happy to stand corrected on this one, just this once…).

    Sure, DIBP officials are under enormous pressure and that is a reality which will not change unless something changes in the way the department does things - as a country we cannot continue to find fault and punish applicants who now pay a lot more to DIBP than to a migration professional in most cases, for a system which does not deliver appropriately nor timely.

    If visas fees are now ‘cost recovery’ charges (we must thank Bob Birrell for some of these – Contributory parent visas as an example), surely it is an expensive an ineffective system which should be monitored and reviewed… Temporary entrants and people residing overseas have no rights of refund for a faulty visa process other than limited access to merits review, which returns the process back to DIBP with no penalty to it other than a loss of unrecoverable time and money for the applicant; who monitors this? what are the figures for remitting cases for refusal and cancellations? There are two sides to every story…

    The Australian community gets presented with either the hordes who rort the system (or want to take over the joint) OR how the migration industry is part of that rort… I am getting rather weary of this… why is it that it’s our clients’ or our fault every time there’s a problem with a migration program????

    DIBP IS clearly pressured to deal with THEIR backlog so ‘any’ obstacle to a clean process could feasibly be a reason for refusals, but what about more training and support for rookie officers who feel they need to make decisions which are then backlogged for merits review? Surely, if a partner visa application from overseas, in particular, takes three years to process because of an officer's personal belief the relationship is not genuine (“I forgot the colour of my wife’s dress or some other 'personal garment' the first time we met”), or in Oz (because banking and shopping is done in different suburbs) then that relationship will surely end or remain in life support at the end of a three year process. I know that is not OUR DIRECT business but in a way, it is, because WE deal with the MRT backlog, anxious clients and communities who don't understand what the real issues are (and blame us as the first point of contact).

    More work for us at all fronts? probably, but I find this to be one of the many significant and ongoing problem that we should be able to name, tackle and assist in its resolution, as part of the Industry and for our clients.

    How ? continuing to meet with DIBP, with Ministers and Parliamentary secretaries, submitting case studies and issues and participating in these forums to get the conversation going This is my humble (and long) opinion – other suggestions and comments (even to the contrary), welcomed.


    Bea Leoncini

  • Guest
    Marion Le, AM MARN 9256617 Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Absolutely agree with you Beatrix - well said

  • Christopher Levingston
    Christopher Levingston Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I have seen quite a few of these cases and I think it is fair to say that this is DIBPs latest craze.
    Melbourne in particular has been carrying out a purge on the Vietnamese community which in my view is unfair.
    However, what we do know is that when these cases go on appeal the wind is well and truly blowing against the client as the "vibe" is for refusal.
    The trends towards refusal at the MRT are on the rise and over the last 5 years the trend to the MRT not setting aside has been downward from 62 percent to 38 percent. I don't think that the DIBP decision making is getting any better but that the MRT members are being ground down by the workload.
    The good news is that having an RMA involved in the case at first instance and subsequently at the MRT produces an overall better result.
    I see that Bob Birrell has an opinion about the enormous pressure facing Migration officials...what about the enormous pressure faced by the Australian citizen sponsors who want to be with their partners?
    I am less concerned about DIBP being "swamped" as I am about the sometimes irrational , malicious, dilatory and negligent conduct of DIBP Officers both Offshore and Onshore which occasions significant delays and expense to their "clients".
    The focus on "integrity" issues runs both ways. DIBP needs to be accountable for refusals and in cases where a decision is set aside the case office should be required to do a "please explain". I for one would like to see all spouse applicants interviewed and that there be a digital recording of that interview so that any hectoring or bullying is identified and addressed. Further the use of LES as "interpreters" is unreliable and can lead to mistakes.

  • Christopher Levingston
    Christopher Levingston Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    By the is always interesting to hear What Dr Birrell has to say about English language testing etc etc...I had always thought he was a demographer and that his views in immigration were 'interesting" but not particularly informative. I had always thought that there was a bit of negativity underpinning his research and public commentary on the migration program.

    He is of course entitled to his views.

    I just read this interesting blog...check it out!

  • Beatriz Leoncini
    Beatriz Leoncini Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Bob Birrell will always sympathise with conservative government and never NEVER say anything critical about the Department, Chris; it's always been about those naughty aussies and permanent/citizen imports who want to bring in foreign partners and, god forbid, their family members - what's wrong with choosing amongst the locals and keeping fiercely independent of parents, siblings or children overseas? it's them (and the immigration policies of labour governments past and present) he clearly aims for, mostly in the negative - academically speaking and otherwise... (if any of you experienced Bob at the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research Conferences of the 1990s or read a few of his papers, you’ll get the drift:

  • Guest
    Owen Harris Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I had to stop for a minute - DIBP acting quickly? Surely not.

    356 per year average 2010 -2012
    228 in 2012-2013
    aiming for 200 this year

    Unless my maths sucks (quite possibly) I would say that's a dramatic slowdown and the numbers are more stark when you consider that the number of applications are increasing 16% per annum. So a declining cancellation base on a growing application base? How is that acting quickly?

  • Christopher Levingston
    Christopher Levingston Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Yep a crushing workload ...poor buggers!

  • Guest
    Michael Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Hi all,

    I thought the visa increase from AU$ 3K to about AU$ 4.5 K was to address the shortage of staff; deficient systems; training, etc. Am I tripping here?
    And I completely agree with Christopher's opinion that case officers should be more accountable for cases remitted back to DIBP by the MRT. Currently they (unprepared case officers) have the power to lodge complaints agains Migration Agents in cases where they believe we were in breach of the code (being lack of knowldege or any other reason that may please them); however we are not necessarily entitled to do the same. I had formally complained once about a case officer that, when asked why was it taking more than 3 months to finalize a simple nomination application, simply replied to me (quote) "whatever". Needless to say that I have received no feedback whatsoever from her supervisor.
    Back to partner visa applications - after unsuccesfully trying to contact DIBP several times in the last 3 months about a particular application that was in process for over 12 months, guess what happened: my client got an e-mail from DIBP about 10 days ago with her visa approval. The e-mail was sent directly to her inbox - no communication whatsoever with our firm, even though forms 956 were provided for both the sponsor and the visa appliant. It is just getting better and better. Good Luck to us all.

  • Beatriz Leoncini
    Beatriz Leoncini Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I agree, Michael.

  • Guest
    Maria C Havagnya Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I suppose you would be irritated and demotivated if you had to work at the DIBP every day. We can thank our lucky stars we are migration agents and don't have to put up with that dark, gloomy future in the DIBP. Imagine....every day waking up dreading having to go to the DIBP. Dull. Drone. Boring. Repetition. No choices. No decision making. Obey. Obey. No power. We are lucky we are not in there. No wonder the case officers act like caged animals.

  • Christopher Levingston
    Christopher Levingston Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    If you are ignored then complain to global feedback at least you can tweak the lion's tail.

  • Liana - Allan
    Liana - Allan Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Maria sounds like she is working inside the DIBP. Maria you better not admit to it or you might get sacked for telling the truth like La Legale did.

  • Guest
    Marion Le Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I hope the Secretary of DIBP is reading all these comments because I have tried to raise all these issues for so long that I'm exhausted and feel I have put in long wasted hours with Central Office Officers who are culturally not even on a learning curve and who then promise reforms and nothing happens. In the meantime genuine applicants and their Australian partners are stressed beyond belief and called liars because of the mindset and ignorance prevalent and because of the jealousy of many (not all) LES. Having said this - I have only had one of my applications rejected over the past several years and that was because one partner claimed to have had sex on the engagement night and the other one said the opposite. A culturally inappropriate question in any event! Most of my experience at the MRT is with DIBP rejections which have come to me for review representation and the reasons for rejection are so trivial as to be embarrassing! Afghan cases are clearly discriminated against and that whole area is a disgrace - this blog is a great way to see that we are on the same page in regard to many of these issues

    Reply Cancel
  • Liana - Allan
    Liana - Allan Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    I have had a partner visa application rejected from Thailand for no reason. It was approved at the MRT. Marion - I hear you. I will make sure the Secretary of the DIBP reads this. The 'can't do' attitude which pervades the DIBP (not all case officers) has to go. I can tell you that the MAS in Canberra are lovely. But they aren't client facing so they aren't sick of it and cynical.

  • Guest
    Marion Le Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Yes - the people I talk to are lovely people but without any ability to affect change so it is all lip service - there is very little if any corporate memory left now in the DIBP and that has to be a major concern

    good to be airing these matters - thanks Liana

  • Guest
    Owen Harris Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Very sad when they wont listen to Marion - what chance do we have then?

  • Beatriz Leoncini
    Beatriz Leoncini Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Thanks Marion. What's happening overseas is a lot worse that whatever happens onshore in terms of the arbitrary decisions and the long wait for an appeal - at least onshore one has the opportunity to live with one’s partner and then rock up to the MRT 2 years later to show that the relationship is genuine and continuing, even if it's on 'life support' after whatever stressors experienced (waiting so long, often not being able to travel or work for being on BVCs/BVEs, affected by Schedule 3 and/or experiencing FV - all these on the increase, I might add).

    I want to comment on your point Chris, that the best outcome for clients is having an RMA do a partner or an MRT application (which I totally agree with) but I’d like to raise the following because I think is important: the change of the DIBP website and the hike in visa application charges are making current and potential clients think twice about contracting the services of a Registered migration agent. The new website is quite clear and effective in its message: "all you need to know to apply for a visa can be found here’’, when we know that this is not the case. Just before the new website went up, posters were sent out throughout the community with exactly that message, which I found to be extremely misleading.

    How many of us have well and truly navigated the website and find we need to go into two or three links before we get to the information we are looking for? what would be the experience of this new website for our client group?: ‘this looks easy enough if I follow the prompts (when I find what I am looking for); I can do this myself and I don’t need an agent…’’ (to then have to find one to fix a difficult information request or prepare an MRT case for a refusal that should never have been…) Whilst this will always happen, I would think that these two issues alone are contributing to this increase in cancellations and/or refusals, particularly in the last 12 months.

    It would be interesting to canvas RMAs in relation to whether or not we think the hike in visa application charges is having an impact as clients are concerned about the additional financial cost of contracting our services… Many of us find ourselves giving initial and general advice and not getting the gig or contracted for 'guidance only' whilst the clients complete the applications themselves or having to consider a fee reduction order to get the whole gig (and other similar permutations…)

    I think that there is a correlation between cancellations/refusals and clients’ poor understanding of the requirements through their misplaced belief in the website's general information AND the DIBP visa charge hikes.

    One could be forgiven for thinking that this IS about DIBP making money at the expense of a cohort with little rights, power and knowledge - if you put all of the above together (the message, the simplistic info on the website, the fees, the bad rap about the industry, etc., ) there is little value clients to contract RMAs…

    This is also about our collective ability to communicate a message to clients about the value in the service we provide, on top of everything else we have to do, particularly for smaller operators.

    Let's keep this particular issue on the front burner, folks as well as those communications with the Department open, Liana! Cheers.

  • Guest
    AGENT SETTING RECORD STRAIGHT Tuesday, 28 January 2014

    Beatrice it's not just misleading it's factually untrue. Do they publish the legislation on their website? Because that, plus precedents plus PAMS is ALL THE INFORMATION. The DIBP should stop lying to consumers. It's called making a false statement which they know to be untrue.

  • Christopher Levingston
    Christopher Levingston Wednesday, 29 January 2014

    Thx Beatrice.
    I want to comment on what you have said and in particular the following:
    "One could be forgiven for thinking that this IS about DIBP making money at the expense of a cohort with little rights, power and knowledge - if you put all of the above together (the message, the simplistic info on the website, the fees, the bad rap about the industry, etc., ) there is little value clients to contract RMAs…"

    If this is true and DIBP is in competition in this market place then we might have something to worry about. I guess it all turns on where the clients come from and their motivation.

    Assuming that a client is price sensitive and smart ( a deadly combination) then there is nothing to stop them from making their own application. I think the Skillselect EOI model is generally illustrative of that. Then the client will act for themselves.

    I think that RMAs act in the client space in what might broadly be described as the contentious applications area. That is the client has a factual matrix which does not easily translate into a seamless application. They will engage an ERMA to be their advocate.

    I for one want DIBP to tell everyone how easy it is because when the client embarks on this adventure and then finds themselves in trouble either before or after the making of the application they then engage someone ( an RMA) to try to fix their problem.

    Thank you DIBP for not keeping it simple and thank you to the clients who try to do it themselves and stuff it up.

    Reply Cancel
  • Colin Soo
    Colin Soo Thursday, 30 January 2014

    This article is about the same topic, but has slightly different information:

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