Partners of Australians are being forced to spend thousands of dollars flying overseas and back again during the pandemic because of a bureaucratic Australian visa regulation branded “ridiculous and idiotic”.
Under Australian migration law, people who lodge a partner visa application overseas need to leave Australia to have their visa granted.
Likewise, people who applied for a partner visa while in Australia are required to be in the country before their visa can be approved.
The regulation has meant during the pandemic the Department of Home Affairs has been prioritising the cases of onshore applicants who do not need to leave the country.
Melbourne woman Amelia Elliott said the offshore partner visa application of her Filipino husband, Bowie Domingo, was one of many that had been delayed by the pandemic.
Mr Domingo has been living in Melbourne on a visitor visa which does not allow him to work in Australia.
The couple say they were forced to take drastic action after waiting more than two years for Mr Domingo’s partner visa to be approved.
Last week, he flew to Singapore with the single purpose of getting his partner visa approved.
Ms Elliott told nine.com.au her husband was in the air for less than 40 minutes before her migration agent received an email from the Department of Home Affairs notifying them his visa had been granted.
“When I found out it was a mixture of relief and happiness but also frustration at how arbitrary the process is. Bowie was still up in the air, I felt like saying, ‘Can you please turn the plane around now?'”
Mr Domingo has since flown from Singapore to Perth, where he will spend two weeks in quarantine before hopping on another plane back home to Melbourne.
The total cost of the whirlwind trip added up to more than $6000, Ms Elliott said.
Ms Elliott, who earlier this year collected 6000 signatures for a parliamentary petition calling for Australia’s partner visa system to be reformed, said she knew many couples and young families whose lives were being turned upside down by the onshore and offshore regulation.
“It’s ridiculous and it’s pure bureaucracy. It doesn’t pay any consideration for what it’s putting Australians through during the pandemic,” she said.
“Not only does this cost an exorbitant amount of money, it exposes my husband to a COVID-19 risk and takes a plane seat and quarantine place from a stranded Aussie wanting to return home.”
Ms Elliott said that prior to booking the flights to Singapore she desperately looked into chartering a yacht to sail into international waters as a way of transporting her husband “offshore”.
“There are so many couples in the same situation and we were all so desperate. I spoke to the Australian Border Force, I was in calls with partner processing and yacht charters.
“It took us more than a month of investigating to get the final answer that no, it wasn’t possible. There is a provision in the Migration Act that means that you could only do it if you sailed into another country.”
Ms Elliott said the regulation forcing her husband to fly overseas was the final sting in the tail of a long and arduous process that had left them financially crippled.
Ms Elliot sold her Croydon apartment to fund her husband’s visa journey and estimated they had spent about $30,000 on visa and migration agent fees.
“When Bowie does come back we are starting not only from scratch but with a lot of lines of credit – from the very bottom of the ladder,” she said.
Queensland mum Ella Hayes is also facing the possibility of her English partner Dale Fletcher having to travel overseas to get his visa granted.
The couple, who have a 10-month-old son, have been waiting almost 18 months for a decision on Mr Fletcher’s visa after paying $12,000 in application and migration agent fees.
“The whole thing is crazy. Dale is already here in the country, but then they go and put extra financial strain on families like ours, not to mention the emotional and health risks, plus you are locking someone in a room for 14 days’ quarantine,” she said.
“I think given the pandemic and the fact that the world has changed, they should take that into consideration.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said: “The Department is aware of this issue and is considering options to further support visa holders impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including prospective marriage and partner visa applicants.”
“The Department continues to progress visa applications during the pandemic,” the spokesperson added.
“Onshore partner visa applicants may be eligible for a bridging visa, allowing them to remain in Australia with their partners while they await finalisation of their partner visa application.”
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge declined nine.com.au’s request for comment.
Labor to propose change for visa regulation
On Monday, Victorian Labor MP Julian Hill will introduce a private member’s bill which aims to address the onshore and offshore visa regulation issue.
The bill proposes an amendment to the Migration Act which would allow provisional partner visas to be granted whether the applicant is inside or outside Australia.
The changes would stay in effect until December 2021.
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic and all my bill does is allow people who are already here in Australia to stay with their partner and have their visa granted in Australia rather than making them take a risky and expensive trip overseas,” Mr Hill told nine.com.au.
“It’s bad enough the impact on the couples, but this utter idiocy of requiring people who are already here in a global pandemic to fly overseas and come back and waste a quarantine spot – while we have got 35,000 Australians desperate to get home – it’s criminal negligence by the government.
“It’s just insane.”
Mr Hill said Mr Tudge already had the power to change the visa regulation if he wished.
“The government doesn’t have to vote for this bill. They could just fix it tomorrow. The minister has the power to amend the regulation with a stroke of his pen and should do so.”
The onshore and offshore rule was just one of many problems with Australia’s current partner visa system, which has seen the number of people waiting for a determination on their visa application blow out to 100,000, Mr Hill said.
“The mess that the government has made of the partner visa system is just horrendous… it is literally destroying the love and relationships of tens of thousands of Australians.”