Emotive reporting, perhaps?
Numbers are interesting things, don’t you think? I came across an old article yesterday, from July 2009. I’d like you to read the article, then come back and read my opinion. I haven’t been able to find a more recent article covering more recent time. I thought to myself if news.com.au got figures to report, I should be able to find similar figures. Despite looking at three different Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) annual reports, I couldn’t locate exactly the sort of figures the July 2009 article discusses. I’m not a reporter and I may not know the right places to look!
The article is interesting from a number of perspectives. The opening line is “Surge in spouse visa applications ‘intimacy test’ exposes sham lovers. Hundreds deported“. Pretty emotive stuff. The average reader might be inclined to believe we are being overrun by these “sham lovers” and that spouse visa applications themselves have surged.
Let’s look at the surge in applications question first: an increase from 26,000 to 40,000 in a decade, the article tells us. 14,000 over ten years – an average rate of increase of 1,400 a year, although naturally it would not have been 1,400 each year, but a percentage increase over the previous year. Either way, hardly a surge! The DIAC 2009-10 annual report states “There has been continuing growth in the Family Stream flowing on from higher levels of general migration over the past three to five years.” Naturally. People migrate as students, skilled migrants and other visa streams. Just because people move here doesn’t mean they will fall in love here. Arranged marriages are still normal in India, for example. Migrants go home to visit parents and other relatives and surprise, surprise – they meet someone and fall in love. DIAC are quite right – partner visa planning levels must recognise general immigration levels.
That is not even taking into consideration the young Australians who head off oversas each year – and many do. They meet someone, fall in love, marry overseas and start families. Often times 6, 9 or 12 years later they decide to come back. It can take some of those families over 12 months to be reunited. Others go to the UK on a working visa, fall in love, have to leave, want their loved one to move here. It isn’t just about general immigration levels, it is also about forth and fifth generation Aussies finding love in far flung corners of the world.
The Partner Visa planning level for 2008-09 was 42,500. This increased to 45,000 for 2009-10, an increase of 2,500 or 5.88% over the previous year. Not exactly a “surge” either.
So the surge must be as the opening line reads – a surge in the “intimacy test”. Well, now I am not sure because a couple of paragraphs down it says efforts to expose sham marriages had intensified “amid a surge in spouse visa applications“. Now I am not sure what is supposed to be surging – the applications or the intimacy tests.
Then we come to the “life imitating art” bit with reference to a 1990 American movie I’ve never seen, starring Andie MacDowell and Gerard Depardieu. Of course, if it is in the movies, those sham marriages just have to be everywhere, I suppose.
Back to the numbers. 3,146 visa applications were rejected outright. The article doesn’t state if these 3,146 are from the same application reporting year, but let’s make the assumption they are. So we issued 40,000 and rejected 3,146 outright, so we can deduce the number of applications was in the vicinity of 43,146. I’m not sure about the 220 visas that were cancelled. Presumably these were temporary visas that didn’t get to permanent status, so would have belonged to the batch of applications from two years prior, therefore I should not include them in the calculation. Excluding them, I am left with a rejection rate of 7.3%. That means that 92.7% were granted. Let me say that again – 92.7%. Wouldn’t most of us be happy with a 90+ mark on an exam? Not a bad sort of number, is it? The article does NOT go on to say how many of those rejections were appealed, or how many of the appeals were successful. Given about 65% of appeals are successful (currently), that is going to shrink the 7.3% rejection number considerably. So the 3,146 is meaningless as a statistic unless we are told how many were ultimately granted a visa on appeal.
Let us now revisit the 220 where the visas were cancelled. 220 are the “hundreds deported” referred to in the opening line? If someone says to me “hundreds”, I expect somewhere between 400 and 700. 800 you could get away with saying “nearly 1,000″ I suppose. 220? Out of say 38,000 (estimate for prior years) visas? 0.578%. Just over half a percent – not even 1%.
The article under discussion is the sort of article that leads the average person to believe every cross border marriage is a sham. At least on the figures presented in the article, the argument is far from proven! In fact, the very opposite is apparent.
In my opinion the article is very misleading. Through careful use of words it gives the impression we have a major sham marriage problem, when in fact an analysis of the numbers provided in the article does not support the tone of the article. Does this style of reporting contribute to moral panic?
Interestingly, at least in 2009, the United Kingdom still supplied the “lion’s share” of foreign spouses. That has nothing to do with the discussion about numbers, I just found it an interesting observation!
What do you think? Did I get any of the maths wrong? If I did, I’m blaming Excel!