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What price justice for love

There is a group of Australians struggling for justice that are ignored by the rest of the population. As a member of that group myself, I pay attention to developments in the field.

Sadly, apart from myself, this group suffers in silence. These people suffer in silence out of fear. If you, a fellow Australian, find that disquieting I am heartened. You should find it disquieting.

Here are the words of an Australian sponsor (emphasis added). We are not the only ones who suffered and this case, on the face of it, was simple compared to ours.

I am still left with questions that I don’t think I will ever be able to answer. How does someone look over a huge wad of paperwork that stands in evidence of a five year relationship and place all focus on how that relationship began? Or, on the other hand, if she believed us all along and her horrific bombshell at the end of his interview was simply to provoke a reaction to test her assumptions, how can it possibly be justified? Despite our good fortune in the end, I will never get over our treatment. My husband will never get over her words, as she looked past every single thing we had submitted that attested the contrary. What a wonderful way to enfranchise potential new citizens. You’re not welcome in Australia.

Our story is just one of many. I believe the numbers are increasing. I noticed a steady increase in readership of “Will you appeal your Partner Visa denial?“. Once it was getting between two and four readers a day. Now the daily average is eight. Perhaps, I thought, that is just because this site is being found more easily due to longevity.

I also noticed an increasing tone of despair in the search terms that find this site. The words depression and suicide started to feature more often in conjunction with the words partner visa or the subclass numbers. This is surprising because webmasters see less and less of the actual search terms these days (see footnote 1).

Two recent examples are:

  • partner visa refusal in australia suicides,
  • defacto visa rejection depression.


The fees for partner visas have risen astronomically. $4,575 to apply onshore. EDIT: Note since the article was originally published, fees have increased yet again. Refer Australia Partner Visa fee increases AGAIN.

Let’s look at some typical costs for a simple application:

4,575 Application fee
3,000 Immigration Agent fee
355 Medicals
43 Police Clearance
150 Document translations
 68 Marriage certificate
$8,191 TOTAL

As I said, this is for a simple application: no children, only one police clearance required, no international courier costs or any other unexpected incidentals that might arise. It does not include the printing costs of providing the required evidence, organising the Supporting Statements or travelling to and from the migration agent office. As one sponsor recently said to me, “Welcome to Australia. $10,000 entry fee. Visa or Mastercard?

Don’t forget, this is non-refundable if the visa is refused. Just like the Nauru $8,000 visa fee for journalists which many Australians are currently complaining about. In the case of refusals, often applicants and sponsors have to decide whether to wait another year and reapply or appeal. Neither option is cheap.

I am yet to be given a satisfactory explanation for the exhorbitant costs, other than as discussed in Are Australian Partner Visa fees similar to comparable nations? They aren’t, not at all.

This discussion will now jump forward to the horror of a visa denial. I am reliably informed the time available to lodge an appeal is now a mere twenty-one days. It was twenty-eight when we went through the mill. This is not very much time to make major decisions.

First the couple have to find another $1,604 for the MRT fee, half of which will be refunded if the couple are successful on appeal.  More importantly, the couple have to decide if they need representation or not. Remember the couple have just been denied the visa, so they will probably want legal representation. Depending on the complexity of the case and the reasons for the denial, legal fees for preparing the appeal could be anything, but for the sake of argument let us use $10,000. I am sure fees have increased since we appealed. That doesn’t include any incidentals either: postage, printing, petrol to name but a few possibilities.

The couple have to find another $11,604. This is now a total investment of $19,795 – at a minimum.

Many older couples with professional careers may be able to afford this but many young couples simply cannot. In one case I know of an Australian had been living overseas with her husband and their son. They fled that country when political unrest flared. She came back here but they had no money to be able to apply for a visa for her husband. They had simply fled. Terrible situation and I have no idea what happened to that couple in the end. Technically she was not a refugee, but should not we have protected her family?

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly states the right of everyone to marry and establish a family. Note both international instruments talk about protection by the State. Placing a Partner Visa out of reach financially is not affording protection.

Article 23

1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

2. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.

3. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights confirms the right to marry.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

I fear we are denying our own citizens this right by financially restricting the choice of partner. In practice it can be very difficult to prove the relationship is genuine to the Department of Immigration’s satisfaction.

To be eligible for a partner visa, it is not sufficient for you to simply show that you are married or in a de facto relationship. You must also demonstrate that your relationship with your spouse or de facto partner is genuine, continuing and mutually exclusive, as per the prescribed legislative definitions. If you fail to demonstrate that you are in such a relationship you may be refused a visa, regardless of whether you are married or in a de facto relationship.

http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/30partners.htm

Sounds simple enough, but let’s revisit the case I referred to at the start of this article. One of the reasons given for doubting their relationship was they got engaged too quickly.  The following is part of the wife’s email to me. I will share more of their story later in this series. Here she is telling me of words spoken to her husband.

“Since you and your wife got engaged so quickly after meeting, I am convinced that you only married her to obtain a visa to Australia.”

Yes, married her FOUR YEARS ago. So, a life together spanning five years of love and four years marriage can be reduced to how long it was between the time that we met and the time we decided that we wanted to be together permanently – and this just to be engaged, not even married, so quickly. Seemingly none of the evidence that we had so dutifully collected over several years, to fulfil the requirements given to us by the Department of Immigration itself, mattered. No, we had apparently been doomed from the beginning.

That couple, although ultimately successful, still live in fear. The wife, the AUSTRALIAN, tells me, “I still hold fear about their power over our future”. Is that fair or reasonable? It doesn’t sound much like protection to me.

The Australian citizens are often made to feel like criminals, stupid, irrational: they are bullied and insulted. They also live in fear: fear of reprisals if they speak out. Whether that fear is well-founded or not is not the point. The point is the system makes perfectly sane Australian citizens and permanent residents fearful of their own country.

The mainstream media doesn’t really take up this story. I believe the main reason is the victims of the system are too fearful to speak out. The Australians who have contacted me for this series of articles all request anonymity. Most of them I know are genuine in their narrations because they have contacted me before, some over several years. They are terrified of the Department of Immigration. Recently a reporter contacted me and sent me a draft story covering several cases but I don’t believe that story was ever published. An earlier article on our case was pulled at the last minute. The mainstream media outlets contact the Department of Immigration for comment and the victims of the system are too scared of the possible repercussions, imagined or otherwise. Wouldn’t you be if your visa had cost you $20,000? People are reluctant to have their names in print in case it is held against them.

I had one Australian sponsor contact me after a surprise morning visit, shocked and scared. I hear the pain in their voices. I remember my own pain.

In March 2011 I investigated sham marriage reports. You see, the media DOES cover those reports! Click on that link and tell me it isn’t emotive reporting of the worst kind.

While researching this article I came across a more recent article, More than 1000 partner visas cancelled in migrant marriage sham. Oh, how terrible! The period of time over which those 1,000 visas were cancelled was between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2013. That is three and a half years. SBS provided more balanced coverage.

The number of partner visas issued annually has doubled since the early 1990s, with some 50,000 processed in 2012-13.

So on that basis, let’s extrapolate the figures given out to three and a half years’ worth of applications.

50,000 Applications per year
3.5 times Years
175,000 equals total applications
1,000 Cancelled over that time
175,000 divided by total applications
0.571% equal Percentage cancelled

It is actually a slight reduction since my 2011 analysis. Yet the first paragraph of the article screams “the migration system is swamped with people trying to get residence here through marriage”.

Those stories make headlines.

There is no mention made in these reports of visa refusals, which is an entirely different thing altogether. The pain and suffering of the genuine couples refused? We aren’t worthy of community outrage. I am not concerned about cancellations, I am concerned about refusals. Statistics on refusals are hard to find. Refusals also need to be considered in two categories. For those who have been in a relationship for three years at the time of application (or two years and have a child of the relationship) the two year temporary visa period does not apply.

If the couple is in a long term relationship when they lodge the application, the two year period does not apply. A long term relationship is one that has existed for at least three years, or two years if the couple has a child.

http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/30partners.htm

In other words, if you can prove the above, you are viewed in a different light. I have no problem with this at all, for clearly the length of the relationship is proof in itself. Even so, as the example I have highlighted above shows (a five year relationship), the partner can still be the subject of suspicion, ethnic stereotyping and general character assassination. It seems a similar approach was taken to the Australian in the above case as was taken to me in my case. There was never any suggestion we, the Australians, were not genuine: it was all about how potentially bad our husbands were and how the department was, essentially, protecting us. Not all sponsors are wives, of course. Many are husbands and I will write more of them later. Quite a number are same-sex couples and I will also look at some of those cases. Oddly enough, from couples who have contacted me and ones I know of personally, same-sex couples are believed more readily than heterosexual couples.

My intuition tells me there is a view in the department that if you haven’t been together three years, the application should be refused. I am not saying this is a conscious view or a policy – I suggest it is an attitude that has grown over the years without anyone mitigating the risks. Applicants are almost guilty until proven innocent. I need figures to analyse to see if my intuition is close to the mark. I hope those figures will be forthcoming.

Another consideration is the qualifications of the decision makers and if there is management of the impact on decision makers of processing.

Minter Ellison undertook a review of refugee decision making (published June 2012) and made the following observation in relation to decision makers.

DIAC might consider communicating, to other participants in the process, that there is management of the impact on decision makers of what they are hearing. It was submitted that:

‘It is a common professional practice for social workers, members of the judiciary, members of the police force etc to be provided with supervision and/or debriefing. It is unclear whether decision makers are able to access properly trained mental health professionals to ensure vicarious trauma doesn’t manifest in appearances of arrogance and/or disengagement.’

Certainly making decisions on partner visa applications is not nearly as traumatic as refugee cases. However there is just as much a risk of “appearances of arrogance and/or disengagement”. I would like to be assured this risk is being appropriately mitigated by the department.

New Zealand’s immigration department decided to review 459 visa refusals after complaints to the Ombudsman.

Association chairman Walter Stone said the initial assessments in India were very badly handled.

“They show a lack of training and bias. This reflects poorly on Immigration New Zealand.”

He said partners applying through the Indian branches had been declined at much higher rates than through other branches, including China.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11152906

Reading the article in full, it seems bias had indeed crept into the decision making process. While I am not suggesting the immigration departments of Australia and New Zealand are carbon copies, it is reasonable to postulate they are similar.

Australia has a responsibility under at least two international instruments to afford protection to a person’s right to marry and establish a family. Against that the Immigration Department must balance protection of our borders. I believe the scales are not balanced: the dramatic increase in visa fees for the Partner Visa in recent years would be prohibitive for many and the added costs of appeal for a refusal would put an appeal out of the reach of many young couples.

This may not effect you personally today. But when it is a co-worker, a son or daughter, a brother or sister: then you will feel the lack of humanity of it all.

This is the first in a series of articles investigating the issue of the price of justice for love. The next article looks at statistics.

Footnote 1: (from September 2013) “Google started to rapidly expand the number of searches that it encrypts, which results in a higher proportion of “Unknown search terms” in your stats.  According to some sources, this expansion will eventually result in encryption of all Google searches.” Source http://en.support.wordpress.com/stats/#search-engine-terms

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17 comments on “What price justice for love

  1. I came across this blog after plugging into Google “Australian immigration fees outrage” as I’ve recently started getting the ball rolling re. returning to Australia with my family and have noticed the massive increase in fees for partner visas.

    I was born and raised in Perth, but fell in love and married in January an Italian woman I’ve known for 20 years. We recently welcomed a baby girl into the world too. It’s an awesome love story I won’t subject to you right now, but suffice it to say that even a stranger on the street could tell you how obviously genuine our marriage is.

    So it f**king kills me that even though I’m an Australian citizen who’s paid taxes for 20 odd years and even though our daughter will acquire Aussie citizenship pretty much automatically thanks to me, my wife will have to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops and fork out 7k to move to Australia.

    For all intents and purposes I’m being punished for falling in love with someone born overseas. I get that we have to create a disincentive for immigration fraud and blah blah blah, but honestly, there’s absolutely no reasonable excuse for such an exorbitant fee for what is effectively simply a rubber stamp. And the waiting times are ridiculously long!

    Honestly, my dad came to Australia within a 10 quid ticket, and now I’m seriously considering whether it’s even worth it trying.

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  2. It bugs me that government charges for visa applications and for Freedom of Information requests. The rich have certain rights and can make use of them. The not so rich theoretically have the same rights but have a hard time making use of their rights. Rich people definitely have an advantage. Is this fair? How can anyone say there is equality? Why does government have to favour the rich at the expense of the not so rich?

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    • The price hikes have been of such a magnitude that one has to assume there is a deterrent objective. Also the fees are not at all like the fees of other countries.

      Pay more for the visa, non-refundable, means less available to fight for civil rights if the visa is denied. Can’t win.

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  3. […] and of life, but OK, Libs weren’t in power at the time. HOWEVER they are NOW and my series on Partner Visas illustrates how much they keep THIS objective! Subject to the rights of others – but we […]

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  4. […] to withdraw humanitarian applications and apply for Partner Visas. If you haven’t read the fees article, please do. Are refugees likely to have $10,000 just lying around spare? Don’t forget they […]

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  5. […] earlier articles I looked at the fee structure, international obligations and the growing pipeline of Partner Visa […]

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  6. It is concerning that the bureaucracies of the world have decided that humanity is a dirty word. As a species I fear we have given up control of our lives, control of our happiness to faceless, self-perpetuating groups. I find I am worrying more for the future of my children and their children than I am for my own future. Keep up the good work of being a “Voice crying in the wilderness”. We humans need more voices.

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    • Archie, I agree with you about the future. The current secrecy is a worrying trend.

      The wilderness it certainly seems to be. Mainstream media just aren’t interested, it seems, unless I am missing it somewhere.

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  7. […] previous article in this series looked at the international legal obligations and the emotional aspects of Partner Visas. Today I […]

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  8. Thank you for the article Robyn. I think it is sad to see a price signal, in this case raising the price of applications, being used this way by government. Price signals have their place of course to change behaviour (smoking, carbon emissions etc) to improve a societal outcome. However, when government use it to discriminate (visa applications), or to restrict information (e.g. charges for Freedom of Information requests), I think the government is seeking to reinforcing inequality. If you’re rich, no problem, you can afford it. That is not the egalitarian Australia I know can exist.

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    • Thank you Paul.

      I currently work with five people who are either sponsors or their wives are sponsors. Four are long term relationships where the Aussies were O/S for many years so really were no-brainers. Still shocked at the costs. Fourth is an under three year relationship and feeling the stress. Four of those five, by the way, are in my department. Including me, that is five people out of 19. Plus two supplier employees I know of.

      In other words, quite a few people.

      The ones with senior roles can afford the fees, but younger people who’ve been travelling as many Aussies do, qualified professionals or not, do not have the financial resources. Or if they are saving for, say, a house, there goes their deposit savings. Perhaps they have to delay having kids. I will look at these questions in more detail in forthcoming articles.

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