If your visa application has been refused, or your visa has been cancelled, you may be able to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) to have the decision reviewed (commonly known as an appeal). This type of review is called an AAT merits review and is a process whereby the AAT, which is an independent organisation established to review Government decisions, essentially steps into the shoes of the Department and determines, based on the information presented before it, whether Immigration made the correct decision in accordance with the legislative provisions.
If you do have the option to apply for a review, you should carefully consider whether it is a beneficial avenue for you to take based on your individual circumstances. This can be a valuable right to have as it effectively provides you with a ‘second chance’ to have your case considered from a fresh perspective.
Note, however, that not all decisions can be reviewed. But in instances where a case is eligible, the migration provisions set out how the process is to be conducted, including imposing strict time limits for applying. Importantly, the Tribunal has no discretion to make any exceptions to the rules it is bound to follow in conducting the review process, meaning if you miss the deadline for submitting your application, you will lose the opportunity to have a review. Consequently, you would then need to reassess your options going forward (including the possibility of departing Australia should you have no further avenues to remain onshore based on your visa status at that time).
You might also like to consider your options regarding seeking assistance with your review application and appointing a representative to act on your behalf in matters relating to the appeal. There are specific provisions dealing with your rights in this regard and it is important to be aware of them if you are seeking representation in your appeal.
In this article, we provide a general overview of the AAT appeal process and further detail regarding seeking assistance and appointing a representative for your review application, both in terms of what is permitted, as well as the potential benefits that the added support can bring. We also discuss the current average AAT processing time for review applications. Note that this is an introduction only designed to help guide you in this process. Therefore, we recommend if you find yourself in this situation, that you make the proper further enquires to ensure that you are fully informed about the appeals process, what it may mean for you based on your individual circumstances and how best to proceed, and your rights and obligations in this regard. This will give your application the best chance of a successful outcome.
Note also that the following information applies to non-refugee/humanitarian visa related matters only (although we do briefly discuss the current protection visa AAT processing times later in this article). We recommend that you seek further advice about these matters should they apply to you.
Applying for An AAT Merits Review
If your visa application has been refused, or if the Department has cancelled your visa, you will be formally notified in writing. The notification letter will set out the following:
- Immigration’s reasons for its decision (referred to as a Decision Record), including references to legislative provisions in support of its decision
- Whether the decision is reviewable, in which case the notification letter will include information about how to apply for a review, with contact details for the AAT registry in your State or Territory. The time limit for applying will also be specified.
The migration provisions prescribe the types of decisions that can be reviewed, who may seek a review (for example, the applicant, sponsor, previous visa holder, etc.), the process for applying for an AAT merits review and the time limits and fees that apply. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal works within this legislative framework and has no discretion to make exceptions in this regard. If you make a mistake with your AAT application, which could happen where, for example, the wrong person applies for the review (note that for certain applications, the sponsor is the person who must apply, rather than the applicant), your application will be invalid, and require that you re-apply for the review (provided you have not passed the deadline for applying for a review, in which case you will lose your chance to have the appeal). Being aware of the strict time limit that applies to your case (see further information below) is crucial, and you must ensure that you work within this timeframe as you prepare and submit your review application
Method Of Applying
You can lodge your AAT merits review application online, in person, by email, fax or post to any registry of the AAT (note registries are located in each State and Territory).
You will need to complete an application form and include with it a copy of the Department’s Notification of Refusal/Cancellation letter as well as the accompanying Decision Record setting out the reasons for its decision.
Time Limits For Applying
As noted above, strict time limits apply for lodging an appeal. The time limit for applying will depend on the type of application that is the subject of the review. Time periods range from between 7 working days to 70 calendar days. If you apply for a review of your case past the time limit, there are no options for extending this deadline and you will lose your right to an appeal.
The notification letter from the Department will specify only the time period in which you can apply for the review (i.e. the number of days); it will not state the actual end date by which you must apply. As an example, see the below extract from an Immigration notification letter in such a case:
‘An application for merits review of this decision must be given to the AAT within 70 calendar days after the day on which you are taken to have received this letter.’
You will need to carefully calculate the deadline for submitting your review application based on the information provided in the letter that you receive. If the letter was sent to you by email, you are taken to have received it at the end of the day on which it was transmitted.
Fees For Applying
The cost of lodging an application for review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is $3,153 in all cases, except where the decision concerns a bridging visa that results in the applicant being detained. There are also options available for requesting a fee reduction if financial hardship has, or may result from, payment being made (the maximum allowable reduction is 50%).
Refunds of all or part of the application fee can also be made if you receive a favourable decision on your review application, if your application is invalid, or if you withdraw your application (in certain circumstances).
What Happens After You Lodge Your Application With The Administrative Appeals Tribunal?
You will receive an Acknowledgement letter with a request to provide files and documents relating to your case. Your review application will then be allocated to a Tribunal Member. From this point on, the process will depend on your individual circumstances however generally, the following steps may occur:
- The AAT will contact you requesting further information
- The AAT will invite you to comment on information which it considers to be the reason, or part thereof, for affirming the Department’s original decision (that is, to make no change to the decision)
- The AAT will invite you to nominate other persons who could give evidence or suggest other evidence or materials it might obtain
- If a hearing into your case is to be held, the AAT will invite you to attend, either in person, by telephone or video link to provide you with the opportunity to present oral evidence and your argument/s in support of your case. You may also nominate others to provide evidence at your hearing
- Once the AAT has made a decision on your application, it will provide you with a statement outlining its reasons
What Documents Do I Need To Provide To The AAT?
In addition to submitting a copy of the Department’s Notification of Refusal/Cancellation letter and the accompanying Decision Record setting out its reasons when you lodge your application form for review, you should also supply to the AAT any material which you believe supports your application, including a statement explaining why you disagree with the Department’s decision.
You can also provide written submissions for consideration by the Member. Note this should be provided in advance of the hearing to ensure the Member has sufficient time to review the material as they consider your case.
Can You Receive Assistance With Your Review Application?
You have the option of either dealing directly with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, or alternatively, you can appoint a representative to act on your behalf.
Your appointed representative can communicate with the AAT, submit written submissions and evidence, request access to documents in relation to your application and accompany you to a hearing.
You are required to notify the AAT in writing should you change your representative, cancel their authority to act on your behalf, or if their contact details change.
Note that only in limited circumstances can a person other than a Registered Migration Agent (RMA) provide immigration assistance at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. An RMA will assist in preparing, advising and representing a visa applicant, a sponsor or nominator, or a cancellation review applicant. A good RMA will help you win your case!
Should You Appoint A Representative For Your Appeal?
Whether or not to seek assistance and appoint a representative for your AAT merits review application will be a decision which ultimately rests with you, based on your own personal preferences and circumstances. But having this choice is a valuable one to have and you should be aware of the possible benefits that having that added support may bring, both from the point of view of the outcome in your case, as well as on a more personal level.
Having a visa application refused or a visa cancelled can be a very distressing and stressful experience. Appointing someone whom you trust to assist you with your appeal could be very beneficial in terms of helping to ease these pressures, especially if you have a limited level of English (note that you can receive multilingual advice directly from the AAT as well as from the Department’s Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS)).
A professional, such as a RMA, will bring with them the added dimension of possessing skills and experience in migration law including in the appeals process. They will be able to provide you with advice and assistance regarding your appeal and visa status/options, as well as strategies to help maximise your chances of a successful outcome.
One example of the type of assistance that an RMA can provide is to prepare strong written submissions to be lodged as part of your review application, which can result in the Tribunal Member deciding your case without the need for a hearing (see below for further information about the tribunal hearing). This is commonly known as an “on the papers” favourable decision and your RMA can help to improve the likelihood of achieving such a result by preparing written submissions such that they:
- Address the reasons for the refusal carefully
- Include case law authorities to support your submissions
- Provide strong documentary evidence to support your submissions
- Refer to other AAT case decisions where appropriate
- Refer to Departmental policy (where appropriate and in your favour – note that the AAT is not bound by policy but may use it as a helpful tool)
- Present your arguments clearly and persuasively
An RMA can also obtain referrals for expert reports in your favour to add to the supporting evidence to be submitted with your review application.
The Tribunal Hearing
The hearing is your opportunity to present your case to an independent third party and provide oral evidence in support of your claims. It is designed to be an informal process (so as not to present like a court room) and no representatives from the Department are present. If you are unable to attend at the scheduled time, you should notify the AAT as soon as possible so that a new time can be arranged, if permitted (note this would only be an option in limited circumstances). In any event, it is very important to inform the Tribunal of your intentions regarding attendance at the hearing as failure to attend without notifying the Tribunal in advance can result in the AAT making a decision, or dismissing your review application, without any further action.
Note also that you can request for an interpreter to be present at the hearing, which will be arranged by the Tribunal.
Can You Appoint A Representative For Your Tribunal Hearing?
You can have your representative attend your hearing to provide advice and support. However, they cannot in general formally address the hearing and present oral arguments; but only comment if requested to do so by the Tribunal Member (for example, they may be asked a question about a specific matter by the Member).
If you have appointed an RMA to assist you with your case, they will be able to accompany you to your hearing and provide support. Although they will be unable to address the Member (unless specifically requested to do so), you may find that having them there with you will help you to feel more confident and assured during the course of the hearing.
Where a hearing is required for your case, you will receive an invitation to attend, which will include a response form where you should include details for other persons who will be attending the hearing with you, as well as any witnesses who you would like to speak at the hearing to provide evidence.
If friends or relatives accompany you to your hearing, an AAT officer will ask you whether they will be giving evidence, or if they will be assisting or representing you.
For persons assisting or representing you, the officer will ask for identifying information (if not previously provided) as well as information about the type of evidence they might provide and their relationship to you.
How Long Will The AAT Appeal Process Take?
AAT Processing Time
The time that it can take for your review application to be decided will depend on a number of factors, including the application type, when it is allocated to a Tribunal Member and the individual circumstances of a case (this could occur, for example, if further investigations are required before the Tribunal Member is able to decide your case). Review applications are generally processed in lodgement date order, but in some instances, they can be re-allocated as the Tribunal plans how to most efficiently progress the volume of cases before it.
Although exact AAT processing times cannot be determined, as a guide, the average time from lodgement to decision for a migration review application in the period from 01/12/21 and 31/05/22 was 747 days (note this is an average figure for all migration review cases submitted to the AAT). You should therefore be prepared for a significant wait time until your case is decided should you lodge an appeal (note that these times change periodically, based on AAT caseloads).
The AAT also publishes specific statistics for average wait times for all application types (e.g. student visa, partner visas, etc.). This information is publicly available, and we recommend that you seek further information about this based on your individual circumstances as these AAT processing times can be significantly longer in some instances (for example, the average time to decision for partner visa applications was approximately 1,065 days over this period).
Note that certain review applications are assigned a higher priority, including in the following scenarios:
- The case involves an applicant being held in immigration detention
- There is uncertainty as to whether the AAT has the jurisdiction to review an application
- The AAT determines that there are compelling reasons for prioritising a case (note that you can apply for priority processing. You should provide detailed reasons for your request and include supporting evidence)
- All cases where a visa has been cancelled
The decision of the Member can be announced at the conclusion of the hearing, or at a later date.
Protection Visa AAT Processing Time
Regarding protection visa AAT processing times, if the review is about a decision made under section 197D of the Migration Act 1958 that a protection finding would no longer be made about a person, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal must make a decision on the review within 120 days after the application is recived, unless the AAT extends that period with the agreement of the review applicant.
For other reviews of protection visa decisions, the protection visa AAT processing times will depend on a range of factors, including the volume of review applications received by the AAT, the number of members available to conduct reviews, the type of decision under review, the strategies the AAT has in place for dealing with different caseloads, and the complexity of the review.
However, as a guide, the average protection visa AAT processing times for the period between 01/12/21 and 31/05/22 was 951 calendar days (from lodgement to finalisation).
What Decision Can The Tribunal Make On My Case?
As part of its review, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal can make one of the following decisions on your case:
- affirm the original decision (that is, make no change), in which case the original decision still stands
- vary the original decision (this means the AAT has decided the original decision should be changed)
- set aside the original decision and substitute a new decision (this means the AAT has decided the original decision should be changed)
- return the matter to the Department to reconsider its decision with specific directions provided by the AAT
What Happens Once The Tribunal Has Decided My Case?
Once a decision has been made on your review application, you will receive a written statement outlining the decision of the AAT and its reasons. This notification letter will also be provided to the Department. As noted above, in some cases, the Tribunal Member will announce his or her decision at the end of your hearing.
Note also that AAT decisions can be published and made available to the public. You may request in writing for your case not to be published, providing reasons for your request and the parts you wish to have removed (if not all of the decision record). The AAT will consider your request and will make an assessment based on the public interest on whether to release the information.
What Are Your Options Should Your Review Application Be Unsuccessful?
If you believe that the decision made by the AAT is incorrect based on a matter of law, you may have the option to seek judicial review of the decision by applying to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. We recommend that you seek legal advice about your options should this apply to your case.
In certain limited circumstances, if you receive a negative outcome from the Tribunal, you may have the option to apply to the Minister for Immigration to intervene in your case to consider granting a visa if they determine it to be in the public interest to do so. Note however that this option is only for cases with ‘unique or exceptional circumstances.’
Get More Information
We recommend that you refer to the articles below which we have prepared to assist you in understanding what options may be available to you if your visa has been refused or cancelled, including applying for an AAT merits review.
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Contact us to book a no-obligation consultation to find out more about the AAT appeal process and the average expected AAT processing time
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In conclusion, we note that the above provides an overview only of the AAT appeal process including further detail regarding seeking assistance and appointing a representative for your review application at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Given the highly complex nature of the migration laws and the fact that every individual case is different, we recommend that you engage a RMA who will be able to provide you with detailed advice about the AAT appeal process, what it may mean for you based on your individual circumstances and how best to proceed, and your rights and obligations in this regard. The currently lengthy AAT processing times being experienced can also be used to your advantage as there are things you can do to improve your case. You should use this time wisely. Ensuring you are fully informed about your options and the process involved is especially important for an appeal, given the strict time limits that apply for lodging an application. No exceptions can be made in this regard and it is therefore critical to act quickly if you find yourself in this situation.
For up to date advice on the AAT appeal process and how to best prepare for your appeal, book your confidential consultation with a migration agent in Adelaide. PAX Migration Australia is a leading immigration advice service based in Adelaide. Contact us for a no obligation discussion on how we may be able to assist you to achieve your migration goals in Australia.