What are the requirements for a spouse visa in Australia and how long does it take to get a spouse visa in Australia. 

If you are married to an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or an eligible New Zealand citizen, you may be eligible for a spouse visa, which provides a pathway to permanent residence in Australia.  A partner visa, as referred to in the migration provisions, can either be lodged onshore, or from outside Australia. To apply onshore, eligible applicants must lodge a Partner subclass 820/801 visa application. The equivalent offshore application is the Partner subclass 309/100 visa.

Both the onshore and offshore partner visa applications consist of a two-stage process. The first step is to lodge a combined application for both a temporary and permanent residence partner visa. If your application is successful, you will be granted a temporary visa at the initial stage. As an onshore applicant, this will allow you to remain in Australia whilst you await processing of your permanent residence visa application. If you lodge offshore, you may enter Australia upon grant of the temporary partner visa to await processing of the final stage of your application.

As a temporary partner visa holder, you will be able to access Medicare (Australia’s public health care system). You can also work, study and travel to and from Australia on an unrestricted basis. Additionally, you will be eligible for 510 hours of free English language classes.

Processing of your permanent residence partner visa application will then commence following two years of lodgement of your application, however, given the average processing times currently being experienced by the Department of Home Affairs (the Department), it is unlikely that processing will occur at this 2-year mark. Partner visa applicants who lodge onshore today can expect to wait approximately 2 years for the temporary visa to be processed, and then a further 2 years for the permanent visa application to be decided. For offshore applications, the wait time may be slightly shorter, with temporary partner visas currently being processed within around 1 ½ to 2 years, and the second stage taking a further 1 ½ to 2 years. This can potentially mean a 3 ½ to 4 year wait for the entire process to be completed.

The two-year wait period discussed above does not apply if, at the time the visa application was made, you and your spouse were in a long-term relationship. This means a minimum of 2 years if you and your spouse have a dependent child (other than a stepchild), or 3 years in any other case.

Keep in mind that application processing times do change from time-to-time based on a range of factors, including internal Departmental systems and processing priorities. Actual processing times can also be affected by factors relating to the individual circumstances of each application. Where there are more complex issued involved, shortfalls or gaps/inconsistencies in information and/or documents provided to the Department, or if there are questions or doubts raised about the veracity of claims made in an application, these types of issues are likely to result in an application taking longer to decide. This may involve the Department investigating individual matters further to satisfy itself that all relevant visa grant requirements have been satisfied, which can result in a longer wait time to reach a decision.

The good news is that there are things you can do to both maximise your chances of achieving a successful result and to prevent further processing delays in the Department deciding your application. In this article, we provide some useful tips on the steps you can take to improve your chances of having a partner visa granted and in the quickest possible time.

But first, we start with an overview of the main requirements that you will need to meet to qualify for a partner visa.

Your relationship

One of the most important criteria that applies to a partner visa is whether your marriage meets the definition of a spouse relationship in accordance with the migration provisions. Presenting a marriage certificate alone to the Department is not sufficient evidence to meet this requirement.

Your marriage must be legally valid under Australian law (which will be most relevant for marriages that take place outside Australia). A minimum age requirement of 18 generally applies, however this is lowered to age 16 if certain requirements are met.

Same-sex marriages are legally recognised in Australia and are therefore also eligible for grant of a partner visa on the basis of marriage (provided all other requirements are satisfied).

The definition of a spouse relationship also requires you to demonstrate that you and your Australian spouse have a mutual commitment to a shared life as a married couple, to the exclusion of all others, that your relationship is genuine and continuing, and that you are not living separately and apart on a permanent basis.

In assessing whether you meet this definition, the Department will examine the financial and social aspects of your relationship, the nature of your household and of your commitment to one another. Practically speaking, this means demonstrating things like:

  • jointly owning real estate and/or other major assets, joint responsibility for a lease or mortgage and/or a joint bank account (financial aspect);
  • the relationship being known to third parties, having friends in common, receiving joint invitations, attending social events and travelling together (social aspect);
  • sharing a household and domestic responsibilities, caring for and supporting children (where applicable), household bills and other mailed correspondence either in joint names or addressed to you individually at the same address (household aspect); and
  • your intention to be in a committed, long-term and exclusive married relationship, having knowledge of each other’s background, family situation or other personal details, the terms of your wills, your superannuation beneficiary and maintaining contact for any periods spent apart (commitment aspect).

The above is not an exhaustive list but are just some examples of the types of things to consider when gathering your evidence. Each relationship is different, and that means that the documents that you should provide will depend on the individual circumstances of your own relationship. The important thing is that, as part of your application, you supply strong supporting evidence to demonstrate that you meet the above definition of a spouse relationship. If you are unable to show the existence of one or more of these factors, you should provide adequate explanations and where possible, supporting documentation to explain their absence from your relationship. Although the Department recognises the fact that each marriage is individual and unique, it does generally expect to see most relationships in contemporary Australia exhibiting the above factors. If your marriage does not clearly feature these elements, you can expect more scrutiny by the Department. Providing detailed explanations and evidence to address these issues upfront at time of lodgement of your application will help to avoid further delay and questions being raised on the veracity of your claims. We recommend that you refer to our detailed guide on the evidentiary requirements for a partner visa, to help ensure that you cover off on all relevant aspects, as they apply to your own situation.

You and your spouse should also each prepare detailed and comprehensive written statements (which are signed and dated) and include the following details:

  • How, when and where you first met;
  • How your relationship developed;
  • When you moved in together;
  • When you got engaged;
  • When you married;
  • A description of your domestic life together (how you support each other financially, physically and emotionally);
  • A description of any periods in which you were separated (provide details on when and why this occurred and how you maintained your relationship during that time);
  • Significant events in your relationship; and
  • Your plans for your future life together.

These statements provide an opportunity for you and your spouse to fully explain the circumstances of your relationship and how you meet the relevant definition of a spouse relationship, which is one of the most crucial elements that will determine whether you qualify for grant of a partner visa.

Sponsorship

Another key requirement for a partner visa to be granted is for your Australian spouse to be approved as your sponsor. To qualify, your spouse will need to meet specified requirements and if approved, will be subject to sponsorship obligations. This includes agreeing to support you (as the visa holder) by providing accommodation and financial assistance for the first 2 years following visa grant.

An age requirement also applies, whereby your sponsor is required to be at least 18 years of age at time of application. If this is not the case, your spouse may still be able to sponsor you provided that their parent or guardian (who themselves must be aged at least 18 years and be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, or an eligible New Zealand citizen) sponsors you for the partner visa.

Under the current requirements, partner visa and sponsorship applications can be lodged and assessed by the Department concurrently. But changes are coming, meaning that your spouse will first need to apply for and be granted sponsorship approval before you can lodge your partner visa application. This change can have serious implications, especially for onshore applicants as it means a further delay in the lodgement process. If you are planning to apply onshore, be mindful that once this change is enacted, you will need to carefully plan your lodgement timeline to ensure that you can validly lodge your application by the time the sponsorship approval comes through. Otherwise, you risk having to depart Australia and instead lodge your application offshore. Getting the timing right will therefore be even more critical in planning your visa pathway to achieving permanent residence in Australia. Talk to us for information and advice that is tailored to suit your personal situation, thus ensuring that you have a plan that works best for you.

Other requirements

In addition to the requirements discussed above, you will also need to meet health and character criteria for a partner visa to be granted. There are also other more specific criteria that apply in certain circumstances only, such as for onshore applicants who do not hold a substantive visa at the time of lodgement of their application (a substantive visa is any visa excluding a bridging visa, criminal justice or enforcement visa).

Some tips on how to maximise your chances of visa grant without further delays

Partner visas can be complex and require careful consideration of the relevant requirements that apply based on the individual circumstances of each case. These applications can be tough to get through and require being fully informed on all requirements as they apply to each application.

To help make this process easier for you and to gain a better understanding of what is involved as part of this process, please refer to our guides on the top reasons for partner visa applications being refused and what case officers look for when deciding partner visa applications. This information will enable you to anticipate any potential issues arising with your own application and to address them up-front at lodgement. This means more chances of the visa being granted and less delay.

Our articles which provide an overview of the partner visa and further detailed information for spouse relationships are also great sources of information to help you through this process.

You can complete our partner visa assessment tool to help to assess whether your relationship is up to immigration standards for a partner visa.

Additionally, you might like to refer to our guides on How to bring your wife to Australia on a genuine partner visa and Can a man get Australian PR if his wife is Australian, which provide further useful information to assist you in preparing and lodging your partner visa application. There you will find some useful information on what the Department considers to be a legally valid marriage in Australia and how to apply for a partner visa, including the costs that you can expect to incur.

Australia’s migrations laws are complex, and each case is different. There are also several terms which are defined in the migration provisions (and whose meanings may differ from their ordinary usage). We recommend that you seek professional advice if your wife is seeking to apply for a partner visa, as being fully informed will give you the best chance of achieving a successful outcome on your case. A migration professional can help you to do this.

For up to date advice on the partner visa application process and eligibility requirements, book your confidential consultation with a migration agent in Adelaide. PAX Migration Australia is a leading immigration advice service based in Adelaide.