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Australian Prospective Marriage Visa 2020 (subclass 300) By Luke Gorham

The Auditor General responded on 20 August 2021 to Mr Julian Hill MP’s letter dated 26 July 2021 requesting the Auditor General to conduct an investigation to examine the efficiency, effectiveness, quality and integrity of partner visa processing by Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Thank you for your letter of 20 August 2021 in response to my correspondence regarding the Home Office’s processing of associate visas. I appreciate your consideration of this matter and your opinion that it deserves a performance audit of the management of this program. I encourage urgent consideration of this program.

You are advised that the Home Office has indicated that the reduction in partner visa applications has created an opportunity to clear the existing backlog. With respect, the process of reuniting Australians with their families in a timely manner should be based on more than honest red tape reduction.

Despite the Department’s advice to you, their website shows a further deterioration in the standard processing time frame for partner visas since my letter of 23 July 2021. Processing of the 75th and 90th percentiles of subclass 820 visas is now 24-31 months. subclass 309 visas now 18-26 months. and subclass 300 visas, 24-28 months.

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The backlog itself owes much to the sharp decline in partner visas granted from 2017-18 to 2019-20. 8,000 less than each of the previous four years, coupled with apparent illegality as the ‘planning level’ clearly functions as a de facto ceiling. The panic caused by the pandemic saw an increased level of associate visa planning in 2020-21.

Additionally, and of huge significance to tens of thousands of Australians, the sudden rush to grant partner visas shows massive discrimination in processing. In 2021 if your husband or wife is from Afghanistan it takes 43 months on average to get a 309 visa. if they are from USA it is 7 months.

The devastating impact of this mismanagement is now playing out in Kabul, where the partners and children of hundreds or thousands of Australians are risking their lives seeking evacuation, fleeing insurgents and potential terrorist attacks. They should have been safe in Australia years ago, except for this government, whose tardiness is only matched by their wickedness.

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The implications are now clear. My community tells me that Australians and their loved ones will pay with their lives. I hope it is not too late to save the many thousands of Afghans who have close ties to Australia. Consideration of this program is increasingly urgent.

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Thank you for your letter of 23 July 2021 regarding the effectiveness, efficiency, quality and integrity of the Home Office’s processing of associate visas.

The Home Office has been consulted and I have considered the issues you raised. The department advised that the decline in the number of applications for partner visas, among other factors, created an opportunity to restore the existing backlog of applications for partner visas.

I believe it is worth doing a performance audit of the management of partner visa application processing, subject to normal prioritization processes. In order to reach a decision on whether to carry out the audit and, if so, what the appropriate timing should be, we will monitor the department’s progress in dealing with the backlog of applications.

Following on from my letter of 3 September 2019 regarding the family immigration programme, I am writing to re-raise my concerns with you about the effectiveness, efficiency, quality and integrity of partner visa processing by the Home Office. I note your response of 20 September 2019 and request further consideration of the matter by the Australian National Audit Office.

The Australian Partner Visa Guide By Fiona Chan

Since my previous correspondence, the situation has worsened for applicants for subclass 309 and 820 Temporary Partner visas and subclass 300 Marriage Prospective visa applicants and their Australian partners. While the global pandemic has undoubtedly contributed to challenges in processing applications, evidence has emerged of vastly different processing times for partner visa applications between offices, as well as for applicants of different nationalities.

Importantly, these differences predate COVID-19 by many years, so they cannot be attributed to the pandemic, nor can they be explained by “security concerns,” individual differences in meeting legislative requirements, or extreme cases where confirmation of a person’s identity can be complex or challenging.

The department maintains that family visas are largely processed in the order in which they are received, relative to the government’s processing priorities. These processing priorities hold that applications made by the partner or dependent child of an Australian citizen or permanent resident are second only to applications subject to ministerial intervention, unless the proposed sponsor is a permanent resident who arrived in Australia as

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. It is noted that this very order of priority, as informed by Ministerial Directive 80, is one of several issues of significant concern to UNHCR regarding the Australian Government’s approach to family reunification for asylum seekers and refugees. (see attachment).

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However, it suggests that the processing of partner visa applications is in practice grossly discriminatory against applicants who are citizens of non-English speaking countries, and in particular some countries in the Middle East and Africa.

The department’s website shows that the processing timeline for 75% and 90% of subclass 820 visas is currently 20 months and 27 months respectively, with subclass 309 visas at 16 months and 23 months. These timetables remain almost unchanged since I wrote to you on 3 September 2019, despite the fact that there is a period of possibly coordinated processing of associate visas.

As you may be aware, the government bowed to public pressure and almost doubled the total number of places available for partner visas in the 2020-21 immigration program planning levels, from 39,799 to 72,300. Onshore applicants and those applications the sponsor resides in a designated regional area were to be given priority in decision-making.

While the standard processing timelines are quite inconvenient, a close look at the department’s data on processing times shows alternative realities for applicants from different parts of the world. In 2021, the average processing time for subclass 309 applications filed by Afghan nationals is 43.6 months. for citizens of the United States of America, it is just 7.3 months.

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Similarly, the DHA website shows that prospective marriage visas currently take 23-27 months to process, three times longer than ten years ago. However, for Afghan citizens, 300 visa applications currently take 34.3 months on average, compared to 15.3 months for US citizens.

Confirmation of the applicant’s identity and the bona fides of a relationship is critical to partner visa processing. Importantly, however, the delay in processing times is not a matter of integrity – the department’s primary refusal rate for partner visa applications has hovered around 10% for many years and in the 2020-21 year, it has dropped to 3%. The set-aside rate at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is notable as it has remained at around 50% and is currently at 58%.

There is a separate but related issue of the unconscionably long lengths of time the department now appears to be taking when re-examining cases struck out (ie overturned) by the AAT. My office has seen many cases where the AAT has overturned the department’s refusal and found that a visa should be granted, yet there appears to be no consistency or priority given to these cases, which can then linger for many years, even and when people have literally been separated from their families for almost a decade. I have not been able to identify data to fully quantify these cases.

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The very different relative processing time frames by country of citizenship are also reflected in the processing office data. The visa processing load for a particular overseas position may consist of a single nationality or multiple countries of origin. For example, the High Commission in Washington handles visa processing for the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, while the embassy in Dubai was until recently responsible for applications from various countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

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As mentioned in my previous correspondence, overseas posts receive high-level guidance from Canberra on how to process visa applications, including when visas can and cannot be processed, and

A document released under FOI states that during 2020, the average processing time for subclass 309 visas at the Dubai office was between 30 and 42 months. It is difficult to extrapolate further since the same number is not available in all offices, and the department recently denied access to more complete global data during the Senate supplemental estimates round (a “

‘). Regardless of the time data shows that for the Washington office,

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