Significant Reforms to the Sponsored Family Visa Program

Significant Reforms to the Sponsored Family Visa Program

What is the change? The Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2016 has been passed by both houses of Parliament and is awaiting royal assent. The bill introduces a range of significant reforms to the Sponsored Family Visa program affecting both sponsors and visa applicants, including:

  • Requirement for sponsorship to be approved before the visa application can be lodged.
  • Sponsorship obligations for family sponsors and sanctions for breach of obligations.
  • The Department of Home Affairs can share personal information between sponsors, visa applicants and other government agencies.

Implementation time frame: Any time from now or within the next 6 months.

Visas/permits affected: Sponsored family visas, including partner, parent, child, carer visas and visas for other relatives.

Who is affected: Australian citizens/permanent residents and eligible New Zealand citizens who wish to apply for sponsorship of a family member, and family members who wish to apply for a sponsored family visa.

Impact on processing times: Processing times are predicted to increase due to the requirement that the sponsorship be approved before the visa application can be lodged.

Analysis & Comments: The changes will severely impact the visa eligibility of prospective family visa applicants and the timing of visa application lodgements.

For example, prospective visa applicants who are in Australia on short-term visas such as a visitor visa will no longer have access to a bridging visa if the sponsorship application is not approved prior to the expiry of their visa, because they will not be able to lodge an onshore visa application.
In these instances, the visa applicant will need to depart Australia to await the approval of the sponsorship before they can lodge an associated visa application under the approved sponsorship, or apply for a different type of visa to extend their stay in Australia.

There are additional changes that are likely to be included through regulation and this may include measures relating to mandatory refusal of sponsorship in certain circumstances, payment for debts to the Commonwealth and associated measures.

Action required: if you are considering lodging a partner/spouse visa application then it would be prudent to discuss the changes with your immigration consultant to understand how the new measures could potentially affect your prospective application. Given the announced tightening of regulations for the family visas, it would be wise to consider lodging applications prior to the Bill receiving Royal Assent.