Australians wishing to sponsor their partner to remain in the country will be forced to undergo a character test and have the results shared with their partner before a visa application can be made. This is to ensure the partner can “make an informed decision” about whether to proceed with an expensive visa application.
The government says the new changes will protect migrants from domestic and family violence.
According to the Acting Immigration Minister, the results would include any information that suggests a potential threat of future violence, including past convictions and charges. Immigration officials, however, would still have discretion over whether a visa application can proceed. While supporting the sharing of information between a couple, domestic and family violence service providers have warned the changes could actually leave women worse-off by reducing their options to remain in the country.
Michal Morris, the chief executive of InTouch – a domestic violence organisation specialising in supporting migrants – told SBS News the changes may lead women to opt-out of reporting domestic violence to police due to fears their partner will be unable to sponsor them in the future. She also noted that many people may already be married or have children by the time they apply for a partner visa, meaning it would be difficult for women to leave the relationship, even if the check produces red flags.
“And if she’s been living here for a number of years, and has a working visa and children, without that sponsorship element of the relationship, one of her pathways into Australia … has been taken away.” People on provisional partner visas are currently able to continue with their permanent visa application if they are able to demonstrate that they have been the victim of violence, even if the relationship comes to an end.
This family visa provision will continue to be available for people on provisional partner visas under the new rules. Over the past five years, 2,450 partner visas have been granted following family violence claims. Temporary migrants have been at increased risk of violence during the coronavirus pandemic.
Monique Dam, advocacy and prevention manager at DVNSW, the peak body representing family violence support providers in New South Wales, said it was the government’s responsibility to ensure all victims of violence can access income, housing, and social support regardless of visa status.
The character test is part of a number of changes to the partner visa application process, including the introduction of a controversial English language requirement, which the Department of Home Affairs estimates will save the government $4.9 million over four years.
The changes are set to be introduced from late 2021 and only apply to new applications. Police checks are already part of the visa application process, but under the new rules, the sponsor character check will take place prior to the application.
Migrants who don’t speak English are at increased risk of domestic violence as they are less likely to have a support network in Australia or know how to seek assistance, according to Mr Tudge. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, whether you are here on a visa or have Australian citizenship – no one should be trapped in a violent relationship,” Mr Tudge said. Mr Tudge said further details on how the character test would be implemented will be released over the coming months.