What’s ahead for Family Visa applicants in 2021?

People waiting on Partner, Parent and Child visas, are anxiously waiting for some good news in 2021.  There have been some recent developments which should help many.

Onshore Grant for some Offshore Lodged Visas

A ludicrous situation arose this year for many people in Australia, who have applied for an ‘offshore’ visa (for which the applicant needs to be outside Australia when the visa is granted) – including Partner and Child visas.

Many family members who were visiting, became stuck in Australia as they could not return home.  But, while they could apply for another Visitor visa onshore, they could not get their Partner or Child visa granted!

It’s a legacy of old legislation.  Newer legislated visas – including the Subclass 189, 190, and 491 – can allow you to be either on or offshore for lodgement, and on or offshore for grant.  Your family members can even be in different places at the time and it still works.  But the old Partner, Parent, and Child visas, have a separate subclass for onshore and for offshore applications – there is no mixing it up.

Under normal circumstances this is a nuisance, but during a global pandemic it is just plain ridiculous to expect people to leave the country (with great difficulty and cost) for a visa grant; only to return and have to endure two weeks of costly quarantine.  Not to mention the risk people face by entering another country that may be experiencing outbreaks of COVID.

After pressure in parliament, the Government has announced that, certain offshore lodged visa applicants will now be able to have their visa granted while they are lawfully in Australia.  These include applicants for Partner, Child and certain other family visas.  The changes are expected to commence in early 2021, and at this stage we do not have any legislation or further details.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on this for our clients who may be eligible.

At this stage the announcement does not extend to Parent visa applicants; however there is much lobbying taking place to try to extend the new arrangements.

We will also see the introduction of new Partner Visa requirements in November 2021, which will require a paid family sponsorship to be approved upfront, before a Partner visa can be lodged.  More detail will be available about this one closer to the time.

Continual Processing Delays

We continue to see Partner visa applicants being held up by slow processing. Despite the Government doubling the numbers of Partner visa allocation to 72,300, many clients are still waiting after 2 years, for their case to be picked up.

Paradoxically, we have also witnessed some newer Partner applications being picked up and granted in less than three months!  Other people are disgruntled because their medicals and police clearances have now expired, and the Department is asking them to pay for these all over again.  There is no rhyme or reason to this.

It doesn’t usually make sense to complete medicals and police clearances prior to, or at the time of lodging a partner visa; better to wait until the Department asks for them.  Of course, there may be situations where it is better to complete these requirements early, and that is where professional advice is needed for your own situation.

Parent Visa Trends

We continue to experience strong demand for Parent visas.  These applicants are looking beyond the short-term health crisis and taking a long term view.  It’s pretty clear that right now it’s difficult to gain entry to Australia as a parent, unless you have very compelling circumstances.  But, once international travel restrictions are eased, we expect to see offshore partners continue to be processed at normal speed (which is about as fast as a 100-year-old tortoise ascending a hill).

The Parent visa program numbers for 2020-2021, listed at around 4,500, are relatively low, but higher than the actual numbers achieved in 2019-20.  Processing times for the Contributory Parent Visa (Subclass 143) currently sit at around 4.5 years from lodgment to decision.

We are managing plenty of Subclass 870 Temporary Parent Visa applications, as many people appear to have taken the view that the last 12 months has been a strain, being unable to visit Australian children and grandchildren.  We’re hoping to see and hear of many emotional reunions with parents in 2021!


In summary, it’s been a tough year for Australians with family in other countries.  The public health lockdown approach has kept most Australians very healthy, and for that we are extremely grateful.   At the same time, we know that being unable to travel has taken a toll on many partners and families, who have been forced to postpone life plans.

We hope for a gradual and safe return of the Family Program in 2021.

Would you like to discuss a Parent, Partner or Child Visa?  Contact Emergico for expert advice on your situation.

Leanne Stevens

CEO, Emergico // Registered Migration Agent (#1171279)