Australian Partner Visa Changes in 2021

We’ve known for a while that changes are planned for Partner Visas.  The recent federal budget has brought more clarity to the changes and proposed timing, and we’ll summarise them for you here in this article.

What is changing?

1. Upfront Sponsor Approval.

The first change is that the Partner Visa – which is currently a combined sponsorship and partner application – will be split, with the sponsor requiring an upfront approval before a visa application can be lodged.  This measure was proposed years ago, and the Family Sponsorship has been rolled out already through the new Temporary Sponsored Parent Visa – the Subclass 870 – which commenced in August 2019.

One rationale for upfront sponsor approval, is to protect vulnerable visa applicants from potential family violence, in the event that a sponsor has a past history of violent or sexually based offences which is not known by the applicant.  In order to be approved as a sponsor, an Australian permanent resident or citizen must provide police clearances and must make the applicant aware if they have any such history (or the Department will).

There may also be an income requirement for the sponsor, however details are not yet available.  Once sponsorship is approved, then a Partner Visa application may be lodged.

Possible impacts of this change:

  • It is likely to make a partner visa application more expensive overall.  The Family Sponsorship for the Subclass 870 visa attracts an application charge of $420, which is in addition to the visa application charge.
  • Delays may be incurred through the timing of sponsor approval – although the Department has provisionally indicated sponsor applications will be processed quickly, as we know this can vary depending on caseload.  The time taken to obtain police clearances must be factored in.
  • No bridging visa is available to an applicant until after an onshore  visa application has been lodged.  This  may have an impact on an onshore visa applicant who has an imminent visa expiry, as they will have to wait for sponsor approval before being able to lodge an application.  Further, having lodged a sponsorship or having a sponsorship approved, could make it difficult for a person who enters Australia on a Visitor Visa to demonstrate they are a genuine temporary entrant – as the couple have signalled their intention to lodge a permanent visa.

2.  English Language Requirements for Visa Applicants and Sponsors 

This change took everyone by surprise in the budget, as no one had been aware that it was under consideration.  All sponsors and visa applicants will have to either demonstrate “functional English” – through having an exempt passport from Australia, UK, USA, Ireland, Canada or New Zealand – or by undertaking an English test – OR undertake to complete English tuition through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), which is federally funded.

We have been assured that this should not affect the first stage of a partner visa application; and that the applicant would be required to demonstrate this, in order to obtain the permanent stage of the partner visa.  Details on this change are still light, and more information will be provided as it comes to hand.

3. Priority Processing for regionally based Partner Visa Applicants. 

In line with the Government’s commitment to regional Australia, priority will be given to the processing of Partner Visa applicants where the sponsor and applicant, if onshore, live in Regional Australia.

4. A Significant Increase in the Partner Visa Allocation for 2020-2021. 

Currently the Department of Home Affairs has around 90,000 Partner Visa applications awaiting processing.  Given that the Department will be unable to offer as many Skilled Visas as usual, there is increased capacity in the migration program numbers, to clear a backlog of already lodged Partner Visa cases.

When will the Changes occur?

To implement the significant changes, new legislation is required, and complex Department of Home Affairs systems must be changed.  This does not happen quickly.  The proposed implementation of the Partner Visa changes is around November 2021.

If you are considering applying for a Partner Visa, now is a great time to prepare to it for submission.  There should be plenty of time in the next year to get your application in before the changes occur.

At Emergico, our experienced Registered Migration Agents specialise in all forms of Partner Visas.

Complete our Partner Visa Eligibility Assessment so our team can advise what opportunities you may have.


Leanne Stevens

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