Take a deep breath. In, out, in, out, in, out…
Okay, are we a little more relaxed? Good.
When I first landed in Australia, exhausted and broke after two years of backpacking, my plans were roughly “work for 10 months, travel for 2, go back home and try to be an adult”.
What was not on my plan was falling in love with an Australian – on the contrary, I knew the visa was crazy expensive and had no desire of going through that process.
I’ve now been Down Under for about two and a half years. My partner and I now have a beautiful kitten and are in the process of closing on a home. And in the weirdest way, I got extremely lucky that the pandemic happened when it did because the Australian government decided to prioritize partnership visas since they weren’t approving anything else. Instead of waiting for 2+ years, ours was granted in five months.
I practically inhaled the various Australian Partner Visa groups on Facebook, hungrily reading through questions and answers about the application process. You see, as much as I love Australia, their immigration portal is firmly stuck in 1995 and the various pages of information might best be described as circular reasoning. I desperately needed better details of how the heck I was supposed to apply for this thing!
Now, I’ve decided to pay it forward and talk about my process of applying for the joint 820/801 Onshore Partnership Visa.
I want to be explicit that I am NOT a registered migration agent and am not providing any advice, simply walking you through my personal experience. If you have any specific questions, check with someone who has a MARN number so you can ensure that you are getting advice from a legal source.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s go!
Step 1: The Application
NOTE: You do NOT provide any evidence at this step!
Get your debit card ready, because you have to pay the $7,850 right here, right now. If that seems like an insane amount of money… well, I don’t disagree with you. At least take comfort in knowing it is a one-time payment for both your temporary residency (the 820 visa) and your permanent residency (the 801 visa). You will be invited to apply for PR two years after you click this button and fork over the cash.
What is the application part like? Well, this is the relatively easy part. This first section is about personal details of the names and addresses, birth dates, passport information, and family details of both the applicant (that would be me) and the sponsor (that would be my Australian).
As an odd aside – this included family members who are deceased. So I had to select that my dad was married, but that my mom is a widow.
The next section of the questionnaire is to describe your relationship: when and where you met, when you became de facto, and if you’ve ever lived separately. You are then asked to give details of what is often referred to as the “Four Pillars”: your shared financial life, your shared household, your shared social life, and your shared commitment to each other. Then you are asked to write about the development of the relationship.
Even though they give you some 2000 characters to write, I personally did a summary and then added a note to view a statutory declaration in our evidence for more details.
Next, you get to put in the personal and contact information of two supporting witnesses. These are two Australian citizens or PR holders who can confirm that you are in a genuine and continuing relationship. I assume that most people have these witnesses also fill out the 888 forms (more on this later), but I don’t know if that’s required.
The last significant part was my personal pain-in-the-ass. It asked both for countries that I have resided in AND traveled to in the last 10 years. Fortunately, I had prepared for this and spent about three hours one night painstakingly going through my emails and social media posts trying to get an accurate picture of when I entered and exited each country. The prep work for this required several cups of tea, Advil, and a hot bath after I was done.
Finally, you wrap up the application by filling out the character declarations. Basically, have you ever gotten in trouble with the law or human rights, or known anyone who did? Also, are you military or police? And do you consent to us checking in on all of this, and are you being honest? Questions like this.
And that’s it! Because I was prepared, I was able to get it all done in one sitting and it took me about an hour. Your mileage may vary, and I’ve heard horror stories of people not saving their applications as they went and losing all their work when the website glitched.
Step 2: The Sponsor’s Application
Every once in a while, the government does update its procedures. One such update has caused stress for dozens of couples because they search in vain for the 40SP document as all the old blogs talked about. That document has disappeared because it is now its own application.
If your partner was an immigrant themselves, they can use their own IMMI account. But if not, they can use yours. You’ll open up a new application for them from the front page of your own account, highlighted below.
Next, you’ll select Sponsorship for a Partner to Migrate to Australia under the family heading.
Finally, you’ll connect the two applications using the reference number from your own application. It will both be on your front page, but also inside your application, as highlighted below.
The sponsorship application is, for all intents and purposes, the same as the applicant application, just shorter. Your sponsor will also have to write about the relationship and have the same dates as the applicant.
Step 3: The Police Checks and Health Checks
Some couples choose to “front load” everything (meaning uploading every bit of evidence and doing all of the required checks as soon as possible). Others choose to take their time or wait for an RFI (s56 Request For more Information) so they don’t risk the checks expiring before their application is viewed.
Immigration requires you to get a health examination from certain authorized medical centers (which tends to be Bupa if you are in Australia). I’m afraid I don’t have any screenshots for you here because in my case I’d had to get a health check just a few months prior for my second working holiday visa, and had informed them of my intent to apply for PR within a year so they added the necessary tests. But I believe there will be a “Health Assessment” link on the left which will have the ID number you need to make your appointment. The total cost is somewhere around the $300-500 range, as you’ll need the exam and chest x-ray, and HIV test. You do have to pay when you book the appointment, so be prepared for that as well. If you aren’t able to get an appointment within the next few months, just keep checking back – people often cancel appointments and you may be able to snag one sooner.
For police checks, you get to contact the governments of everywhere you’ve been for more than 12 months in total in the last 10 years. I was fortunate that I only needed to contact New Zealand and the US. Gotta admit, getting the FBI background check ($18) is not my favorite experience. I wound up getting my fingerprints scanned in Sydney at the Day Street Police Station (~$50) and then gave the police department the envelope to mail it to the US (~$30) and then wait and wait and wait. Mine took a long while because the address got misread and they first tried to send it back to Melbourne and then it just got trapped in the international airport for ages. But once it finally arrived at the FBI I got my results within a couple of days via email.
Both the sponsor and applicant need to get an Australian Federal Police check as well ($42 each).
Step 4: The Evidence
This is the part you’ve all been waiting for, right? How do you prove to the Australian government that you are, in fact, a real couple?
The first thing you’ve got to remember is that the attachment options are guidelines, not requirements. From what I understand the sections are to help the applicant, but the person who reviews your evidence just gets it all dumped together so there is no need to upload something twice.
Immi does have a general checklist of what evidence you’ll need to upload – once again, focusing on those “four pillars”. What tends to startle people, however, is how to provide this evidence in under 100 documents, each under 5MB.
The answer? Combine and condense. I wound up only having 40 attachments stuffed to the brim with evidence.
Personally, I used Google Drive to organize everything and made word documents within each folder to condense pages. For each “pillar” I wrote a much longer explanation than had been in the application about how we had intertwined our lives as de facto spouses. I also had a timeline of our relationship with evidence scattered throughout and also notes of “See Document Name ABC for further evidence”.
For the word documents, I would organize everything in chronological order and include a mix of evidence – photos, ticket invoices, text messages, etc…I’ve heard of others using PowerPoint and downloading PDFs of that instead, as well.
As images take up a lot of space, I would then download the documents as pdfs and compress them online using a variety of sources, such as SmallPDF or ILovePDF.
One particularly important piece of evidence to upload is the 888 Statutory Declaration. You are required to have two Australians fill out this form as a means of proving that you are in a genuine relationship that the world knows about. I was advised to go beyond that and have at least two forms from each side of the couple. We wound up getting lucky and our friends were on the ball about replying and finishing their declarations, so uploaded a total of seven. Two of these were actually from people in the United States who had never met my partner physically but had spoken to him digitally and were well aware of our relationship dynamics. They both wrote documents using the 888 form as a guide and had them notarized.
Step 6: OMG, Have I done this right?
Now, Michael and I have a fairly straightforward relationship. Neither of us have criminal histories, previous marriages or children, served in the military, and are from countries with friendly relationships. Regardless, because most of our relationship prior to applying was during the severe Melbourne covid lockdowns, I was a little anxious about applying by myself.
I wound up reaching out to an agent who had answered some questions for me about a potential health waiver after my skin cancer diagnosis. He looked at all our evidence and advised us on changes and additions. This review cost about $500 but was worth it for peace of mind. Some couples choose to work with a migration agent for the entirety of the process – I’m afraid I don’t know that cost average but ensure that your agent is registered!
Step 7: The Waiting Game
Once again, I’m going to emphasize that I was very, very, very lucky. Application to grant was just about five months instead of the 2 years that had been common before the pandemic. Yet even now, I see couples that are waiting more than 30 months, and others that get granted within weeks.
It turned out that despite my best effort, I had missed one document in my uploads. My RFI, or Request For more Information, was pretty simple though and I just had to print and sign a release form for the Australian government to talk to the New Zealand government to confirm that I only had been sent one document for my police check. I scanned it back and clicked the button confirming everything was uploaded. Then, back to waiting.
During this period, I was working on additional documents. My plan had been that every three months, I would upload an update with our latest joint bank account statement and any other leases or pictures or tickets. As it turned out, I only needed to do that once before my Temporary Residency was granted.
When I got the email, I turned white as a sheet. My friends actually thought someone had died because of how still I went while I was opening the email. But there it was in black-and-white: I could stay.
So that’s where I’m at! My TR was granted about 10 months ago, and early next year I’ll be eligible to apply for PR. I’m keeping on doing just what I was doing – having a document for every 3-6 months with our finances and medical insurance and the process of buying a home so that when the day comes that I get the email inviting me to the next step, I’ll be ready to go.
I may not have come to Australia meaning to make it my home, but I sure am glad that is how it turned out.