Australia’s partner visa is an inhumane travesty, and Labor’s all-in with it

You would think that if a government thought something was “illegal” then fixing that would be a big priority. Sadly, you’d also be wrong. 

Here are Julian Hill’s own words about the Australian partner visa: “But this system is broken. It is the most expensive partner visa in the world. It is one of the slowest now on average. And I believe that what the government is doing is actually illegal.” (I’ve emphasised the important bits).

Look, we all know that Australian immigration is a seriously fucked-up clusterfuck of bipartisan cruelty. We can play partisan tribes over many things here, but when it comes to immigration, both major parties only compete in the sense that they try to agree with one another the loudest.

The utterly inhumane, unconscionable treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is the most visible and horrific example of this, again, bipartisan cruelty. But people are so (rightfully) fixated on it that they tend to overlook the others. We should look at the others, though, because the partner visa is an exercise in cruelty all by itself. 

Unless you’ve had the audacity to fall in love with a foreigner, you’ve probably not thought about this blatantly racist and classist bit of fuckery. But it is nasty, and this Labor government has no intention whatsoever to un-fuck it. 

To cut to the chase: The partner visa costs $8,085 to apply for. That’s non-refundable, and will take at least a year to process (though almost certainly a lot longer than that). Depending on the circumstances that you apply under, your partner will be allowed to stay on a bridging visa. However, that visa might have a “no work” condition. It will almost certainly have a “no travel” condition, and that is just fucking awesome if your partner still happens to have family overseas and, you know, wants to see them. 

And, again, it’s non-refundable. Should the government agent that looks at your case decide they don’t like your relationship, then that’s $8K and over a year down the drain. 

Now, let’s put that in context, because as soon as you look at the rest of the world, this ridiculous visa price tag becomes indefensible. The second most expensive visa in the world is the US, and if you want to play dodge the bullet with your spouse, rather than have them relocate anywhere else in the world, it’ll cost you around $3,000. To move your spouse to the UK, it’s $2,590. A Kiwi can bring their spouse home for $2,000. 

And these are all outliers. It seems that western neoliberalism comes with a weird belief that your nation is more desirable to live in. Most places around the world price partner visas at around the administrative costs involved in processing them. In Japan, it’s about $60. For Germany, it’s $110. In China it’s $316. In Ireland, it’s $430. With these there are often some conditions or there may be other fees involved, but none of them get close to $1,000. Let alone fucking $8,000. 

They’re also processed far more quickly – in a matter of months, rather than the war of attrition Australia wages on you. Seriously, just imagine paying $8,000 for any service and then being told that they may get around to it in 15 months. If you’re lucky. Just imagine how exhausting that becomes.

To emphasise: This is fucking racist and classist

It’s racist because the countries where people are more likely to have the resources to scrape together the money for a partner visa are from Europe and North America, and it’s more likely to be the white people from those countries that can do it. That’s a basic demographic reality and you can be quite certain that the government is aware of it. It’s hard not to see that as an effort to, over time, keep Australia white and as free of Asian, African, Middle Eastern and South American spouses as possible. 

It’s also classist, because it restricts the right to marry a foreigner to the really fucking rich in Australia. Imagine if a new law was brought into effect that you had to pay a non-refundable fee of $8,000 to apply to marry someone here. How many people on Newstart or the minimum wage are getting married under that scenario? It won’t bother the people getting those stage-3 tax cuts, perhaps, but it’s pricing the plebby poors out of a really fundamental human right here. 

And while I hate to bring up the Declaration of Human Rights, because I know that means absolutely fucking nothing in this country when such things are inconvenient, the document really is crystal clear about this: “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”

This means you have the right to marry whoever the fuck you want once they’re a legal adult. It’s a basic human right and it’s not subject to proving that you’re wealthy or both from an “acceptable” nationality first. 

Australia’s partner visa system has always been nasty and cruel. I married my wife back when the last Labor mob was in power, and the visa was everything that Julian Hill said then, too. Admittedly it was cheaper (“only” $2,500), but they did put my wife on a no-work provision, took 15 months to process the application, and we had to get a lawyer involved because they were inches from denying us for the kind of stupid, bureaucratic reasons that they do (our binder of photos wasn’t good enough. Seriously).

I was a junior journalist at the time, earning just barely above minimum wage. Over those 15 months I maxed out every credit card I could get my hands on just to survive. We lived in a shitty shoebox. My credit rating took a beating to the point I couldn’t get credit anymore. I was begging my phone company to give me more time to pay an entry-tier plan… and a phone’s pretty fucking important to a journalist. It took us a full decade to recover our financial position. 

If the partner visa was $8,000 then, I simply would not have been able to marry my wife, a woman I’ve been happily married to for longer than most all-Australian marriages last. 

Labor, then the L/NP, and now Labor again, are forcing Australians to choose between moving overseas or simply giving up on marrying the person they love. If that isn’t explicit, brutal cruelty, then nothing is. 

I must admit that, despite going through the nightmare that is this visa application process, even I had lost sight of how bad it had become. I only noticed because, over the last election campaign, I thought to research and see where things sat. I was absolutely disgusted. The L/NP had allowed the cost of partner visas to multiply by four. Four times the cruelty. Four times the violation of basic human rights for both Australian citizens and those abroad.

So, a new government comes in, promising so much (though actually, thanks to the “small-target strategy,” promising a friendlier face but sweet fuck-all beyond that). I email the new minister for immigration, Andrew Giles, and ask him what he’s going to do about this brutal, cruel partner visa. 

Almost two months later, this terse, copy-pasted response arrives:

“Visa Application Charges are subject to annual indexation, and a range of considerations are taken into account when setting them, including the Government’s policy intentions and the size and composition of the Migration Program.”

So, there you have it. The cruelty is the point. The partner visa is $8,000 because that is the government’s “policy intention.” The only noise that Labor has made on this subject is a speech that Hill made about a week ago where he announced nothing but a vague increase in staffing numbers to “improve processing times”, and the admission that the system wasn’t going to be fixed for a long time (and even then, he said nothing about the cost of visas).

On behalf of every Australian that has ever travelled, met someone overseas, and fallen in love: Fuck you, Andrew Giles. Fuck you, Julian Hill, and fuck you Labor.

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