It’s been over a year now since my visa was approved, but I still wake up in the night with cold sweats thinking about the process. As you can imagine it’s not a fun thing to do and the endless paperwork, worry and stress was hard to get through but is ultimately worth it. After all, now I get to stay in my favourite country with my favourite ever person so all the nights that I cried myself dry picturing getting deported in handcuffs as I wailed “but our relationship IS genuine and continuing!” paid off.
Yeah, I can laugh about it now…
During my application the thing that helped me most was talking to people with personal experience of the process. Government websites were, unsurprisingly, very hard to get answers from and reading through internet chat boards would regularly give me heart attack as people posted conflicting knowledge. I was lucky that many of my friends had gone through it before me and fully aware of the nightmare I was about to enter offered help before it was even requested. I am eternally grateful to everyone to wrote statements and offered advice, from those who sent me long emails to others who could share knowledge of the pain of filling out your form 80.
In the spirit of paying it forward I’ve decided to document everything I can think of and answer most of the questions I am commonly asked.
Oh, hi! I’d like to stay in the country and I’ve fallen in love with an Australian or New Zealand citizen
Congratulations on the relationship! May you stay in the honeymoon phase forever. Do you live together?
Yes we do, his snoring is adorable.
Well that is very good news. To apply for your Aussie de facto you need to have been cohabiting for at least 12 months. If you have been apart during that time because of work or visa related issues then you’ll need to prove that you’ve been keeping in contact throughout the separation. Start screen shotting evidence of those 3 hour Skype sessions now! For some reason if your other half is from Kwiland you’ll only need to have been together for 6 months. Don’t ask me why, I wasn’t going to argue with it.
Oh no! We’ve only been living together for 11 months!
Never fear, you can literally apply on the day your application becomes valid. Make sure you have everything ready and that your paperwork is dated from the day you intend to send it off. There’s no crime in being organised. Don’t bother sending it off early though because it’ll just get straight out rejected.
Euuugh, but I’m so disorganised and there is so much to do!
Tough, it’s hard work. Start getting your evidence together now. Uploaded a cute photo to Facebook? Screen shot it and put it in a folder. Little and often wins the day. Make a list of everything you need. You don’t have to do it all in one day but it’s much easier to fill out a couple of pages of your form 80 at a time than try to fill in all million or so of it in one go (trust me on this, I tried and failed).
Great, I’ll start tomorrow.
Nuh, uh, DO NOT PROCRASTINATE. It’s a brain meltingly awful process as it is without panicking at the last minute. Plus there are things, like medical and police checks, that take time. Get organised. If you must procrastinate then go to this fantastic website and read all of the posts about procrastination. They have literally changed my life.
Okay, point made. So what should I do first?
Register your relationship. Provided one of you has resided in your state for longer than 6 months you can do so and most states will then consider you in the same way as a married couple. It’s free to do but the certificate is $42 (which you’ll need to provide) and it takes about 10 minutes at the courthouse. There’s something quite sweet about doing it because you have to sign it formally, like marriage-lite, and the certificate is quite pretty. Bear in mind that if your relationship does end (which I’m assuming you think it won’t given you’re applying for this visa) you’ll need to let the government know, but that’s as simple as one of you filling in a form. Just google ‘registering relationship + your state’ for info.
That sounds easy enough. Now what?
See what police check you need. This can be tricky depending on which country you’re from as sometimes your identity needs to be verified. For my UK one a passport photo had to be validated by someone who had known me for 2 years and was from a certain profession. Thankfully I had a paramedic mate just down the road who I’d met just after moving to Aus otherwise I would have had to post a picture back home and then had it returned to me. Because it can be a bit of a faff it’s one to get started on as soon as you can.
Good job they never found the body then.
Nothing…ahem, so providing I’ve not got a criminal record what should I get cracking on next?
The dreaded form 80. A piece of paperwork so laborious, so finicky that it should come with a bottle of gin to help ease your wound up brain after each filling in session. You are required – amongst other things – to list contacts within Australia, every immediate family member and every home address and every overseas trip that you’ve made for the last ten years. TEN YEARS. Although I only used addresses that my bank statements were sent to (otherwise it would have gotten ridiculous) again it’s something that you should start filling out little and often. Gin helps.
Excellent, sounds super fun I love listing minute life details for someone else’s perusal. Anything else on the ‘must-do’ list?
Well I’m guessing that as you live together you’ve got a joint account for bills and rent etc. if you don’t have one, set it up and make sure that you use it for things. It’s not enough to be all ‘yeah we have an account with both our names one!’ and then leave it. Start putting money in and using that for your food shop etc, because ideally you’re going to send a few months worth of financial statements with your proof.
Wahhh, so much work! Can I not get help with it?
You can, of course, pay an immigration lawyer to help you with everything but in my opinion it’s a bit of a waste of money. Sure it’s a lot harder to sort things out yourself, but when you’ve got a choice between spending literally thousands of dollars on a paid professional or doing some laborious research in your spare time I’d choose extra cash every time. If you’re really worried then you can pay for a consultation and have a lawyer check over your application and let you know of any adjustments you should make. Shelling out for a proof read will be far cheaper. Remember, you will be needing to extend your usual gin budget during this period so every cent counts.
But surely I can get my mates or someone to help out, somehow?
Indeed you can, they will be required to write a statement about your relationship! If your partner is an Aussie then statements have to be written by Australian citizens (yes, you will need certified copies of their birth certificates or passports) but once again the Kiwi advantage wins out and anyone can pen one for a 461. We had our parents, housemates and friends all send us their statements because thankfully we’re surrounded by amazing people who didn’t even think before agreeing to help out. Maybe ask to proof read some first though, because my Dad used the phrase ‘committed singleton” in his. Thanks Dad.
No dramas. I’m well popular so everyone will want to wax lyrical about what an amazing couple we are.
Great! Do you have TB?
Oh nothing, just that you may be required to have a chest X Ray to prove that you’ve got the all clear. It’s a very common requirement for many Aussie visas but, BUT, triple check to make sure you need one. Thanks to the NHS not being over here it can cost hundreds of dollars for a simple health check and chest X Ray and I was hours off booking an appointment before discovering, deep down in the immi.gov.au website, that because I’m British and had never travelled to a high risk country I didn’t need one. Hurrah for extra gin money! Although they could have requested one after I’d sent my application which would have delayed the approval process, I felt a potential saving of over $500 was worth the risk.
Okay. So I’ve registered my relationship, filled in my form 80, sorted out police and health checks and lined up loved ones to write nice things. Can i take a day off now?
Nope. Sorry. But you can just take the ‘little and often’ approach. Any form of proof aside from the legal ones are a bonus and so once we’d decided to apply I went about collecting little bits of evidence, like a magpie, and filling up boxes. So when we were sent a letter with both our names on? In the box. A wedding invitation for the next year? In the box. Boarding passes from our holiday to new Zealand? In the box! Christmas cards from extended family? You guessed it – in the box! Anything that could be considered remotely useful went in and it was much easier discarding things and picking the best ones than scrabbling around later on. It meant that I sent out about 10 A4 pages with photocopies of things which i also got a JP to certify (although he did look at me like a mentalist, like who would fake a copy of a Christmas card. I didn’t care). Friends used everything from newspaper articles relating to them to round robin letters sent out by their family. Anything that proves objectively you are together is worth it’s weight in gold.
Anything else to obsessively collate?
Yes, Facebook is your friend. You can’t fake dates or comment threads from others. I used status updates and photographs. Things where several different people had commented “you guys are soooo cute/so happy for you” etc were great. Also, it felt extremely icky to do so, but I printed and sent off screen shots of conversations I’d had with friends and family during the first few months we were together. Messages detailing my amazement that I’d fallen so hard, so fast and so unexpectedly. Messages that were never intended for the eyes of anyone but those involved in the conversation. I hated doing it, but those private thoughts were powerful evidence in our favour.
So what we’ve written about each other is important?
Oh yes. And there’s a very important piece you need to compose: your relationship statement.
This is, I think, one of the most important elements in your application. Not from a legal perspective but a personal one. It is after all your opportunity to talk convincingly about your relationship. Always remember that after you’ve ticked the paperwork boxes the person making the decisions is a human being and will be swayed by emotion if they’re on the fence. I spent hours writing mine and it came to two A4 pages, but then I’m a big talker and love to write (Mikey’s came to just over a page). We read them to each other and both got a bit teary about it. According to every single website I checked (just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything) it has to include information on:
- how, when and where the couple first met
- how the relationship developed
- the couple’s domestic arrangements, that is, how they support each other financially, physically and emotionally and when this level of commitment began
- any periods of separation, when and why the separation occurred, for how long and how the couple maintained their relationship during the period of separation
- the couple’s future plans.
Even if you only write a few basic sentences on each of those points, then re-read and expand a little you’ve still got quite a lot to say. And really, if you can’t write about the rose tinted beginnings of your relationship or where you see it heading then why are you even applying for this visa? If things like this don’t come naturally then have a couple of drinks before putting words to paper (and edit sober, obviously). Sometimes alcohol can lubricate the mind and make you feel slightly less silly about having to write down your sincere thoughts. Or maybe that was just my britishness coming through? Once again this is where gin is a crucial element.
Jesus, you really like gin. Have you ever thought of…talking to someone?
Call me when you’ve sent off your application and then tell me off, if you still can.
Okay, so I’ve been organised and got everything together. I’ve triple checked everything and nothing on the list is missing. Now what?
Presentation my dear. Back again to the ‘a human decides this’ point: if you were presented with a lovely neat presentation with each section clearly divided, or a stack of paperwork stuffed in an envelope which are you going to feel better about at 9am on a Monday? Taking the advice of a friend (thanks Cat!) I bought an A4 folder and dividers making sure to write a contents list on the front and titles on the tabs. I agonised over the colour and went for a happy looking watercolour blue wash (overthinking it? Perhaps…) and clearly labelled the front and spine with my information. When I was confident no more could be done I posted it special delivery, immediately ran to the nearest loo to throw up and spent the next few months obsessively checking my post box. Because I’d sent my application via post I was told all correspondence would also be sent by letter. It was a lie, they emailed me, and because I’m terrible at checking my gmail account I actually missed the notification by a day. Winning.
Things to remember:
1. This is extremely invasive and is not enjoyable to know that somewhere in an office there is someone going through your private thoughts, letters and pictures and making their own decision about whether or not you love each other. It’s not fun or nice but it’s worth it. I’m typing this sitting next to Mikey, not in a different country from him.
2. Even though you know you love your partner and the relationship is genuine, you will still worry that the evidence you provided wasn’t enough and that someone somewhere will stamp a big fat NO on your application. Remember that if they are unsure they will either ask for more information or call you in for an interview, and if you are in love with each other eventually you’ll get it granted.
3. The Justice of the Peace (JP) will become your best friend. We made countless visits to have things witnessed and authorised. It’s easy to do this in Australia but some countries require you to make and ay for appointments, in which case plan ahead and do everything in one go.
4. If your situation changes then let your case officer know immediately. So, if you become engaged or one of you falls pregnant it will affect your application. My friend had his visa granted a week after his wife fell pregnant despite having waited nearly a year to hear back. Please don’t knock yourself up or get married for a visa though, it’s not a failsafe option and a terrible reason to do either thing.
5. Your bridging visa will be a continuation of the old one and give you the same work rights, but may not allow you to leave the country if you’re here or enter it if you’re out. Check, double check and triple check that you aren’t infringing on any visa conditions because that will not go down well and can sometimes cause them to cancel your application.
6. This shit gets even more difficult if you’re from a country not in the commonwealth or that has a history of citizens overstaying their visas.
7. Good luck, and please send me a message if I’ve missed anything that might be useful. I’m more than happy to offer up any advice I can think it!
Note: I applied for a 461 New Zealand family visa with Mikey being a Kiwi so some legal technicalities are slightly different, however the spirit of the thing is the same. This should also definitely not be taken as a Bible and if you are unsure about any legal aspects call the immigration helpline on 131 881. You might be on hold for half an hour but at least a professional will be giving you the answers. Despite what I regularly tell Mikey I do not, in fact, know everything.