I had a consultation with a migration agent this week and discovered something very, very interesting.
I hadn’t planned on meeting with a migration agent. I’d planned to do all the paperwork and lodge the visa myself as many expats do, but the process is complicated. When the opportunity to meet with an excellent migration agent presented itself, I took it.
I went with all my forms in hand, as well as my passport, a copy of my current visa grant notification, and a list of questions. I have a 12-month 676 tourist visa. When he reviewed the grant notification (that is, the letter explaining I’ve been granted the visa), he noticed the following statement:
The Subclass 676 Tourist visa allows the visa holder to travel to and enter Australia on more than 1 occasion until 20 August 2013. The visa holder is permitted to remain in Australia, after each entry, for a period of 12 Months.
Here is how I understood this statement: I applied for a 12-month visa in August of 2012. It was granted and subsequently expires in August of 2013. I may travel and enter Australia as often as I want until it expires in August 2013.
The migration agent, however, noted the language is new, unusual, and here’s how he understood this statement: Every time I travel and re-enter Australia, the visa is extended for another 12 months.
What?! That can’t be right, I thought. That means, in theory, that I could keep coming and going and extending my visa. That could explain why the last time I entered the country, the immigration agent kept repeating, “You can’t keep doing this.” Technically, it looks like I can, but I’m not going to test it.
I went to the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) where you can check the status of a lodged application or existing visa. Sure enough, my visa expires in May 2014, a year from the last time I entered Australia.
What a relief!
I also noticed that the VEVO check says I must not arrive in Australia after August 2013, which was not clarified on my grant notification. I misunderstood the dates on it all along. August 20, 2013 is not when the visa expires per se; it’s the deadline for entry into Australia. The actual expiration date for my stay is 12 months after I entered. I came back in August 2012, which placed the expiry date in August 2013, but then I left to visit Miami and returned in last May, which pushed the expiry date to May 2014.
It should go without saying that I didn’t intentionally extended my stay. This is the visa I was grated and this is how it works. I just didn’t know it until today. It goes to show how tricky it all really is and how sharp you have to be.
The application for a de facto partner visa is challenging in no small part because the language of the application and the requirements are unclear. For example, it demands that a couple be living together for 12 months, but apparently what that actually means is that the couple has been in a relationship for 12 months and your idea of when that relationship began may not be the same as Immigration’s. Theo and I were involved for three years before I moved in with him upon my arrival in Australia in February 2012, but the migration agent clarified that, to Immigration, the start of our relationship could actually be later than February because “Periods of ‘dating’ do not count towards the 12-month relationship requirement.”
Additionally, we must be able to provide four broad categories of “evidence of a genuine and continuing relationship”. While Immigration offers some general guidelines such as joint accounts or joint ownership of major assets, it doesn’t really spell out what that looks like in terms of documentation especially if you don’t have anything like that. Further, the migrant agent said that de facto partner visas can be difficult because Immigration expects that people are lying. They go through them with a fine-toothed comb.
But now we have an extra year to positively ensure that we meet all the requirements and take steps to go above and beyond what is necessary so that there will be no questions about granting me the visa I seek. I realise I may be worrying more than necessary, but I just don’t want to make any mistakes.
Now I’m waiting to hear back from the migration agent. He was going to check the expiry date of my visa (when it occurred to me today that I could go and check it for myself on VEVO), make some recommendations about what I should do next, and let me know what his fees are should I decide to use him. I’m feeling good about having him on my team. I might have discovered that my visa expires in 2014 instead of 2013, but I didn’t. It never occurred to me to check and I’ve read my grant notification a dozen times and never realised how the visa really works. That’s the benefit of a migrant agent; they catch those things you don’t.