Tighter personal interviews help root out sham Australian marriage visa applications

Published: 01/08/2009

A stricter marriage visa interview has been introduced by the Australian Immigration department to deal with the increase in sham marriages and civil partnerships.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship Bona Fides Unit is dedicated to assessing the genuine and on-going nature of marriages, de facto relationships and civil partnerships for those people applying for Australian partner and spouse visas.

Many foreign spouses of Australian citizens are deported each year as a serious consequence of failing the partner knowledge tests, which includes a number of questions carefully designed to root out discrepancies. The relatively-new Bona Fides Unit promises to further intensify the spousal knowledge test, with detailed personal questions including asking about the floor plan of the house where the couple is supposed to reside or what gifts they exchanged the previous Christmas/relevant religious holiday.

The reason the dedicated Bona Fides Unit test has been tightened is in response to a surge in spousal visa applications, including marriage visas, same-sex civil partnership visas and de facto marriage visas, with the Australian authorities keen to discover sham marriages or partnerships. Australia has in place same-sex equality laws that ensure gay and lesbian partners of Australian citizens are entitled to apply for the same visa benefits as opposite-sex partners, known as the interdependency visa.

There has been a 53 % increase in Australian marriage and spousal visas over the past decade; up from 26,000 in 1997-1998 to 40,000 in 2007-2008. During the past year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Bona Fides Unit has investigated over 1150 couples, resulting in around 220 Australian partner visas being cancelled following unconvincing, sham personal knowledge interviews. This is in addition to the 3146 marriage or spousal visas that were rejected outright.

The cancellation of these marriage and partner visa applications was as a result of the two-stage visa process devised to deter and discover such sham applications, with the initial visa granted for a two year period only, with permanent residency only granted after a second-stage personal interview after the expiration of the initial temporary Australian marriage visa.

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