Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. Visas can be an unwelcome, overwhelming necessity when you fall in love with someone from another country. This was the case for Australian Emma O’Neill Sandham, and her English partner Rich, when they decided they wanted to move from the UK to continue their life together back in Australia.
Emma wrote about the intricate and intrusive process of applying for an Australian partner visa in a magazine piece entitled “The Statutory Declaration of Love”. You can find a link to the story in our show notes.
In this episode, Emma’s going to talk through the difficulty of needing to legally prove and define your love for a visa, what that involved for their application, and she’s also going to offer some advice to other couples looking to do the same thing.
In this interview, Emma refers to the cost of the Australian partner visa that she and Rich applied for, a few years ago now. The price of that same visa today, according to the government website, starts at A$7,160. Can you start by telling me how you met your partner, and ended up in a situation where you were bringing him out to Australia to live?
Emma: Well, it all started in a bar in Melbourne, so I was living in Melbourne at the time, and my husband was actually on a, well my now-husband, Rich, was on exchange with the Australian Air Force, funnily enough. You know, ‘cause he said he was in the Air Force, and, well, aviators, I thought he was, you know, a pilot. But on date 3 he told me that he was actually the trumpet player in the Air Force band, which I thought was cooler. So we had a bit of a kind of fling in Melbourne, and after he left to go back to England I realised that, yeah, I couldn’t kind of stop thinking about this particular man, and thought I’d go over to the UK and kind of have a bit of a holiday and suss out what was going on.
While I was over there we decided to try and give it a go. I was in a very very lucky situation because I had an Irish passport. So, I was able to move over to the UK and be with Rich for 3 years or up. So yeah, so it was interesting in terms of the visa, because we could have definitely lived out our days over there, although with Brexit that could have changed, but essentially I was living over there.
But then, yeah, we kind of sat down one day and kind of thought about, you know, what life would be like if we did move, both of us, back to Australia. And it was mainly, you know, kind of good weather, lifestyle, if we had kids, you know, what that life would look like compared to the UK, and, and yeah, managed to convince him that, to give Australia a go. So, that’s how it, in a very short snippet, how it all came to be that I went onto the website of partner visas.
Carlie: And this is an Australian government website that you have to apply through, isn’t it?
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of, literally I remember the day that, you know, you don’t realise the iceberg below the water, so, and I’m sure lots of people you talk to, the very first time you google how do I, you know, how does someone from the UK move to Australia, yeah, and that’s kind of, yeah, obviously the start of that journey.
Carlie: So, what partner visa was right for you, and why?
Emma: I mean, deciding that is kind of the easiest thing in the whole process. We looked at, we did consider the prospective marriage visa, but didn’t want that pressure of having to organise a wedding, and I think it’s within 9 months, maybe, that you have to do that. So, we kind of landed on, I think it’s officially called Partner Visa Sub-Class 820/801, which sounds very sexy and romantic!
Carlie: It really does! And so what does this visa entail?
Emma: ‘Cause I had, you know, I have lived in the UK and was able to live there so easily, I really didn’t kind of anticipate how intense it was. I mean this was a few years ago, but looking back over the notes, essentially it was a two part, 2 year process.
So part 1 would let Rich stay in Australia for 12 months, before another assessment. Processing time of 9-12 months, and, you know, you had to pay A$3,085. Even if you got rejected, that kind of fee just went out. I think it’s actually almost, more than doubled now, so we kind of got lucky before that, that fee went up. So that’s the cost part of it.
The actual admin, so Rich who was the applicant, the form was 27 pages, and 86 parts. And, for me, I was the sponsor of Rich coming to Australia, and my form was 16 pages, and 53 parts. So, it was this incredible admin avalanche of questions, and paperwork, which, yeah, we definitely didn’t anticipate when we first googled what we were trying to do.
Carlie: Something a bit difficult to maybe get done after dinner one night!
Emma: Definitely, yeah! And definitely, yeah, absolutely, it was kind of knowing where to start, and, and how to put all that together.
Carlie: So what did this massive application involve?
Emma: When you look at the questions, and again I looked back over some of the, the things we had to answer, and it was almost funny looking at them, so, some of the things we had to, to prove was, evidence that we were accepted as a couple socially, which is kind of, how do you do that?
We had to describe our domestic arrangements, how we support each other financially, and we also had to provide statutory declarations from parents and family members that we were actually in a loving relationship.
So essentially it was kind of proving legally that we were in love, which is a very difficult thing to do, because, I mean, you know, for decades, for generations, artists have been trying to describe what love is, and then all of a sudden the government asks you to write it in a 40, 50 page form.
So it’s a, it’s kind of this really, it’s a juxtaposition of, like, something that’s almost impossible to describe, and then the government making you describe it in great detail. Step 1 was kind of gathering all of this evidence.
So, when you think of, say for example with ‘provide evidence that you and your partner are accepted as a couple socially’, you’re like, well how do you do that, but what they would suggest is things like, if you’d been invited to weddings together, anything with both of your names on it. So we ended up having this box in our lounge room where we would throw anything literally from bank statements to invitations to anything that kind of might fit the bill. So, you know, if you think of, about the enormity of the, the process, yeah, all of these questions, and it was very detailed and, and very kind of private.
Yeah, and it was also difficult ‘cause I mean, at the time we did it we’d only been together for 2 years. So kind of approaching family and friends who, and part of it was they had to be Australian citizens, so we had been living in the UK, so asking them in Australia to kind of, you know, legally bind themselves to a statement that we’re in love was quite difficult to do.
Carlie: Had they met Rich before?
Emma: They had met him only briefly, so after I moved over to the UK, he, we came home and visited Australia for Christmas, this is before we put the visa process together, so he stayed, and in that time he had, you know, met my parents and met my friends. And obviously, you know, I was constantly skyping my girlfriends and talking about him and things like that, but in terms of, yeah, physically meeting him, they hadn’t really met him that many times.
It was quite intense, it was kind of like, our box of things ended up being a combination of very practical things, like plane tickets proving that we sat next to each other on holidays, and wedding invitations as I mentioned, and bank statements, to kind of really gushy things of, like, letters we’d sent to each other, and all that kind of stuff. And it’s funny, ‘cause I mean in the modern day, I mean, actually scrap that, we didn’t send letters to each other, it was all messenger messages…
Carlie: That’s handy! How much, how much did you really have of that physical evidence, ‘cause I’m thinking about my 4 year relationship. I don’t think I’ve really written my boyfriend a letter other than a birthday card!
Emma: Totally, and that’s exactly, I mean we, we had lots of cards, but yeah we didn’t, of course, so all of our, when, you know, the modern form of a letter was literally thousands of messenger messages, and you know, looking back over them, some of them were just so, some of them are so embarrassingly gushy, and some of them were just very like practical, you know, there was thousands of messages, so you had to kind of go through them all, and like everything from what time are you gonna be home, and then there was like, you know, and it, things that you would be, you know, I kind of make myself cringe at the things I wrote, but you know, like I love you more than the, I don’t know, it was just crazy having to share that really intimate detail with someone that you’re never gonna meet.
So yeah, it was quite a mix that you had to provide, and again, I think the difficulty is, if you can’t define what love is, how do you prove that you are in love with someone that’s, you know, in an administrative way, it’s a very…
Carlie: Kissing emoji, eggplants (laughs), love hearts.
Emma: That should do it, you know! And it was funny, you know, I was thinking that when I, you know, when I told everyone at home, so I’d visited Rich and then I’d moved back, and I said look, I’m in love, I’m moving to England, and just by saying to people I was in love, all my friends and family, that’s all they needed, the proof that I was, this was a justified move.
But then, for the government, you know, you can’t just say yep we’re in love, you know, you kind of thing, shouldn’t that be an [unclear word 00:09:34], how, why are all my friends and family that’s all I need to tell them, and yet the government required you to go through all of these incredible, incredibly intimate processes to prove it.
So, yeah, it was a very tedious process, and yeah, you just had to chip away at it, and literally, like I said, we had the box in the room, and we would, you know, every now and then, you know, after work, we would chip away at it, and then we’d set Saturdays aside to work on various parts of the form, and yeah, we just chipped away at it over quite a few months.
Carlie: And when it came to actually applying, did you have to upload all of this evidence and application forms online, or did you have to post it in?
Emma: We uploaded the official form that you had to fill out. But to accompany that form we also sent off like a supplementary package that had, you know, literally two A4 folders filled with copies of all of this evidence, so copies of photos, copies of cards, so it was a combination of uploading and posting.
Carlie: Emma, I know that immigration is a big business, and there are lawyers and companies that specialise in helping you get these visas. Did you and your husband decide to go through one of these agents, or did you do it by yourself?
Emma: We did it by ourself. We, you know, I think we were, we were in a very privileged position, a) you know, English-speaking, so we kind of had the space to do it, and also the fact that because I was living with Rich at the time, we could do it together. If we were separated, we might have engaged those services to kind of help each other out, but, yeah, because we were in it together, and also yeah, I think the definite benefit of us being English-speakers made a huge difference to the ease of it, so, yeah we did it without an immigration agent.
Carlie: And how confident were you that you’d ticked all the right boxes and gotten your application right the first time?
Emma: Oh my God, it’s, ah, it’s such a strange process, because you know you’ve done everything right, because you have spent months and months doing it, but deep down you think, oh my God, they don’t, it’s gonna reject us. And for stupid things. I remember thinking that oh, well, because we’re living together anyway in the UK, like, they might look at it and think oh, well they don’t need to go to Australia to be together. So they’ll just reject it based on that. Or, yeah, there’s this, it’s definitely, makes you very anxious, so even though you think you’ve done it all correctly, yeah, you definitely feel the anxiety until you get that email that you’ve got it. I was confident that you, we’d filled it all out, because I think, you know, you’d, they’d get in touch with you if you’re missing something. But it was more knowing if it was enough, essentially.
Carlie: And then how long did you have to wait for an answer?
Emma: So, it was 10 months I think, so essentially, so we got the temporary partner visa, which allowed Rich to come to Australia. And yeah, and the wait was 9, over 9 months. And, what was interesting in that 9 months, and this is a tip for people doing it, is, you’re in such a limbo land that, with about 2 months to go, we ended up just kind of taking, you know, benefit of the doubt and we quit our jobs, and had a fare-, we even had a farewell party before Rich actually got the visa, because we were like, you have to almost take ownership of it. So we…
Carlie: That’s so, that’s so confident! (laughs)
Emma: It’s crazy, but we were like, it just drives you crazy, because you’re in this period of, you know, 9 months is a long time, and, and literally we got the visa, it was like a week before we flew out. And we’d actually already bought the tickets, like we bought the tickets, and we were calling, and I’m, I mean, everyone would have this frustration, you call the office and they literally can’t give you any indication of when it’s happening, but we were looking at the timing, and we were actually on forums looking at people’s dates, so from the date of submission to getting the visa.
There was one in particular that people were really kind and generous in showing the dates, so you could kind of figure out, hey, right, now it’s about 9-10 months, so, I think it’s quite a discriminatory process, where they put people in risk levels, which is a horrific thing, but, fortunately for Rich he was British, so it was like a low-risk country. How they determine that, you know, I’m not sure, but, so low-risk country, and obviously yeah, looking at other people’s submission dates, and, and acceptance dates, we kind of, yeah, took a punt, and, and it was literally, had to do it and just took ownership of it, and we got really lucky that we got it on the deck a week before we flew out.
Carlie: Thankfully it paid off. You must have been sweating that week before, waiting for the post!
Emma: Totally! It was pretty, I mean, it was an anxious time anyway, because of obviously Rich leaving his friends and family, and, and that’s the thing, I think that you know, it’s such an emotional time anyway, this administrative avalanche sits on top of you, and in addition to all these other emotions that you’re feeling, so it’s definitely an intense time.
Carlie: So the visa came, and, and is that, that the end, or…? (laughs)
Emma: No, and this is what actually was quite shocking. So, you know, we got the temporary partner visa, and we were told, you know, in 2 years’ time, you know, you’ll be in Australia in 2 years’ time, you’ll get an email, we’ll just need some extra little bit of evidence that you’re still together, and then you’ll get your permanent visa.
And we thought it would be as simple as that, and it was really surprising that after 2 years in Australia, we did get that email, but the email was a lot more intense than we predicted. So, to go from a temporary partner visa to a permanent partner visa, it was almost like we had to go through the whole process again. Not to the same extent, but we still had to provide more statutory declarations, we had to provide more financial evidence, more nature of household evidence, so, that we were renting and living together.
We still had to provide joint invitations, it was fairly shocking, and this is probably the biggest shock through the whole process, that that second part, that you kind of forget about, because you’re so excited that the first part’s happened, and you kind of take the second part as a given, that you’re here and then you’re just gonna get this email in 2 years, but, yeah, it was definitely a bit of a shock that we had to, 2 years from the date that we got the temporary visa, we got another email and had to go through a very similar process, so yeah, that was a little bit of a shock.
But, we got that, and, to make even more romantic, we got that second permanent partner visa when we were on our honeymoon, so that was quite a, yeah, so that was quite nice. And, yeah, so now, Rich is here permanently, and he’s actually now applied for citizenship. So, third part of this administrative craziness (laughs).
Carlie: So, there is a path to citizenship through the temporary partner visa. I’m wanting to backtrack a little bit, and ask, what does a temporary partner visa allow Rich, well, what did it allow Rich to do in Australia? Could he work, for example?
Emma: Yeah, so, pretty much you can do everything. So, it was, allowed him to work, it allowed him to get a Medicare card, which gave him access to free healthcare. Literally the only practical thing that he wasn’t able to do was get HEX, which is the kind of higher education fees, so, basically if he wanted to, to enrol in university, because he’s on a temporary partner visa he has to pay. So, that can only be addressed if you become a citizen.
So, yeah, there was literally only, no limitations, so, he could do everything. The only thing he couldn’t do until he was a permanent partner, he, he got the permanent partner visa, was buy a house. So, work, he could, you know, rent, he could have a bank account here, everything. He just couldn’t enrol in university, or purchase a house. But once he got the permanent partner visa we were able to purchase a house together. And then once he becomes a citizen he’ll also then be able to enrol in university.
Carlie: Emma, now you’ve come out the other side of the process, and thankfully it all happened smoothly for you guys, looking back is there anything you would’ve done differently?
Emma: Yeah, well, one thing, and I, do you know what, it’s probably a metaphor similar to having children, you know when you focus so much on the childbirth, and then the child’s here and you’re like, ah! I’m not ready for this bit! The main thing, you know, we were so focused on this process of getting Rich here, and all of the admin that went with it, that I wish we kind of prepared more for the emotion of moving countries.
It’s funny, you get in this kind of bubble of visa and the stress of it, and in terms of just, you know, what are we gonna do when we arrive? And that’s the thing I will tell people, that once they arrive in Australia, there’s not really clear assistance in, you know, literally we came here, I had no idea how Rich was gonna apply for a Medicare card, even though he was able to get one. You know, didn’t know what the rules were with him opening a bank account. And even just the emotion of being in Australia, and the cultural adjustment.
So it’s almost the one thing that I would’ve done differently, is kind of while we were going through this process and the stress of it, to really sit down and, and research what’s gonna happen when we actually get to Australia. Because you kind of, yeah, you do get caught up in the process of the visa, and you forget that, you know, in 9-10 months you’re gonna be here, and, OK, what happens now? How do we actually …?
Carlie: I guess there’s so much you take for granted as an Australian citizen. We just got our healthcare cards, and our, our bank accounts when we were teenagers, and we didn’t think about how that actually happened, right?
Emma: Exactly! And it was, I remember sitting in this, so Rich wanted to get a phone, as you would, and so we went into the phone shop, and they were like well, we can’t give you a phone if you don’t have a licence. But then Rich couldn’t have a licence because he didn’t have an address that he’d been at long enough. And then, so it was all very, it was very difficult to kind of set him up when we first got here. And, you know, definitely a, mark it all, something for a document that’s like, these are the things and this is how you do it. So, we were so excited, but the process can be so exhausting, that you forget what’s gonna happen at the other side.
And I actually remember, when we got the visa, and we got it all approved, and we, you know, very emotionally said goodbye to Rich’s parents. And we walked through the door, and I remember Rich just kind of walking to the bar, and it was almost like [unclear word 00:19:37], like, he was, he knew we were moving to Australia, but like, it was like, oh my God! Like, now what, kind of thing! So, yeah, so my advice would be just to kind of, yeah, the process is incredibly stressful and, and time-consuming, but, to kind of take a step back if possible and think about what, what’s gonna happen and, and how you’re gonna feel, and what adjustments that you’re gonna have to make when you move.
Carlie: And how’s Rich doing now, a few years into his life in Australia?
Emma: Really well, and you know, definitely there was a time when he struggled with the adjustment, so, yeah, I mean we’ve been here, we got, 5 years, this’ll make it 5 years that we’ve been in Australia. So yeah, and definitely this year we’ve managed to buy a house, and he’s definitely adjusted and he’s absolutely loving it out here, so, yeah, it was definitely worth it, but yeah, look, in those, those years there was definitely times when, you know, he got incredibly homesick, and really struggled with adjusting to things.
And I think what the, what people don’t realise, I think if, and he often used to say to me that, you know, if I moved to India people would have been very empathetic about me culturally adjusting, but he got little empathy because people think Australia and especially the UK are very similar, but there are very subtle but obvious differences, and so he felt that, he didn’t, he kind of thought it would be very similar culturally, but it was very different, so, yeah. But he’s, he’s loving it now…
Carlie: And no-one really cared enough to treat him softer, because they don’t see a cultural difference.
Emma: Absolutely, yeah, it was really funny, and you know, people were like, and especially in the UK, ah, you’re just going to where Home & Away is shot! You know, ah, you’re just, it’s, it’s England by the beach. But, you know, it’s really different to what you think, and, you know, I mean he had only been, he’d been in Australia for 3 months, but on holidays, so kind of, the reality of working here was, was quite a shift. If you do go through something like this with your partner, then, like the benefit is that you, it makes you so much stronger as a couple, ‘cause you have to deal with such things, so emotionally draining and straining, but, yeah, you get out the other side, and, and it’s definitely, you’re stronger as a couple and you feel like you can take on, take on anything in a way. But, yeah, it’s definitely worth it.
Carlie: Emma, we just touched on this really, and you said it’s to really think about that other side factor, but, just in closing, what would be the best piece of advice you could give other Aussies and their, their expat partners looking to go down the same path that you and your husband have?
Emma: Very very practical advice would be to keep all of your evidence. That’s something that, I mean we didn’t immediately know we were gonna come to Australia, so you kind of, getting all that stuff retrospectively was quite challenging. So the advice number 1 would be, yeah, definitely, you know, if you could potentially be moving, just keep things, bank statements, or cards, or anything that, that might make evidence, so keep all of that.
The second thing would be to be really honest with each other through the process, and, and like I said before, to, even though you’re going through the visa process, to make sure that you talk to each other about each other’s expectations of what’s gonna happen on the other side. Thirdly, I suppose, just really talk to other people that have gone through it. The people that, you know, Rich has become, has bonded with, you know, some people here who have gone through a similar thing that he’s gone through, so, if you’re able to find people when you arrive that are expats themselves, then, you know, that’s really helpful.
But yeah, and also just setting up really practical things, like when you arrive, make sure you have, easily able to contact people from home, make sure that Skype’s working, and just kind of manage that homesickness when they arrive. So, keeping those conversations going, keeping all the evidence, and, that’s kind of it, really. I do know that it’s become a lot more expensive, so I suppose you’ll, you know, start savings for that. I mean we saved for the visa, but it was at that time under A$4,000. So, and it kinda was a shock that we kind of, oh, of course you’ve gotta pay for it, so, yeah, so just saving up. And also saving for when you move, ‘cause you do get quite shocked at how expensive it is to change everything and move to the other side of the world, so it can, yeah, it can be quite an expensive task.
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you have any questions for Emma, or wanna share your own experience of applying for an Australian partner visa, head over to expatfocus.com, follow the links to our Australia forum or Facebook group. You’ll find more Expat Focus podcast episodes on our website. They’re also on iTunes. We cover all aspects of expat life. If you like what we do, please leave us a review, and I’ll catch you next time.