It took over two years, but finally a bill that will impact many family visas was passed by both Houses of Parliament last week. The Migration Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2016 creates a definition of an approved family sponsor in the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). While the provisions seem innocuous enough, it will have lasting effects on many family visas and paves the way for the long-anticipated temporary parent visa to be introduced.

The new provisions include:

Requiring an assessment of people wishing to sponsor others for a family visa;

Imposing legally binding obligations on sponsors with civil penalties and administrative sanctions should these obligations not be met;

Facilitating the sharing of information between certain parties; and

Providing legal recourse to cancel and bar people from being approved family sponsors to improve the management of family violence within the visa program.

Once the bill receives royal assent and becomes law, an approved family sponsor will be distinguished from an approved work sponsor, a regime that currently applies to a number of current temporary visas, the Subclass 482 – Temporary Skill Shortage visa being the most popular.

Corresponding regulations have yet to be made which will disclose the criteria for family sponsor approval, any limitations, and also whether an approved family sponsor is required for every family visa subclass or only some. As the purpose of the bill is to reduce the incidence of family violence, it is highly likely to be required for partner and prospective marriage visas.

Importantly, for any visa requiring an approved family sponsor, the sponsor must be approved before any relevant visa application is made. This will have implications to onshore visas because potential applicants may be at the mercy of the Department of Home Affairs’ processing times, not to mention issues arising should a sponsorship application be refused.

This may not bode well for partner visas if the processing of sponsor applications takes the same time as visa applications. Currently, 75 per cent of Subclass 820 – Partner visas are processed in 21 months.

Further concerns raised in submissions on this bill include the possibility for privacy breaches when information on the family sponsor is shared and fears international covenants on civil and political rights may be violated.

This bill also paves the way for the proposed temporary parent visa that was announced last year, with the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs heralding this in a recent media release.

This new visa is dependent on this legislation passing as although there will be a requirement for parents to hold private health insurance, an amendment to the bill places obligations on the family sponsor to cover medical, hospital, aged care, and other health related expenses.

Once the temporary parent visa is introduced, it would not be surprising to see either permanent parent visas abolished, primarily due to costs on taxpayers, or a significant increase in the second visa application charge for contributory parent visas.

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