My partner is a New Zealand citizen and lives in Australia– what are my visa options?

If this is you, congratulations – you are in a very fortunate position indeed.

As you may know, a standard partner visa allows a person (from any foreign country) to come to Australia for the purposes of being with their partner, ultimately on a permanent basis.

To this end, applicants pay a hefty application fee ($7000 as of May 2018) and endure two stages of processing – first, to receive a temporary visa and then, after two years, to transition to permanent residency.

The criteria for establishing your relationship are extremely strict and processing times for some couples (especially where a high-risk country is involved) can blow processing times out by years.

Moreover, if your relationship breaks down before you obtain the permanent visa, and you can’t obtain some other kind of visa to remain, your visa will be cancelled and you must leave Australia.

That is the standard situation for partners of Australian citizens or permanent residents.

The New Zealand Difference:

You, however, have another, quite favourable option. Owing to Australia’s ‘special’ relationship with New Zealand, partners of New Zealand passport holders on a subclass 444 visa (the one granted automatically at the airport of arrival) have their own visa subclass available – the Subclass 461.

The 461 is a little-known visa that has a number of advantages over the traditional partner visa route – but of course, whether it’s better for you will depend on your own circumstances.

We consider the main benefits of this visa to be:

  • A much lower application fee – just $330, rather than $7000 for a regular partner visa
  • Simpler eligibility criteria – you must simply be:
    • A member of the family unit of a New Zealand passport holder (who is not an ‘eligible New Zealand citizen’), and
    • not a NZ citizen yourself. Of course – if you were, you wouldn’t need to apply for a visa to travel to, and remain in, Australia.
  • Potentially simpler relationship criteria.
    • We say potentially, because decision-makers for this visa type have broad discretion to consider whether a relationship is ‘genuine and continuing’. However, they are significantly more constrained than decision makers for Australian partner visa applications in when they can consider a relationship not to be genuine.
  • The visa lasts 5 years, is renewable and will survive the relationship if you separate. Note: if you subsequently enter a relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident, you will need to inform immigration and apply for a partner visa.

What are the drawbacks?

  • The main drawback is that on a 461 visa there is no automatic transition to permanent residency. If you subsequently want to become a permanent resident, you will need to apply for some other visa type (e.g. a skilled visa, the 189 (NZ Stream) visa, and investor visa or a partner visa).
  • As you do not have a permanent visa, your status in Australia is less secure if, in the future, the Government decides to change the rules.

So while this could be a great option to test out life in Australia with your partner, and potentially spend a few years living here – ultimately, you will probably want to look at a path to PR – and citizenship – if you stay.