These days, many people enter Australia on Partner Visa’s. Their partner applies to have his/her partner join them in Australia. If the application has been lodged offshore and is successful, the partner is able to enter Australia, in some instances fully dependant on his or her sponsor. If everything goes well, then the couple will eventually settle and perhaps start a family in Australia, and with time, and often through their children, integrate with the larger community.
Unfortunately, things do not always go to plan.
In some instances, the two people involved have spent very little ‘real time’ together, primarily due to geographical and financial constraints and cultural factors, and for some, the dream of a happy family dissolves, and various pressures can result in confusion, isolation; and sometimes violence.
When this happens, the person holding the partner visa is often left in a precarious situation. They are in a foreign country. They often have limited funds. They fear being removed, and if children are involved, fear losing their children. These fears are accelerated by the unknown, or by confrontations with their former partner and are all consuming.
Often lacking emotional and financial support and usually knowing little of the legal and social system, women, (and men) who arrive on a partner visa and are then either abandoned or leave, find themselves in ‘fight or flight’ mode – especially if children are involved. And, as many of those on partner visa’s come from countries with a questionable legal system, there is a fear of going to authorities for assistance. But, this instinct of self-preservation through secrecy is the worst thing you can do if you are in a similar situation on a Partner Visa in Australia.
While it is almost impossible to comprehend the level of anxiety someone in such a situation is in, the very best advice is to get help. But where do you go?
Some of those people who arrive on partner visas have little or no English, have never even heard of Centrelink or a social worker and wouldn’t know what ‘Salvos’ means. However, there will be a community for you. If you belong to a mosque, church, temple or synagogue, go speak to someone there.
All of the communities listed above can help arrange assistance through charity organisations, (Salvation Army, Vincent Care etc. for food and accommodation), as well as arranging for a social worker and a legal representative to assist you. And you DO need a legal representative now that you are no longer with your spouse.
If your partner has thrown you out, or you have run away for your own safety, and none of the above is an option, go straight to a police station and they will connect you with an organisation who will be able to assist you.
What happens now?
At this point, once the Department of Home Affairs becomes aware that your relationship has ended and granted you the appropriate amount of time to organise your affairs, there is the potential that you will become and illegal resident in Australia. However, Australia has a safety net for this. Through Legal Aid, which your social worker can arrange for you, you can apply for what is known as a Bridging Visa. There are several types of bridging visas and as the name suggest this allows you to “bridge the gap” and remain a lawful resident in Australia whilst other options are considered. Your legal representative will assist you in filling out your application and should be able to advise you on the best course action.
Next you can apply for financial assistance with Centrelink. The amount you receive will depend on your situation, however, it is generally 89% of the New Start Allowance. If you have children, then you will also receive assistance through the Family Tax Benefit scheme.
Your social worker will assist you in finding accommodation, though you may need to accept that you will likely be moved a few times until something more permanent is found – but you will be safe.
You will continue to receive assistance from the government while your application is assessed through the Department of Home affairs. If they come to the decision that (based on your individual circumstances) you can remain in Australia, the appropriate elements will be arranged and all going well you may eventually be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain in Australia (Permanent Residency).
If they assess you are not eligible to stay in Australia, then your legal team has other options, including but not limited to having the matter heard at a tribunal and even applying to the Minister for the Department of Home affairs, as of writing this is Peter Dutton and asking him to intervene.
This process can take months, even years, however, you will continue to be supported by the Australian government if you abide by the law during that time.
Work and Study
Can you work? Can you take up formal study? That will depend on the type of Bridging Visa you have, however, if your Visa clearly states you cannot work and/or cannot study, do not; I repeat DO NOT breach this. It may be tempting to earn a few extra dollars; however, you are breaking the law and when caught, your application to remain in Australia may suffer and be potentially be refused. Your legal advisor can make appropriate arrangements should there be a strong need to work due to financial hardship.
What do you do if you can’t work or do formal study?
Speak to your social worker about perhaps parent’s groups or hobby groups. Interact with the greater community. Create your own new community. Create your own social network, your surrogate family. Get online and learn about free activities in your area. This will not only help you make new friends, it will also improve your mental health, your English-speaking skills and grow your social network. It will also allow you to better assimilate into your new home. Check if there are free community organised events you might like to try.
Coming to a new country is hard enough as a couple. You don’t understand the social ‘norms,’ much of the food may be foreign, the language is foreign, perhaps the religion and dress-code is intimidating too. Doing simple things like knowing how much money to give at the register becomes a lesson in ad-hoc sign language navigation. But doing it alone, after being abandoned or fleeing for your safety, that is a herculean task. It’s okay to ask for help.