Australian Visa Processing Time – and the Big Dusty Pile


How long will my Visa Application take?

Visa processing time! “How long will my visa take to process?” How long is a piece of string? It’s a common question from clients, especially with the longer processing-time visas like partner visas. Obviously you want to know, because you want to be together. Our own partner visa (prospective marriage visa, aka fiancee visa) years ago only took two months to be processed! Yet it was still stressful, and a huge sigh of relief when it actually happened!

But the issue is that Australian visa applications do not have set visa processing time. We CANNOT give you an estimate that’s worth very much at all. We have no “insights”, and comparing with other application that were lodged the same week tells us nothing. They do not process visa applications in the order in which they were received. So let’s start this article with the painfully honest statement that we cannot tell you how long an Australian visa application will take to process.

And getting annoyed with us and telling us how hard it is? This won’t change a thing! You’re not the first or last client who is worried and in a hurry because he misses his Filipina sweetheart. It’s everyone! I can’t imagine a client saying “No rush, mate! Anytime. I’m happy on my own.” Doesn’t match any of the clients we’ve known over the years!  


Visa processing time and visa timelines for Australian visa applications can be very long


Visa Timelines – The Global Visa Processing Times


What is this?

This is a Departmental estimate of visa processing time. It’s been around as long as I’ve known, and it’s meant to show how long visas are generally taking to be processed throughout the world. Current visa processing time at this particular time (Feb 2019) says that a Subclass 300 Prospective Marriage Visa should take between 12 and 17 months, and a Subclass 309 Offshore Partner Visa between 14 months and 19 months! 820 Onshore Partner Visas? 20 to 26 months! And yes, clients read these visa timeline figures and get back to us in a panic.

Honestly, I don’t know where these timelines come from. I would like to believe they are actual figures taken from average visa processing times throughout the world, ie. figures from Manila and Bangkok. Figures from Pretoria and London. Dubai and Berlin. And maybe across all of these different offices in different countries the end results all make sense. But as for working out how long a Subclass 300 Fiancee Visa lodged in Manila will take? Of fairly dubious value, I would suggest. Because it sure as heck ain’t even close to our experience! And no, we don’t get special favours because they like my handsome face! Our applications go into the same queue as everybody else’s!

The real downside? It means if you feel your Fiancee Visa is taking too long after 15 months? They can turn around and say “It’s still within the Global Visa Processing Times” and there’s not a thing you can say about it. In truth? We’ve particularly found the Manila staff tend not to say this, and if it really is taking longer than usual they will often look into it. The onshore Department of Home Affairs offices are less approachable, and will often just not reply at all to polite and reasonable follow-ups. And not a single thing that WE can do about it either.


How does Down Under Visa get average visa processing times?

Our visa timeline figures differ from the “Global” times, and they differ quite considerably. And yes, we’re often questioned when clients get hold of the Global Visa Processing Time reports and see the differences. So how do we derive our figures?

  1. We (well, me actually) go over the visa grants for that subclass (ie 300’s, 309’s, etc) and list down how long each one took from application date to grant date. And I go back 12 months.
  2. I total those numbers up, and I divide by the number of visas. For instance, 9, 4, 5, 8, 5, 6, 5.5, 7, 7. Total 56.5. Divided by 9 (imaginary visa grants) = 6.27. 6.27 is the average visa processing time of this pretend-visa.
  3. Then we tell people, with a warning that this is an average but a broad average! Big difference between 9 months and 4 months, right? So just an average!

We’re quoting a 6 month visa processing time for Subclass 300’s and Subclass 309’s from Manila. And again, I warn people that this is a broad average. Onshore Subclass 820 partner visas? 12 months is average for our clients. Averages derived from actual visa grants for Down Under Visa clients for visa applications lodged in Manila (for the offshore applications) and in Australia (for the onshore applications). I have no idea how this compares to something lodged in Moscow or Cairo, but that’s of no concern to our clientele. We only deal with Australian Filipina couples.


Does this mean I nag you at 6 months?

Noooooo! Please don’t! It’s an AVERAGE! It’s not a maximum. It could be really quick or it could be really slow. An average is an average! It is NOT a promise!  So please don’t try to tell us it’s late because it’s now 6 months and 3 days!


Visa application is taking too long

Again, we DO understand the frustration with visa processing time. If you had met your lady at the local dance in the local down like our parents used to (well, mine anyway!), then no big deal. You could marry and move in together, and you would have nothing stopping you. But you met someone overseas, and the Australian Constitution gives the Federal Government the power and the duty to decide who comes in and who doesn’t. You would like her in Australia with you right now, correct? She needs a visa, and that means you need to wait for it to be processed.


Why does it take time?

Because there are a lot of applications, and a limited number of staff to process them all. And there is a lot of detail in each application to be gone over at the same time.

Also, some applications require further investigation. Some of them are complicated, and result in what they call Requests for Information (RFI). If they have concerns or doubts about any aspect of the visa application, they issue an RFI that says “We want more proof of [something]”, and they will issue a time limit. Some applications are seriously lacking in information. Questions answered poorly. Questions left blank. A general lack of relationship evidence.

And of course the false statements and the bogus documents. And when it comes to suspicions of something being genuine, they go all-out when they need to! We’ve had them contacting churches to see if a Baptismal Certificate is genuine. We’ve had them calling ex’s to see if they really gave permission for a child to migrate. We’ve had them requesting document searches in the NSO/PSA (National Statistics Office, now known as the Philippine Statistics Authority) and finding out about existing marriages, extra children and children falsely registered as siblings. I often imagine the shock to the visa applicant when they get caught out, and the even worse shock to the sponsor when he discovers his fiancee still has a husband! So yes, all of this nonsense takes time and will put pressure on staff hours in an Embassy, and therefore leads to further visa processing delays!


The Big Dusty Pile

Yes it takes time to process a visa application, but are they slaving and sweating over your pile of documents for 7 or 8 months? Reading and re-reading your Viber messages to each other, and staring at your photos with a magnifying glass? No, definitely not! As I explained before, some applications require RFI’S which take extra time, and some require further investigation when there is suspected fraud, identity uncertainties, and any possible risks to children. And if you have more applications coming in than there is staff-resources to handle that flow of applications, then you will get a buildup of applications.

Hence the “Big Dusty Pile”!

These days especially with electronic lodgement, clearly there is no pile of physical applications in the middle of the room. Once upon a time? Maybe there was. What actually goes on inside the Embassy or Department offices is a bit like Colonel Sanders’ secret recipe. We will never know! But I’ve long referred to this pile as a way to demonstrate to clients that most of the application time is taken up by absolutely nothing happening. If they, say, tripled the staff? Maybe most would be processed in a month! But that doesn’t seem like something that will happen anytime soon!


The “Case Officer allocated” myth

Due to the murmurings on the Facebook groups, many an applicant or prospective applicant is under the impression that there is a step in the process by which a “Case Officer has been allocated”, and we’re often asked “Have I had a Case Officer allocated yet?” Firstly, at no time have I ever been told “I’m Jenny, and I’ll be your Case Officer”. Never happened!

And secondly, from what I understand (from having several Case Officers at different times requesting information about the one client) it appears more of a group effort these days. And even in those days when we knew that “Jenny” was taking care of Maribel’s application, it never meant I could email Jenny and ask her how much longer or if they can give it a bit of a shuffle ahead in the queue. Requests like that are met with a very bland template response that explains absolutely nothing helpful. It will be granted when it’s granted. And followups, especially within REAL normal processing times only gives the Embassy staff more work to do in responding.


Is your case worthy to be prioritised?

I really hope that no one thinks I’m sounding uncaring or dismissive. Maybe you clicked on this thinking I would tell you how to speed it all up, and all you see is a series of NO’s. I’m just being honest. I really really do care! I know what it feels like to be alone, and I know how it was even just having to wait for two months! It was lonely and it was scary! What if they said NO? Then what?

The question here is, can your case be prioritised? Do you have grounds? In my early days as a Registered Migration Agent I had asked them to give priority to pregnant applicants. They never even responded! Over time I observed that pregnancy is hardly an “exceptional circumstance” amongst couples in love! Love often leads to babies! I knew this, obviously. But my goodness! Our clients are a fertile lot! Babies popping out everywhere! So seriously, why would they shuffle someone up the line because they were pregnant when the line already resembled a baby factory?? And as for missing each other? Being expensive to keep traveling overseas to spend time together? Mum driving her crazy? Wanting to get that new life started? Congratulations! You’re the same as every other partner visa applicant and sponsor team! No one would be happy to step aside and say “Please, take MY place in the line!” Would you?  


So, how long will your visa application take?

It will be ready when they’ve finished it, and the only way you can make visa processing time as fast as possible is to dot every “i” and cross every “t”. Take the application seriously, and address ever request with the best possible response. A detailed and problem-free application will slide through the processing system faster than a problem application…….once it gets off the big dusty pile! And that will remain the great unknown! So be patient!  


Free online visa assessment form from Down Under Visa


Jeff Harvie is a Registered Migration Agent from Australia, but resident in Philippines since 2010 with his Filipina wife Mila and large extended family. Experienced with the Philippines culture, cross-cultural relationships and bureaucracy as well as Australian visas and Australian Migration Law, he writes with authority and fortunately with enough informality and humour that the average Aussie gets it!


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