18. ‘Your partner can’t cancel your visa’

In today’s episode Kerry Wright from our community legal education branch will be speaking to Katie Wrigley from our government law team about what to do if you have clients who have come to Australia on a temporary visa and their relationship has broken down due to family violence. Find out what options are available to people in this situation whether your client is eligible for a Family Violence exemption and how you can refer your clients to this service this is law for community workers on the go. Hello everyone my name is Kerry Wright our guest today is Katie Wrigley from the New South Wales government law a Katie is a senior solicitor in immigration law Katie also assists with other areas of commonwealth laws such as social security visa cancellations and the National Disability Insurance Scheme before we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we’re recording on today and pay our respects to their elders past and present Ti came to Australia on a partner visa after she arrived in Australia her Australian partner became violent and aggressive legal aid helped Ti make an application to stay in Australia permanently on the grounds that she had experienced family violence we helped her to collect and present the evidence she needed to show the violence had taken place we also helped her to apply and get a special benefit from Centrelink to support herself while she was waiting for a decision around nine months after the Family Violence exemption application was made Ti was granted Australian permanent residency today we’re going to be talking about how community workers can help their clients if they have come to Australia on a temporary visa and the relationship is broken down due to family violence but firstly Katie could you tell us about your role within the immigration team yes so I work with a team of around ten general government law solicitors at head office at legal aid who each do immigration cases and I so supervise the worker for immigration outreach solicitors who see clients around Western Sydney there through appointments that are booked through our partner organizations places like Auburn diversity services Western Sydney MRC core Fairfield Bankstown legal aid and west Blacktown so the the core sort of client groups that we look to represent are victims of family violence asylum seekers making claims for protection judicial review matters and visa cancellation cases at the AAT we also give some advice on issues like citizenship overseas travel and family reunion okay busy caseload then so yeah quite a lot so at the beginning I mentioned a client story which represents the clients you assist what do you find most rewarding about this work Katie I think it’s rewarding working with a team of specialists who are expert in what they do and the client focus that the team has in terms of very trauma-informed legal practice and a team that has clients at the center of everything we do it can be very satisfying as well to tell someone that they’re safe and to that they now have a permanent visa and can move forward and start to rebuild their life but I think it’s it’s really satisfying to work with a great team of lawyers thanks Katie so now let’s talk about your work and what community workers need to know what type of temporary visas might people be on when they referred to you so we’re referred clients who hold all kinds of visas they could be on a student visa or a visitor’s visa they could be on a skilled visa or they could be on their partners visa as a dependent the main group that we’re keen to get in touch with are those who are have applied for a partner visa and then on either a bridging visa or a temporary partner visa and if people are on these temporary visas referred to you after their relationship is broken down due to family violence what are they most worried about we find they’re often most worried about some pretty immediate concerns like their physical safety where they can go to stay for accommodation how they can survive in terms of financial support and whether they’ll need to leave Australia or whether they can stay here and I think something you mentioned to me was that people sometimes hear that their partner can cancel their visas can partners cancel visas for the person they’re sponsoring no only the Department or the minister can cancel visas that’s something that we’re often telling people for the first time if they’ve become I guess been led to believe that their partner holds that kind of power over their visa status yes and it can be news to them to find that it’s actually a relationship between them and the Department of immigration that needs to be managed and they need to update the Department of their change of address and it’s only the department that can cancel the visa not the partner so how do people get referred to your services? there’s a number of doors and there’s no wrong door in

terms of how people get to us they can come via one of our outreach locations the centers that I mentioned earlier around Western Sydney through a booked appointment out there okay they could call us at head office and ask to be put through to the immigration team for calls that are coming to us where family violence is identified that’s a priority matter for us and we’ll try to arrange for someone to speak to them on the phone as soon as possible so they can get that advise us about whether or not the exemption is possible for them but I think the number one source of our referrals at the moment is our partnership with the domestic violence unit within legal aid okay so anyone seeing one of our solicitors where an immigration issue is identified gets referred through us internally to our team and that’s the best way I guess holistic way to get help from legal aid on the issue to start with the domestic violence unit so that way the safety issues can be addressed through an AVO at the same time if necessary as well as referring it through to us for immigration help okay so it’s important to ensure that the person and any children in the relationship are safe before talking about visa issues safety first yeah and the good thing about our internal referrals we receive through legal aid is that those solicitors are quite expert in letting us know any safety concerns for that person whether it’s whether we have to text first whether it’s not safe to call between particular times and they can pass on any specific instructions about how we can safely access that client that’s particularly important where a person hasn’t yet made a decision to leave a relationship where there’s been violence and is wanting legal information about the consequences if they do and I guess it also helps the person doesn’t have to repeat their story exactly or repeat their address or date of birth thanks Katie so we’ll make sure we have the Domestic Violence Unit contact details on the home page for this podcast so what’s the best way for community or health workers to get a client or a patient to see you then I think the best ways to work out the client’s location and whether they can come to see us at one of the locations where we deliver immigration appointments and if so book them in to see us there if the matters is urgent and the appointments too far off then I think calling the number at head office and explaining the situation to us would be good and if there’s family violence I think the best pathway is to refer them to speak to a solicitor from a legal aid at the Domestic Violence Unit what about people in regional and remote NSW can they can go to their local legal aid office so yeah and they can have that matter referred to the immigration team at head office for a regional or remote clients we do telephone advice from head office so I think referring clients through to our main telephone line or email address or to the DV’s main email address and telephone line okay so we’ll put that on the home page as well your contact details so people can use that or have that on hand if they do need to refer someone yep so with the lawyers in the local legal aid office today sometimes call you for some help in dealing with clients yeah they do I mean what makes it easy is if we can partner up with either a local legal aid solicitor or a local community organization if someone’s in a remote location so that there’s a place where the client can access a scanner and a you know print out documents sign it send it back to us that can make the process a lot easier so oh well that sort of leads on to round it my next question is what information do you need from the client before giving legal advice we need some basic information so the clients name their phone number date of birth preferred language and whether they need an interpreter and we need information about whether there’s safety concerns about how we contact the client we like as much detail as we can about their immigration history when they came to Australia how they came to Australia what visa applications they’ve made and what visa they’re currently holding right we particularly love seeing a scanned copy of the photo page of their passport because then we can look at those details up for them through the department’s VEVO website and then we can work out what their current visa is which always helps particularly for persons not sure themselves or is scared that their ex-partners cancelled their visa like you mentioned earlier and you mentioned interpreters do they have to pay for an interpreter to be part of the interview process no we will arrange to call them back with an interpreter for free okay so do people have to wait long to speak to you if they make a referral because we prioritize family violence matters and will generally be able to call the person back with an interpreter

within 24 hours of the initial referral just for one-off telephone advice about their options so that’s something we’ve tried to prioritize the the appointment times that outreach can blow out from time to time and on general immigration advice but family violence matters we do try and prioritize and what happens after you get a referral so we will try to deliver that initial service that initial advice work out where a person’s up to in the process some people haven’t yet decided to leave a relationship like we discussed some people have already left they’ve told the department and they’ve received a letter giving them 28 days to provide material back so where a person is up to in the process will inform the next steps that our team needs to take and what options are available for people on temporary visas in these situations yeah look at on temporary partner basis the good news is that they can work and they can get Medicare and remain in Australia until the permanent partner visa application is processed they can also get special benefit from Centrelink if they’ve experienced a substantial change in circumstances beyond their control since coming to Australia the Family Violence would count as that however I guess for those who haven’t yet been granted the temporary partner visa they’re either on a bridging visa so while they’re waiting for it or some other situation there’s no financial support available also on a temporary visa generally it can be very hard to get accommodation and as many refuges prioritize women on permanent visa’s yeah so it’s tricky but do you have networks that you use to try and help with that or the Domestic Violence Unit it’s an ongoing issue I think it’s fair to say yeah we do try and arrange accommodation if we can but it’s a it’s a it’s a priority I guess issue for policy reform is the availability of accommodation to women considering leaving violent relationships on temporary visa’s okay so does it matter if they have a child or children from the relationship yeah it does matter and where there’s a child to the sponsor for the partner visa situation that child themselves will usually be an Australian citizen and for the partner visa applicant parent there’s a separate ground for the grant of a permanent visa if the relationship with the sponsor breaks down and there’s been a child of the relationship so currently the Department is processing those child of the relationship applications much quicker than they’re processing the Family Violence exemption applications so wherever there’s a child of the relationship and and Family Violence legal aid normally pleads both of those exceptions to see if one can work quicker than the others so the sorts of documents we really like to see from community workers would be a copy of the child’s birth certificate and I guess any parenting orders that might exist in relation to the child so that we can put that forward to the department that the child can also mean that the the parent might be able to receive special benefit where they wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to it with Centrelink so it’s not a lot of money but it can help people in that situation who don’t have any other sort of source of support so when you you said quicker what does a quicker mean is it very long or I mean in the example that we mentioned at the beginning nine months was quoted as a figure I think it’s fair to say that it wouldn’t be unusual for have a 12-month delay on from the time you provide that information to the department to then the grant of a permanent visa well it’s quite a lot of backlog in the processing of those partner visas years for a Family Violence exemption so that’s something as well that we’re I guess aware of and trying to reduce wherever we can in terms of making everything very easy for the department to see that the grounds are clearly made out and if the person is eligible to apply to apply for a Family Violence exemption what additional systems can legal aid provide and how can the community health workers assist with that yeah so people in that situation are eligible to apply for aid and that’s one of the circumstances we can grant aid and represent those eligible to apply for a Family Violence exemption which means that we go on the record with the Department as there lawyers will take responsibility for getting the required reports and presenting the evidence to the Department of Immigration the department can accept for example a letter from a GP or a letter from a refuge or family domestic violence crisis center and they’ll accept a statutory declaration declaration by a social worker or a registered psychologist so how community or health workers can help us would be letting us know the contact details of any of those professionals that the

person might already be in touch with so that we can then make the request okay or I guess to at that initial stage connect the client to those kinds of professionals so that at the same time as they’re referring the client to us so we can start the process quickly do you have contacts throughout the stage of the types of professionals or you just have a you just look for them depending on where they are well often it’s it’s a matter of starting with you your local GP in terms of their referral to a psychologist yes and the refuges as we’ve mentioned can be difficult to get into but yeah I guess if any community and health workers are in touch with victims of family violence if they are able to make those referrals at the same time as them making a referral to us that would assist us and do you find that GPS are good with helping in these situations the letters can range in terms of quality of what’s required so we generally would write a letter to the GP making clear exactly what the requirements are from the department of immigration and if the letter doesn’t meet those standards we need to get in touch for the GP again and say unfortunately this is unlikely to be accepted by the department because it doesn’t cover one of the three points that we’ve asked you to address and can you please comment on that specific point okay so you you do help in that process to make sure you’ve got all the right documents that the evidence is likely to be successful yeah so what if people refer to you’re not eligible for the exemption can legal aid assist at all and what options to they have so if someone’s not eligible for the exemption we can give them advice I guess the next step is to advise on their options outside of that process so we advise on family stream visas and refugee visas so the next step would be to see if they qualify for any of the other family stream visas they could apply for from here in Australia or otherwise if there’s a real risk of significant harm or a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country would be interested in exploring that to see if they’d be able to make an application for a protection visa successfully and if neither of those options are open to the person or look like they would have a strong chance of success we generally refer them off to see a private solicitor next to see if there’s any student or skilled or working visas they could look to apply for okay so you try and find an option for them and explain what the options are make those referrals yeah that’s right and does it matter if there is or isn’t an apprehended domestic violence order or ADVO as we call them in place yeah look for the family violence exemption a final ADVO is satisfactory evidence that the violence has taken place so it it matters in that the existence of that order is then the end of that inquiry about whether it’s taking place if someone doesn’t have the final order or any order they’re still able to make the application for their family violence exemption but it will mean they’ll need to provide different kinds of mandatory evidence okay and what about family law orders I think you mentioned them before yeah if there’s a child of the relationship and that’s the ground for the exemption the partner visa applicant needs to demonstrate that they have responsibility for the child or contact with the child so if there’s no orders in place people already do have responsibility for their own children under the law but if there is a family law order then we’d be looking to see what that says for the purposes of the permanent visa application and I guess sometimes those family law orders might also mention violence in some context yes they might yeah we would be keen to see what they say in terms of the other person having access to the child and spending time with them and what the decision is yeah and it’s such an important thing for people to have their permanent residency sorted out in that situation so they’re not looking to imminently depart Australia yeah yes okay well I think we’ve covered all of the information that you can provide to community workers Thanks Katie that’s it’s an incredibly interesting area of work I think in quite complex as well so finally as you know this podcast is for community and health workers so what key messages would you like to leave them with if they have a client or patient on a temporary visa who’s separated from their partner due to family violence and doesn’t know what to do I think the first thing would be get immigration advice early so it’s crucial for people

in those kinds of situations to have access to accurate information about their situation and their options secondly I would say tell us what’s happened if the clients already told you so they don’t have to tell us again yes good point and get copies of any documents that you have access to we’re very keen in the immigration team at legal aid to make things as easy as possible for people in those difficult situations to get help from us and not to have to retell their story too many times to different people yes thirdly I would say safety first so if they if you’re aware of or if you could ask the person if there are any particular concerns that we should be aware of it’s always important to remember someone attempting to leave a partner who’s violent or unpredictable it’s quite a scary situation to be in and making sure lawyers at legal aid know some basic information about any particular steps we need to take to keep that person safe when they’re attempting to do that for example don’t call between these times or whatever it is can be very useful information for us to have in order to keep that person safe mm-hmm and I guess one of the key messages we often give try to give to community and health workers is their trust in us is important to pass that on to their client who may not have had positive experiences with lawyers in the past may be from the country they came from so building up that relationship with us or building up a sense of trust that they’ll be able to get good service from us and that it’s free and all that is really important as well you know we’re very keen to provide the best trauma-informed practice we can so if there’s anything in particular we could do if they could let us that would be great right okay well thanks very much Katie thanks everyone for listening bye for now thanks for tuning in today if you enjoyed the episode please make sure to share it with your colleagues and let us know if there’s a topic that you would like us to do an episode on we’d love to hear from you our contact details are in the episode notes below until next time thanks so much from all of us here at the community legal education branch at legal aid New South Wales