Passport to love

Penni Pappas looks at the trials and tribulations of partner migration

How does one justify their love for another in a two page statutory declaration? Years of longing and loving to be written in shorthand – is that what love is about?

That’s what the Department of Immigration and Citizenship asks of you when you choose a partner visa to migrate. It’s a difficult thing to justify love with words. Not because it’s hard to write about your love, but it’s hard to write about love in a bureaucratic, political way. The department doesn’t want to know about the first time you looked into each other’s eyes and realised you wanted to spend the rest of your lives together. The tummy flip, the butterflies, the warm and fuzzies – stripped, gone, out.

They want “evidence that your relationship is genuine”. This includes information on the history of your relationship, bills, sharing of finances, legal commitments, memberships and clubs you are both involved in, joint travel receipts and evidence that you intend to stay in the relationship long-term. With travel so readily available – and single people being the ones with the disposable income – holiday romances are becoming a thing of the past and replaced with long-distance relationships. Falling in love is one of the most satisfying things we can do, but one of the hardest things as well. Throw into the mix a different time zone and late night Skype calls, and you have yourself a whole new ball game.

Australian-born Eugenia Tsimiklis met London-born Felix Neighbour in 2003. By 2006, they were married. “I won a competition for the AgIdeas Conference in my final year at university with a prize of a return trip to London,” explains Eugenia on how she came to be in England’s capital. “I always really wanted to live there as I had always been inspired by British fashion, art and culture and having a Greek passport meant I wasn’t constrained by a working visa. I guess for a lot of people from Adelaide and Australia, living in London is the thing to do in your early 20’s.”

After Eugenia met Felix, they knew from early on that they were in a loving relationship and wanted to stay together. They made the choice to start a life together in Australia and started putting together an application with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for a prospective partner visa.

45,279 partner visas were processed in the 2009 – 2010 period. The total of migration to Australia for that period was 208,921 so spousal migration is equivalent to approximately a quarter of all migration to Australia. In that period, 85 of those partner visas were processed to migrants of Greek backgrounds.

A spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told Neos Kosmos that when couples apply for a partner visa they must demonstrate that they are in a “genuine and continuing spousal or de facto relationship with their Australian sponsor”. They must have been in this committed relationship for over 12 months. Dating doesn’t count.

The department has various criteria they use to prove this and can call on couples to have an interview so they can investigate the relationship further. Nine per cent of couples who applied for a partner visa in 2009 – 2010 were refused.

 “I wasn’t put out by the application”, explained Eugenia, “it was more the stress of what if we don’t get it, what if they don’t believe us, what if I have forgotten a form? So I didn’t think of it as ‘why should I have to do this?’, it was more anxiety”.

“It was fine,” says Felix of the application process, “it was just a matter of following the instructions really. “We didn’t have any need for immigration lawyers. I had to get information like birth certificates, and ask my parents for information, but we kept all our bills and photos so it wasn’t too bad.”

“I think because Felix is from an English background,” adds Eugenia, “the department was much more lenient than if he was from another country, and with English being his first language, Felix understood the process much better.”

You need to know which visa is the most appropriate for your relationship, as there are two types of visas to apply for – the prospective marriage visa and the partner visa. But before you apply, you need to know if you are eligible. There are a number of criteria that you need to make sure you can apply for both partners. Apart from Eugenia, Felix says a lot of the decision to migrate to Australia was the quality of life.

“It’s easier to bring up a family here,” he explains. “Melbourne has a relaxed lifestyle and opportunities to go out.” As for taking on a Greek Australian family he says “it is good to be part of a new culture that has a big focus on family. It’s good to be part of cultural traditions, like when we got married we had the traditional cultural ceremony.” Their four-year-old son Niko is “named after his grandfather to follow Greek tradition,” says Felix. ” I am half-Swedish as well so we have a good mix of cultures.”