Same-sex marriage and skilled migration visas

Some of the claims in a recent mainstream media report about same-sex marriage and skilled migration were wrong. Brian Greig’s Sydney Morning Herald report ‘Banning gay marriage impacts on skilled migration’ (18 May 2013) claimed that by not recognising same-sex marriage, Australia is causing skilled workers from overseas to bypass Australia in favour of countries that recognise their marriage. Let’s address some of the issues raised and correct some inaccuracies.

In the article, the author says little has changed since 2005, a time when skilled visa applicants with a same-sex partner could not include them in their application.

This is incorrect. In 2009 changes to Commonwealth law removed discrimination against same-sex couples and their children. As part of these changes, new definitions of ‘spouse’ and ‘de facto’ partner were introduced into the Migration Act 1958 (the Migration Act) such that same-sex couples were given the same entitlements as heterosexual couples. This paved the way for all visa applicants to include their same-sex partners and allowed those partners the same work rights as ‘spouses’.  It’s a shame the report got this so wrong.

While the article is correct to say the status of ‘de facto’ for same-sex couples is not automatic this is misleading as no relationship status is automatic for migration purposes. All couples — married or de facto — are required to demonstrate their relationship is genuine and continuing, that they have a mutual commitment to a shared life and that they live together on a permanent basis.

The claim that couples must spend ‘a two year period of co-habitation on our shores’ is also misleading. Permanent visas and some temporary visas generally require de facto couples to demonstrate their relationship has existed for at least 12 months before they lodge their visa application. There is an exemption to this requirement for de facto couples who have registered their relationship under an Australian state or territory scheme, regardless of their sexual orientation.

It is true that a same-sex marriage that is legally solemnised overseas is not recognised for migration purposes. This is because the Migration Act mirrors the Marriage Act 1961 (the Marriage Act) which means that only marriages valid under the Marriage Act can be recognised when assessing visa applications. While their same-sex marriage is not recognised, couples can still be recognised and assessed under the de facto provisions. The fact that a marriage occurred overseas can be taken into account in this assessment.

While Australia’s migration law does not currently recognise a same-sex marriage solemnised overseas, it is taken to be a de facto relationship which hence gives these people the same entitlements as heterosexual married or de facto couples.