COVID visa chaos keeps Aussie lovers apart
Lovers caught up in world trouble spots like Beirut are finding their wait for an official reunion in Australia could blow out to more than two years.
Thousands of people have signed a new petition calling for changes to the "world's longest and most expensive process".
When Sasha Abou Saadh Amro and Zaher Hamdan were introduced to each other they were living on opposite sides of the world.
Sasha was in the United States and Zaher was running a business in Sydney, but they liked each other so much they kept in daily contact finally agreeing to meet in person at an almost halfway mark between them - Venezuela.
Since then they have travelled to Lebanon, Madrid and Thailand to spend precious time together.
They held an engagement in front of family members in Lebanon late last year and have lodged a partner visa hoping to plan a wedding in Australia sometime soon.
But with COVID-19 the wait time for the processing of partner visas, previously at least 22 months, has blown out even further.
And the explosion in Beirut has left Sasha living in an unsafe area, where one of her relatives were killed, prompting the couple to lodge an expedited application asking for special consideration because the situation in Lebanon is no longer safe.
There is already an estimated backlog of more than 100,000 partner visas and the numbers being processed each year are less than 40,000 according to published Home Affairs figures.
The Department of Home Affairs website says 90 per cent of applications for the 309 partner visa are processed in 22 months.
A petition launched this month is now calling on the federal government to make the offshore partner visa processing system fairer and more transparent.
The petition now has almost 5000 signatures.
"It says the current offshore partner visa processing system - the world's most expensive and slowest - separates Australians from partners, and children from parents, for up to and over two years."
Applicants who are already in Australia are eligible for a bridging visa to stay during the processing time which is at least two years.
But offshore applicants, despite paying the same fees as onshore applicants which is more than $7000, can't live in Australia.
Instead those partners often have to pay extra fees including tourist visa fees and travel expenses if they wish to visit their partners.
But the processing time for offshore visa grants has slowed even more during COVID-19 while onshore grants increased.
Specialist Immigration lawyer Anne O'Donoghue has requested priority processing on compelling and compassionate grounds for Sasha and Zaher.
But Ms O'Donoghue said there are many more people who have grave concerns for their partners caught up in global trouble spots.
A spokesman for the Department of Home Affairs said their current priority is "in offshore visa caseloads is assisting immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents with an urgent need to travel".
"The Department will continue to prioritise Partner and child visa applicants with an urgent need to travel … including applicants who are currently in Lebanon."
Originally published as COVID visa chaos keeps Aussie lovers apart