You may have heard the news – the Australian Government has announced proposed changes to the criteria for the Australian partner visa, to introduce English language requirements.

Acting Immigration Minister, Alan Tudge, says the changes are designed to ‘encourage everybody to be able to learn English so that they can fully engage in Australian life, in every aspect of it.’

There is a lot of talk about the proposed changes in the media – with questions around how they could impact relationships.

It is not our role to comment on Government policy. It is our role to keep you fully informed. So let’s delve in.

What are the proposed changes to the Partner visa regarding English?

Currently, applicants for Partner visas for Australia, and their sponsors, are not required to meet English language criteria.

This is because the application is made in the ‘family’ category of visas as opposed to the ‘skilled’ category of visas in which employment outcomes are supported.

The proposed changes announced in the Federal budget in October 2020 would shift this paradigm. It would ensure that even Partner visa applicants and their sponsors have an improved chance of engagement in the community and participation in the workforce.


What is Functional English?

The proposal is that Partner visa applicants and their sponsors would need to show:

  • A functional level of English
  • A reasonable effort has been made to achieve functional level via participation in 500 hours of Adult Migrant English Programme classes

Migration legislation currently defines the following options for evidencing Functional English:

  • Hold a passport from any of these countries:
    United Kingdom
    United States of America
    New Zealand
    The Republic of Ireland
  • Achieve a score on an approved English test :
    IELTS: 4.5 overall
    PTE Academic: 30 overall
    TOEFL iBT: 32 total
    Cambridge English Advanced: 147 overall


  • Study in English medium:
    – all primary education and at least three years of secondary education
    – at least five years of secondary education –
    – at least one year full time study towards a diploma or degree qualification in Australia
    – diploma, trade certificate, degree or higher degree that required at least two years of full time.

It is reasonable to ‘assume’ that these options would flow through to the new Partner provisions.

Who needs to sit the test and when?

It is proposed that the English requirement will apply to all Partner visa applicants, whether onshore or offshore.

The test would be applied at the permanent residence stage. So, it would be part of the process and criteria for the subclass 100 and 801 visas.

For most applicants, this would give two years to meet the English requirements. For those visa applicants progressing directly to permanent residence on the basis of their long-term relationship or because there is a child of the relationship, the English criterion would be met as part of the initial (and only) application.

In addition to applying to the visa applicant, it is also proposed that the functional English would need to be met by Australian permanent resident sponsors.

When do the Partner visa changes come into effect?

Acting Immigration Minister Tudge has stated on public record that the changes would apply to Partner visa applications from mid to late 2021.

Before that, however, legislation would need to be introduced to Parliament or regulations made. So the proposed changes are not yet part of Australian law.

What should I do now?

We know there are many potential migrants out there, feeling very anxious about what these changes mean and what they should do next.

Some believe that rushing now to lodge an application will be the answer.

We cannot stress enough, however, that – each person’s circumstances are different. What options are available or recommended to one person may not be recommended to another.

And, we do not yet have the legislation so we do not know to whom it will apply and from when.

At the best of times, the Partner visa process is complicated and emotional.

Getting advice about your best strategy – taking into account the potential new English language requirements – and getting that advice early, is crucial to your Australian visa success.

Talk to us soon to discuss your eligibility and your strategy. We will provide you with clear advice and guide you through the next steps during this challenging time.