Visitor visas: Countries of citizenship with most bond requests, and a history lesson on the Modified Non Return Rate

The Department of Home Affairs (Home Affairs) recently released the number of times it requested or “offered” a bond to prospective Subclass 600 – Visitor visa applicants from 2016 to sometime last year when the Freedom of Information (FOI) application asking for such information was made.

Australia’s visitor visa program is grouped into two broad purposes: tourism and business. There are three visitor visa subclasses covered in Home Affairs’ reports on the program that are released on a regular basis. These are:

  • Subclass 600 – Visitor visas;

  • Subclass 601 – Electronic Travel Authority visas; and

  • Subclass 651 – eVisitor visas.

Depending on the country of passport, among other things, business visitors or tourists may elect to apply for either an ETA visa or an eVisitor visa. However, the 600 visa can be considered the “fall back” visa because it is the only visa subclass that is not restricted by country of passport. ETA visas require the applicant to hold an ETA-eligible passport and in most cases indicate the applicant is a national of that country. The same applies to eVisitor applicants.

For ETA visas, while an applicant my hold an approved passport, online applications are restricted to passport holders from: Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong (SAR of China), Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. All others must use an air carrier that has access to the Electronic Travel Authority System, or a travel agency that is registered by the International Air Transport Association, or one of the other three approved agents listed in the registered instrument.

The 600 visa has five stream: Tourist, Sponsored Family, Business Visitor, Approved Destination Status and Frequent Traveller. When applications are lodged under the Tourist stream, if an applicant intends to remain in Australia or visit an Australian citizen or Australian permanent resident who is a parent, spouse, de facto partner, child, brother or sister of the applicant, the applicant and each applicant who is a member of the family unit, or in relation to whom the applicant is a member of the family unit, may be requested to be sponsored by a settled Australian citizen or a settled Australian permanent resident. The sponsor must be at least 18 and either:

  • a relative of the applicant, or

  • a relative of another applicant who is a member of the family unit of the applicant, or

  • a relative of another applicant in relation to whom the applicant is a member of the family unit.

What this effectively does is change the stream of the application from a Tourist stream to a Sponsored Family stream, for which applicants must be sponsored, however, members of State or Federal Parliament, members of the Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory or Northern Territory, mayors, and certain government agencies cannot become sponsor under the Tourist stream.

This discretionary request for sponsorship is supposed to be used only in exceptional cases where sponsorship is the deciding factor between having a visa approved or refused. It therefore would be requested for higher risk applications who are genuine visitors. This is because approved sponsors provide an undertaking that accepts responsibility for all financial obligations to the Commonwealth incurred by the visa holder’s stay in Australia, compliance with visa conditions, and compliance with all relevant legislation relating to any employment. This last obligation seems strange as all visitor visa holders are subject to the no work visa condition 8101 unless circumstances have changed since entering Australia and they have compelling personal reasons to work, as these obligations can apply to visas other than visitor visas, it is not wholly unusual.

Any visitor visa that requires sponsorship can also be considered high risk because visa condition 8503 which prevents any further application in Australia other than a protection visa must be imposed, whereas for non-sponsored Tourist stream applications, this condition may be imposed.

Under either a Tourist stream or Family Sponsored stream, a security bond can be requested, however, this is not mandatory and does not have to be lodged by either the applicant or the sponsor. This is generally in the range of AUD 5 000 to 15 000 per applicant depending on a number of risk factors, including:

  • Immigration history,

  • Incentives to return home,

  • Purpose of visit, and

  • Compelling or compassionate reasons to travel.

Should a visa holder not comply with their visa conditions or overstay, their bond is liable to be forfeited. Additionally, a bar of five years applies to that sponsor for which there are very rare circumstances where it can be lifted.

Given all this, the top 10 countries where a security bond has been requested for a 600 visa, and assuming this encompasses both the Tourist and Family Sponsored streams, were:

  1. Lebanon – 478

  2. China – 417

  3. Vietnam – 316

  4. Pakistan – 271

  5. Iran – 240

  6. India – 185

  7. Sri Lanka – 116

  8. Iraq – 114

  9. Ethiopia – 85

  10. Egypt – 82

What analysis can be drawn from these figures? Nothing certain, however, it may reflect an overall assumption of countries that have high risk applications, and perhaps the comparative settled permanent migrant population in Australia.

It would have been better had the person making the request also asked how many security bonds had not been provided after a request, what was the average bond amount requested, and how many bonds were forfeited.

These statistics would go some way in knowing in confirming which countries are considered high risk.

Modified Non Return Rate

On the subject of county of risk, Home Affairs’ policy on assessing the genuine intention to stay in Australia criterion considers the country where the visa applicant is usually resident and whether that country’s nationals represent a low risk of immigration non-compliance.

For those with long memories, Home Affairs used to publish statistical information in the form of an index called the Modified Non Return Rate (MNRR). The MNRR encapsulated statistical, intelligence and analysis reports for each nation on migration fraud and immigration compliance in the form of a percentage. This is apparently not used anymore and was last published in June 2013. However, as above, policy still refers to reports similar to the MNRR and can request further information should they form an opinion it is necessary. It seems probable that the MNRR exists in some form, except that it may not be not known as the MNRR.