I have my first Proposed marriage visa letter. Do I get the couple to fill out the NOIM and groom sign it (bride is overseas). Prepare a letter and then only when she gets in the country get her to sign the NOIM? Or does she need to sign the NOIM in her country before I can give a visa letter?
There are multiple different visas a person can apply for in order to emigrate to Australia. If an Australian citizen or permanent resident falls in love with a citizen from another country, applying for a Prospective Marriage Visa (PMV) is one way the overseas partner can start the process of emigrating to Australia.
Remember, celebrants are in no way, shape or form allowed to give migration advice to couples. We must be mindful of the boundaries of our role. However, a PMV requires documentation from a celebrant before it can be approved, so this post is about the celebrant’s role in this process.
The Prospective Marriage Visa (subclass 300, sometimes known as a fiance visa) can be applied for when one party is an Australian permanent resident or citizen (the Sponsor) and the other party is an overseas resident (the Applicant). The overseas partner applies for a PMV to enter Australia to marry their Australian partner. Applications currently cost $7160 and take 13-19 months to be processed. If you’re interested, you can find information on eligibility (including age, relationship, health, character and sponsorship), what the party can do while holding the visa, costs, documentation and other considerations on the Department of Home Affairs website.
The application requires “proof (such as a letter from the person who will officiate at the wedding) that you will marry your prospective spouse within nine months of being granted the visa.” The Department of Home Affairs is currently updating their resources, but the old Partner Migration Booklet (which I read on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection website in 2017) provided further information on the contents of this letter:
Such evidence must be a signed and dated letter (on letterhead) from an authorised marriage celebrant who will conduct your wedding ceremony. The letter must include the place and date (or date range) on which the planned marriage ceremony may take place. If you plan to marry in Australia, the celebrant must confirm that a Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) for you and your fiancé(e) has been lodged with them.
The date (or date range) on which the planned marriage ceremony may take place (shown in the letter from the marriage celebrant) should be set far enough in the future to allow for the time it takes to process your visa application. For information on current service standards for Prospective Marriage visa applications, refer to the Department’s website. If you are granted a Prospective Marriage visa, your marriage can take place either in or outside Australia, but you must have entered Australia at least once on the Prospective Marriage visa before the marriage takes place. In addition, your marriage must occur within the 9-month validity period of your Prospective Marriage visa.
The celebrant’s role
So what exactly do we have to do? I have worked with multiple PMV couples, and this is the process I follow.
1. On initial enquiry, ask for certain details to complete the letter of support. My letter of support template requires the parties’ full names, a proposed date for the wedding (because it looks good to the Department if the couple are making firm plans for a wedding), and whether the Australian partner is an Australian citizen or permanent resident. It also states that I’ve taken a non-refundable booking fee (again, good to show the couple is serious about getting married), and that I will be available to solemnise the marriage between a date in one month (the first date they could marry after the notice period) and a date in 18 months (the last date the NOIM is valid). You can download my letter template at the bottom of this post.
2. Prepare the letter of support to take to the meeting.
3. Meet with the Australian partner to complete a Notice of Intended Marriage. If the overseas partner is here visiting, all well and good, you can meet with them as well, but the NOIM only needs to be signed by one party to be lodged with a celebrant. I ask the Australian partner to bring his/her passport/birth certificate, driver’s licence and proof of the termination of any previous marriages. I also ask the Australian partner to bring print outs of the same documents for the overseas partner, or of course the originals if the overseas partner is in Australia at the time. I always want to see the overseas partner’s documents well before the wedding, and if they’re applying for this visa they will have gathered all of those documents anyway, so it’s no hardship for them. Remember you’ll need to see official translations if the overseas documents are not written in English.
4. Collect a booking fee and an administration fee. For this process I charge a $175 booking fee, which is my booking fee for a Legals Only Ceremony, and a $55 administration fee for preparation and supply of the letter of support, so $220 inc GST. I charge the booking fee for my Legals Only Ceremony because at the time of application couples often don’t know what kind of wedding they’re going to have in Australia. The booking fee then goes towards the cost of their wedding when their visa is approved and they decide on which of my ceremony types they want.
5. Give them the letter of support. The parties of course also need to receive the Happily Ever Before and After brochure.
6. Contact the overseas partner to ensure they are aware of the marriage. While it’s perfectly legal to accept a NOIM that is only signed by one partner, both partners are still required by s42 of the Marriage Act to give notice that they intend to marry. There’s also often information required by the NOIM that the Australian partner doesn’t know, for example the overseas partner’s home address, and their parents’ full names. Finally, the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018 make it clear that both partners need to receive their own copy of the Happily Ever Before and After brochure. So I take the opportunity to cover all three issues. I send an email to the overseas partner asking if they are aware of the marriage and happy to go ahead, I ask them for any details the Australian partner didn’t know to complete the NOIM, and I attach the electronic copy of Happily Ever Before and After (remember it’s been translated into lots of different languages). In fact I do this with any couple where only one partner has signed the NOIM, not only in visa situations. You can download my email template at the bottom of this post.
7. Wait for them to get in touch with you when the visa is granted. That’s it! I do make a note for myself to contact them in 17 months to remind them that the NOIM will expire in one month, and if they don’t marry within that month I reserve the right to charge additional fees for completing and lodging a new NOIM. At this point sometimes couples jump to it and we plan a wedding, or they let me know they’ve broken up, or that they’re having trouble with the visa, or I never hear from them again. Regardless, I feel I’ve done the right thing by them by letting them know their paperwork is about to expire.
A few don’ts
So that’s what we do have to do for a Prospective Marriage Visa. After the visa is granted, the marriage goes ahead as normal. If the overseas partner didn’t sign the NOIM when it was lodged, they can sign it any time before the ceremony, but they MUST sign it with the celebrant as witness. Ensure you see originals of all their identity documents, and you’re good to go.
As I said, I’ve done this multiple times in the last few years, so here’s a few don’ts from my hard-earned experience.
1. Don’t hold a date. I tell my visa couples that I won’t be setting aside a date for them. Invariably they don’t allow enough time for the visa to be processed, and they end up rescheduling multiple times. They have nine months to get married once the visa is granted, so that’s plenty of time for them to get in touch with me and settle on a date for the wedding.
2. Don’t give them the letter of support until you get the money. I did that once in my first year and I never heard from him again.
3. Don’t give them the NOIM. It’s not required. You can check that link above for yourself and see the list of required documents. Not even a copy is required, however some migration agents or lawyers are determined that they do need the NOIM to add to the application. I’m always happy to email the parties a copy of the NOIM; it’s their information and their document, after all. I prefer to send it to the parties and let them send it on rather than send it to a migration agent/lawyer directly. This covers me for any privacy issues.
4. Don’t put your A number in the letter of support or on the NOIM. The visa application USED to have a field asking for the celebrant’s authorisation number. Since I’ve been a celebrant that field was never a required field, but of course couples want to do everything they can to ensure their application will be granted, so they would insist I gave it to them. As you may be aware, the Attorney General’s Department has told us on multiple occasions to keep our A numbers secure and not share them with anyone. They therefore lobbied the then Department of Immigration and Border Control to have this field REMOVED entirely from the application. While the online application no longer has that field, there may still be a few paper copies floating around that have that question. You should feel quite comfortable refusing to give out your A number and citing page 4 of the Marriage Celebrant Matters Summer 2016-17 newsletter, as I did to a migration lawyer a few weeks ago. In terms of putting your A number on the NOIM, I’m sure you’re all aware that we don’t fill in the Celebrant’s Number box on page 4 of the NOIM until AFTER the wedding…
That’s it! It’s nothing to be concerned or frightened about, it’s nice and easy. Let me know if you have any questions at all.
The limits of our role as celebrants, including not providing migration advice, are outlined on page 15 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018. The necessity to refer couples who request advice on obtaining a visa to the Department of Home Affairs is outlined on page 40 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018.
The ability for celebrants to accept a NOIM that is only signed by one party where it is not convenient for the other party to sign is outlined at s42(3) of the Marriage Act 1961, and further discussed on pages 25 and 40 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018.
The necessity to sight certain documents re proof of identity and freedom to marry is outlined at s42(1)(b) of the Marriage Act 1961, and further discussed from page 43 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018.
The necessity for both parties to give notice is outlined at s42 of the Marriage Act 1961, and further discussed on pages 25 and 40 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018.
The necessity for both parties to receive a copy of the Happily Ever Before and After Brochure, and the ability to provide it to them in hard copy or electronically, is outlined on page 56 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018.
The requirement for the second party to sign the NOIM in front of the authorised celebrant where the NOIM has been lodged with only one signature is outlined on pages 25 and 40 of the Guidelines on the Marriage Act 1961 for Marriage Celebrants 2018.