Should I Tell the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth?
Is honesty really, like mum said, the best policy?
Where’s the harm in the occasional white lie?
It can save the feelings of your significant other if you’re ever asked that godforsaken question: “How do I look?”
It might score you a mental health day, if you suddenly and mysteriously develop a 24-hour bug on the day you just can’t face the office.
Everyone does it from time to time.
It’s part of human nature. But…
…while the philosophical and ethical discussion around lying in life is one thing, the discussion around lying to Immigration is another thing altogether.
Should you tell Immigration The Truth?
Absolutely. Telling the truth is almost always going to be the easiest option.
When you start the immigration process, you might find yourself asking: they don’t really want to know about that, do they? But they do.
Yeah, I know. As I have discussed elsewhere, the questions you are asked can be incredibly invasive.
But if an Immigration form asks the question, you better provide an honest answer. Even if it relates to things of which you might not be so proud.
Do you really need to tell Immigration about being denied entry to the US in 1997 because you might have slipped that you sorta kinda maybe had been working on a tourist visa?
Or (and yes, this is something I have actually had an applicant declare on a form), do you have to tell them about that time you were charged with desecrating a public monument because on a drunken night out you didn’t notice you were right next to the War Memorial when you chose to relieve your bladder?
Yes. You do.
So Should I Tell Nothing But the Truth?
Without question, you should tell nothing other than the truth.
Let me make that even simpler: don’t lie!
And What About Telling The Whole Truth?
Well… that’s where things can start to get a little, shall we say, confusing.
Above we’ve told you to tell Immigration, when asked, about that US visa refusal. We’ve told you to tell them about how you urinated on that war memorial… and God knows what else.
…the way you choose to disclose these facts, the context in which they occurred, mitigating factors, things you have learnt in the process, counter-balancing things you have done since – these too are also part of that complex picture we call The Truth.
And a good visa application will paint that picture carefully, favourably and, not least, accurately.
Seriously, The Whole Truth Is Neither Necessary nor Desirable
It is not possible, nor desirable, to tell Immigration your entire life story.
Instead, you are curating a series of relevant facts that represent the truth of your situation as it relates to the visa you are applying for.
Consider the following…
Your employer is sponsoring you as a General Manager. In your previous General Manager role, you made a point of making coffee for the everyone at the weekly team meeting. This small touch reflected your non-hierarchical management style, it brought everyone together, and your former team loved and appreciated you for it.
So should you mention coffee making among the duties in the CV you submit to Immigration?
Should your former boss mention your delightful smiley face latte art in her reference? When an Immigration officer calls to ask about your key duties, should she mention your mocha magic?
It is important that you not confuse or mislead Immigration. And mentioning the occasional coffee you made in that past job could potentially do both.
Worse, an overzealous case officer, jaded by their daily encounters with dodgy applications, might be a little quick to misconstrue your unorthodox management techniques as more suited to the occupation of Barista, leading to a refusal.
(By the way, the psychology of Immigration case officers is fascinating stuff, and we’ll be discussing this in a future article).
The Difference Between Truth and Lies
Most of us know the difference between truth and a lie, but you should tread very carefully when making judgments about what is misleading, what to disclose and what not to disclose.
It’s not always straightforward, and it’s hard to be objective, particularly when you so very desperately think you need something to be “true”.
One thing is certain: choosing to omit inconvenient truths or getting a little too “smart” can blow up in your face.
I’ve seen it happen.
Far too often.
And mostly unnecessarily.
For example, in the example above, what if the same employer wrote you a reference for the 2 years and 2 months you worked for them, but you need over 3 years of experience to qualify for the visa?
And what if your mouse “slipped” and the “2” on the reference magically turned into a “3” before being submitted to Immigration?
There is a world of difference between curating facts to present a clear picture of a state of affairs, and doctoring a document to be misleading.
It’s the sort of difference that can land your evidence in Immigration’s Document Integrity Unit.
It’s the sort of difference that kills visa applications – and worse.
What Can Happen If You’re Flexible With the Truth?
Immigration has seen pretty much everything there is to see when it comes to applicants fibbing on visa applications.
If you think you have a unique or particularly clever way of distorting or hiding the truth, you’re dead wrong.
The ramifications of not being honest are pretty serious. A refusal on this basis can result in a 3 year ban from Australia, or if you doctored an ID document, 10 years.
And even if your visa is granted, your fibs and white lies can come back to haunt you. Once discovered, these can be grounds for cancelling a visa – even decades later.
Visa Applications That Don’t Keep You Up at Night
I’m not going to leave you hanging. As always, I have some practical suggestions for you, to keep you on the right side of this very fine line.
Think about what the question is asking. Unless you have very good reasons, only answer the question.
If the question asks about previous convictions, you don’t need to list every single parking fine you’ve ever been pinged with (unless these are considered “convictions” in the country in question).
If you’re applying for a Partner visa and you’re writing a statement to show how supportive you are of one another, you should probably focus on the support your husband gave you when your dog died, and not how you threatened to divorce him when you got drunk on New Years Eve and thought he was flirting with the neighbor, who may or may not have been an alien.
Providing too much information can open a can of worms.
So unless there is important contextual information: only answer the question.
It’s okay to say you don’t know.
Don’t make information up.
Don’t include information that might not be relevant because you don’t know how else to answer the question.
Get some advice, or just say you don’t know.
If you come to Australia on a Visitor visa, really truly understand that you’re not able to work.
Should you provide a CV to Immigration as part your visa application, you should expect a dim reception if that CV indicates you have been working unlawfully while on your existing Visitor visa.
You can expect a similarly poor reception if your CV indicates that you have been working for longer than 6 months for any one employer, while on a Working Holiday visa.
If Immigration doesn’t find the lie, data matching will. Eventually, Immigration sees and hears everything (check out our earlier article, Is Big Immigration Watching You?). So provide consistent information, and never make any claim that you can‘t back up if asked.
Sometimes, the truth is nuanced.
It’s hard to know if you are telling too much or too little, and how you should be telling it.
This is what separates the professionals from the amateurs.
If you’re not sure about something, you can run it by a lawyer first, and anything you tell them will be confidential and protected by legal professional privilege.
How to pick a good lawyer?
We’ll talk a bit more about that in a future article.
So, the Moral of this Story?
Your mum was right.
Keep your little white lies for anecdotes and dinner parties.
Absolutely, present yourself in the best possible light to Immigration…
…but only within the frame of the truth.