The 12 Most Common Mistakes That Kill Visa Applications

When I was a kid, I was given a fish tank for my birthday. 

I spent the best part of a day setting it up.  I laid out the rocks and the plants.  I meticulously measured the chemicals and added them to the water.  I set up and plugged in the heater and set it to 25 degrees.   

All the steps needed for my fish to live a happy and healthy life. 

My dad then took me to the aquarium where I was mesmerized by all the fish on display: the luminous colours of their fins and scales, the alien shapes of their heads and bellies…  

I ended up settling on four brightly coloured guppies. When I added those fish to the tank, I stared at them for hours, thinking of the years of happiness we would have together. 

But it wasn’t meant to be. 

After 3 days, the fish became listless, sitting at the bottom of the tank. 

Within a week every one of them was dead.  I was devastated. 

We went back to the aquarium store.  What went so horribly wrong? 

Apparently, with a new tank, you need to “cycle” the water for 2 to 4 weeks before you add fish.  

My new tank didn’t even have 24 hours: rookie mistake. 

The owner of the aquarium shook his head with a sad tilt: I did every other step right, he explained, but that one small mistake killed my fish family. 

One small mistake can also kill your visa application. 

Like the wizened old fish shop guru, I have the benefit of many years of a different category of experience. With a view to limiting the visa death toll, I am now sharing the most common terminal mistakes.  

1. Not Being Truthful

This one is so important I’ve already written a whole article about it.

A little white lie in a visa application can absolutely massacre your application. 

And what you consider the truth, and how Immigration perceives that truth, can be entirely different things, with horrific consequences. 

Anyway, read our article.  The life of your visa application may depend on it.

2. Not Being Organised 

This might be the Charles Manson of visa killers. 

It’s so important, and can manifest in so many ways, we’ve written our whole next article about it. 

Missed deadlines. Mislabeled documents. Documents that aren’t attached at all. Delaying an application. Doing the “minimum effort necessary”. 

“But to the immigration lawyer, the words ‘she’ll be right’ sound like someone choking to death on a peanut” 

All these things can end up being terminal.  

Manage your visa application like you would manage the most important project of your life.

3. Not Understanding the Full Requirements of the Visa 

We talked about this in our last article “Do I Really Need an Immigration Lawyer”.  Basically…

You don’t know what you don’t know.  

And that thing you don’t even realise that you don’t know… is like a vulture quietly circling above the potential carcass of your application.  

Look, these things are complicated. There is layer upon layer of requirements, some of them very obscure, that can potentially trip you up.  

But you have the Immigration website, right?   

Well, let’s just say it’s not exactly the goal of Immigration to help everyone lodge a successful application. One can easily be lulled into a false sense of security, then before you know it, a guillotine of regulations that never appeared on the Immigration website, comes crashing down on your application.  

Another dead visa. 

Here’s an example that comes to mind. I recently had an HR Manager contact me after their CEO’s TSS application nearly went down in flames due to a misunderstanding as to how Australia’s international trade obligation with ASEAN countries would impact the application.  

“There’s nothing about that on the Immigration website” she said. “How was I supposed to know?”  


Luckily there was enough time to pluck this one out of the flames… but you could say some eyebrows got singed in the process. 

4. Not Providing Actual Proof That You Meet Requirements

I’m sure you’re a really great person.   

You might meet every single requirement. You will likely tell Immigration so in the form. You might even think you’ve covered something off by providing a note or a statement.  

But Immigration isn’t going to just take your word for it. And the genuineness with which you prepare and lodge your application isn’t going to get you through. 

This is sink or swim. If you’re not providing hard (preferably third party) evidence of the claims you’re making in your application, that application is dead in the water. 

Just one example: if you’re applying for a TSS visa, a person’s CV will list all the details of their education and experience. But how does Immigration know any of that stuff is accurate?  Without a reference (that meets specific requirements) or a copy of that exotic qualification they completed in Luxembourg (checked for its equivalence to the Australian Qualifications Framework), it’s only a matter of time before the beating heart of your application is flatlining.  

Provide more evidence than you think you need to if you’re not sure – if a reference looks a bit dodgy or doesn’t have all the information you need, provide pay slips or tax records too. 

And that’s just the basic stuff! 

What if you’re claiming that you meet one of the exemptions allowed in an application, or are asking Immigration to exercise a discretion? You can’t just check that box on the form. You need to provide meticulous submissions, citing the visa criteria, regulations, policy and case law, as well as supporting evidence.  

If Immigration thinks your application is looking a bit skimpy, they are not obligated to ask you to fill in the gaps. They can just make a decision on the spot, leaving your visa application looking a bit like a guppy lying at the bottom of a glass tank.  

5. Being Too Clever 

So you’ve read the Immigration website. You’ve spoken to a ton of friends or colleagues who have been through the process. Not only do you know what the requirements are – you’re going to shape the entire application to “perfectly” fit the visa criteria. 

Not so fast, visa murderer! 

Being too clever may well sound the death knell on your application.  


Take the following example.  

You’re applying for a TSS visa and you’ve worked out the job description needs to line up to the official ANZSCO list of duties for the occupation. Ahh you think: if they want the ANZSCO duties, then that’s exactly what I’ll give them. You throw away the real position description, and instead provide a copy/paste of ANZSCO with a few minor changes.

Great idea!

Well… great if you want to raise more red flags than the Chinese National Assembly. But if you want to keep your application breathing, the documentation for the role needs to look genuine.

Tailoring your application too closely to the migration information you’ve found can make it look like you have created a scenario for the sole purpose of securing a migration outcome.  Try it, and Immigration will likely smell something is amiss – namely the aroma of a dead and rotten visa application. 

6. Not Fully Understanding the Health Requirement 

You could be forgiven for thinking that a particular health condition is no big deal. I mean, if someone has a condition but it’s managed every day with medication, it’s totally fine, right? 

But Immigration might take a completely different view. And there’s actually no way of knowing until they get their own doctor to make an assessment. 

 So what happens if one of your family members fails? Because understand, for permanent applications, if one family member fails health criteria, typically ALL family members fail. 

You need to be asking this before even making your application, because you’re likely going to need a health waiver – but (there is always a but!) not all visas have health waivers available. 

No point finding this stuff out only after making a visa application – because by then that pending application will pretty much be a dead man walking. 

Pro Tips: There are a few things you can do to minimise the potential impact if an applicant or family member has a health concern:

1. Do health checks for the application up front, and before you do too much else. At least you will then know what you’re dealing with.

2. Take as much information as you can to the health check appointment about the condition and associated prognosis/cost. A favourable letter from your treating specialist is a really good idea – it can help the Immigration doctor with their assessment, particularly if it’s a rare condition.

3. Make sure the visa you’re applying for has an available health waiver, just in case you need to use it! Do health checks for the application up front, and before you do too much else. At least you will then know what you’re dealing with.

7. Not Fully Understanding the Character Requirement 

At what point does a previous character issue kill a visa application? 

How serious is that drunk driving offense on the record of the Canadian Chef you’re planning on sponsoring?

Or what about that client I once had who was found guilty of taking a snowmobile for a breezy little joyride (an example I gave in previous article)?

Or maybe there’s something more serious, and an applicant has done some time in prison? 

If an applicant has a previous conviction, they’re going to need to provide much more than a police clearance. 

Oddly enough, killing someone might not always be enough to kill your visa application, but it’s going to need some serious legal CPR.  

Pro Tip: Documents to provide if there is a character concern: 

1. Even if an incident is minor, the applicant should provide a detailed Statutory Declaration to put the offence in context. They should explain what occurred, the outcome, and make it clear they carried out all parts of any fine or sentence imposed. In the statement they should show remorse and insight, and explain how they have learned from the situation.

2. If an applicant attended court and was sentenced, they should provide a copy of any court documents they have.

3. If the offence was more serious in nature, character references can help. These can be from friends and family, but really strong references are from community leaders and the applicant’s employer or past employers.

8. Not Fully Understanding the English Requirements 

The English requirement for different visa subclasses is all over the place. There are potential landmines everywhere.  

Take the TSS visa – the English requirement is the English requirement, right?   

Wrong: it actually differs between streams of the same subclass (we break this down for the TSS visa on our TSS visa requirements page).   

And when do you provide evidence? Because that varies too.    

Do you know which English tests are valid for your specific application? That also varies. 

And how long are tests valid?  By now this shouldn’t be a shock – this differs too.  

What if you’re an Indonesian passport holder, but you spent most of your teenage years and early 20s studying in the US?  Do you even need to sit a test?  Probably not, but you need to provide some really specific information to get out of it. 

It’s a minefield, really. And like any minefield, it just takes one misstep for your application to get blown away. 

9. Not Fully Understanding the Skill Requirement

Speaking of minefields… 

For certain visa subclasses, you either meet the skill requirement or you don’t.  

And if you don’t? You’re dead. 

The distinctions are endless. For instance, for the TSS visa there are actually two different skill requirements – the one in ANZSCO, for the specific occupation, and the one in Schedule 2 of the Regulations.  So what evidence do you actually need to provide?  

Well, unsurprisingly, it depends. 

It can vary depending on what passport you hold, or what occupation you work in, or what visa you’re applying for. And is the assessment you’re providing still valid? 

I know, it’s a lot to think about. But ignore this stuff and you might as well put your application into a bag full of rocks and toss it in the lake.  

10. Not Understanding Immigration Policy Direction 

We’ve talked at length both in this and our previous articles about how basic and misleading the information on Immigration’s website can be.  It has the basic requirements, sure, but it gives you no idea at all as to how applications are actually decided.

When assessing someone’s eligibility for a visa, an Immigration case officer refers to the Migration Act, Regulations, and policy guidelines.  It’s the policy guidelines that give them specific directions as to how they apply the Act and Regulations. 

The kicker, though? Unless you happen to be an immigration lawyer, you don’t get access to Immigration policy.

For example, the Regulations and the Immigration website say that a nominated role for a TSS visa has to be ‘genuine’, but what does that even mean? What factors does Immigration consider in assessing genuineness? What documents do they give weight to? Policy helps us work this stuff out. 

And that’s not even considering the unwritten policy Immigration uses to assess an application.  As we showed with poor old Fred in our previous article, Immigration policy is often subject to swift and unexpected change. There can be internal pressure on officers, often following some negative media, to place more emphasis on one visa requirement over another, or to take a hard line on certain policy directions that they’ve been soft on in the past.

Suddenly, documents that were perfectly sufficient in the past won’t cut the mustard, and you’re in the line of fire. 

Pro Tips: Get ahead of Immigration policy

1. Provide as much information as you can for each requirement up front.

2. Assume every single requirement is important and requires its own evidence.

3. If you’re an HR Manager and do the odd visa application, don’t rely on what you needed to provide for an application a year ago. As we have said many times in previous articles, requirements can change at the speed of light.

4. If you’re not sure, get help.

11. Underestimating the Impact of a Complicated Visa History 

Never underestimate the potential impact of a messy visa history. 

In my experience, most applicants take a “she’ll be right mate” approach to this, and make the mistake of thinking the application in front of them is the only one that matters. 

But to the immigration lawyer, the words “she’ll be right” sound like someone choking to death on a peanut. 

Any number of previous visa issues can create an issue with a current visa application. 

One of the biggest killers is probably the “section 48 bar”.  If an applicant has had a visa refusal onshore, it can prohibit them from applying for another application onshore.   

Another big one is “no further stay” conditions that also prevent further applications being made onshore.

It’s not impossible to get around these – just almost impossible (particularly without professional help). 

Then there is a whole other arsenal of visa killers awaiting the messy visa history, such as Schedule 3 criteria and application bars.  

Previous visas an applicant has held or applied for can also have a massive impact on a current application.  Ever applied for a Protection visa?  Immigration is going to be all over your application, regardless of how genuine that application was. 

Held three Student visas in a row? You’re going to have a tough time showing Immigration you’re a “genuine temporary entrant” for that fourth temporary visa application.  

What if an applicant has breached visa conditions in the past? That’s a whole other can of worms. 

When making a visa application, you must always consider the big picture.  And if there’s something tricky there, get some help – without it your application might just die and go to heaven… or hell. 

12. Not Getting the Right Advice 

A lot of the above visa killers can be summarized as not getting the right advice. 

We spoke about this at length in our article weighing up whether you even need a lawyer to help with your application.

Ignorance is not bliss. It’s more like rat poison for visa applications.  

Face it, you’re not going to get everything you need from the Immigration website.  Particularly if your personal situation is a bit left-of-field. 

And you should never trust information you get from google or immigration forums – there are pages and pages of either incorrect or outdated advice out there. 

Immigration law moves at the speed of a freight train – so make sure your source of information is reliable. 

Your friend is not a lawyer and shouldn’t give you advice.  Their situation is not your situation. 

Consider if you need an immigration lawyer to help with your application. At the very least, read our article about it. 

Choose Life 

We can’t overemphasise how many potential ways there are for someone to inadvertently kill a visa application. 

As with my ill-fated fish family, one wrong move can result in a swift and devastating death. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  

Long live your visa application!