The Single Biggest Differentiator Between Visa Approval and Visa Refusal

I have a good friend who is a bit of a scatterbrain. He hardly ever RSVPs to events he’s invited to. 

When he does come, he always arrives late.   

He once called to say he couldn’t meet me for an arranged night out because he had forgotten to renew his driver’s license. 

Last year I organised a beach weekend away with a bunch of friends. When I put the call out for help, he put his hands up, insisting we could rely on him to bring the beer. 

You know what happened next, right? A very sober weekend.  

Now, in the grand scheme of things, these are pretty small issues. We can always buy more beer, right? 

But if the stakes are higher than drinking on a beach holiday, it matters.   

In our previous article we shared 12 different mistakes that can kill your application. In this article we’re going to talk more about a mindset that is without question the single biggest differentiator between those visa applicants who get approved and those who get refused: disorganisation.

Don’t worry – I know you’re not reading this for a motivational pep-talk about your “mindset”. I’ll leave that to Oprah. Instead, as always, I’m here to give you concrete, actionable advice.

Disorganisation is a villain with 1000 faces, so below I have identified the most common ones that I have encountered among people who get refused.

Aiming To Do the Minimum Effort Necessary  

Being a bit laid back in life can be a real positive.  

Some of the best lawyers I’ve known have been unflappable – in the face of genuine disaster they’ve been able to stay calm with the assurance that everything will be okay. 

While this attitude can certainly help in a disaster situation, sometimes a little sense of urgency helps ensure get important life stuff gets done.  

We’ve talked before in previous articles about how the Immigration website can be a bit misleading about the ease of the visa process. One could be forgiven for believing that all one needs do is complete a form and attach a few basic documents.

Don’t fall into this trap.  

As we said in our last article, if an Immigration officer thinks your application looks a bit light on evidence, they’re not obligated to ask you for information to fill the gaps.  

They can just refuse it outright. 

Think about each question in the form. Think about every single visa requirement.  And really go to town with documentary evidence to support everything you’re claiming to be. 

Remember, this isn’t a slab of Tooheys. It’s your life.  Or your business. Give it more than the minimum. 

Not Providing Documents at the Right Time 

Provide certain documents too early, and they might expire before they can be of use to your application. But provide other documents too late, and you might have no application at all.  

Some visa application requirements must be met at the time of lodgment, and others at the time of decision. 

But which is when?

And when is which?

It can be tough to know if you’re looking at the Immigration website on its own. This stuff is often in the Regulations or Act. Or it might be in the Policy, which is available to immigration lawyers but not to members of the public – a bit unfair, but our immigration system favours the well-organised and well-advised, not fairness.  

As an example, if you’re lodging a TSS nomination, you need to show you’ve tested the local labour market. But when do you need to provide evidence of this? At the time the nomination is lodged.  

Like, immediately as it’s lodged.  

And there is absolutely no wriggle room on this – if it’s not attached, you can’t provide it later. The application’s dead in the water. 

If you need to provide evidence of Competent English, this generally needs to be provided at time of lodgment.  But Functional English? Usually at time of decision.   

And what about the skill requirement? This is usually time of decision criteria, but if you need to provide a skills assessment, that thing better be good to go at the time of lodgment.

Gets a bit confusing, right?  It’s important to be across this stuff.  And if you’re not sure? You could try providing everything upfront. This has its pitfalls – like I said, many different types of documents can expire – but if you’re not on top of the regulations and you don’t have professional help, this may be your best bet. 

Not Providing Consistent Information or Evidence  

Nothing raises a red flag quite like inconsistent information. So, everything you provide to Immigration needs to be picked through with a fine-toothed comb.  Even the smallest inconsistency can open a pandora’s box. 

For example: if you’re applying for a TSS visa, do the duties in the position description you’re providing match those in the CV?  Do they line up with the duties in the advert for Labour Market Testing (LMT)? 

And do the dates of employment in the CV match the employment references?  Will the dates match tax records if anyone checks?  As we wrote in a previous article, Immigration and the tax office can – and do – ‘data match’ these days, so there really are no secrets. 

Also keep in mind your visa conditions. If you’re coming into Australia as the holder of a tourist visa, you need to look like a tourist.  And we don’t mean a Hawaiian shirt and passport lanyard around your neck.

Don’t be checking in on Facebook at the airport with “ciao forever Italia!”, and maybe rethink packing your steel-toed construction boots when a pair of flip-flops would be more consistent with your stated intention of a break from work.

Think hard, too, about information you’ve provided with previous visa applications. If, for instance, you’re not sure about the dates you put in a statement about your criminal convictions in your previous application, you should make a Freedom of Information application to check your Immigration file.

Be Really Clear with Your Supporting Evidence 

Remember our friend Fred?  The career Immigration case officer in our previous article assessing your application?

A disorganised application will make your case officer work.  Your case officer doesn’t want to work harder than s/he has to, so s/he’s prone to missing things when they are difficult to find. 

So, if you’re lodging a Sponsorship application for your business, don’t provide your Profit & Loss statement at the end of a 24 page document that also includes your Lease Agreement and Trust Deed. 

If the location of the Profit and Loss Statement is not blindingly obvious, don’t assume your case officer will go looking for it.  S/he might find it easier to just refuse your application because there is “no evidence” of annual turnover. 

While we’re on documents, how is your case officer going to understand the relevance of what you’re attaching if you don’t label documents clearly?  When you scan that BAS to your email, rename it before you attach it to your application so your case officer knows what s/he’s looking at. If you don’t think it’s worth your time to relabel it from the random name your scanner gave it, like SHF38fFH.pdf, you might as well just label it RefuseMeNow.pdf. 

PRO TIPS: Check your documents!

1. Make sure all your documents are labeled clearly, so you know exactly what you’re attaching.

2. It can help to have a list or a spreadsheet (even a physical printed list, if your brain works that way) to allow you to check each one off as you attach it.

3. Once you’ve attached the documents to your application, download the printed list from ImmiAccount so you have a record of exactly what has been attached.

Missing Deadlines 

This is a big one. 

There are all kinds of deadlines for visa applications. Dates from Immigration to provide additional information, expiry of documents, visa expiry dates, deadlines to lodge a review application. 

Every single one of them is imperative, so you need to keep track. 

So, to state the obvious: if Immigration asks you for something, and gives you a date to respond, don’t miss the deadline

You also need to read all correspondence you get from Immigration carefully. Don’t just casually cast an eye over it and say “it’s all good, I’ll read that properly later.” 

Later might be too late. 

There will likely be a date in there, and they don’t give you a lot of time to respond, sometimes just a couple of days 

We can all lose track of things from time to time. If a person is granted, say, a Working Holiday visa for a year, that 365 days can pass really quickly. Particularly when you’re moving from place to place and having an amazing time.  

Missing a visa expiry deadline by even a couple of hours can be catastrophic. It changes the requirements of any visa you’ll apply for onshore, it makes everything exponentially harder, and even limits the sort of visas you can apply for. You might even need to go offshore for a while to sort out the mess. 

It’s a similar story if your visa application is refused. It might not be too late to turn it around, but only if you don’t miss the deadline to lodge your application for review with the Tribunal. But if you miss that date, it’s pretty much game over. 

Not Updating Your Contact Details 

Moving is one of the most stressful life events there is. 

Cleaning, packing, searching for a new place to live. It can all be a bit overwhelming. 

And then there is the myriad of people you need to tell. Not just friends and family, but utility companies, the electoral role, even Amazon. 

It’s really important, when you’re making your list of people to tell, that Immigration is on that list. 

Basically, while you have any kind of application afoot with Immigration, they need to be able to contact you.  

This goes doubly for your email address and phone number.   

What if a decision is made on your application and the notification letter is sent to the wrong email address?  

What if Immigration needs more information and they try to call you and can’t get through? 

Immigration really should be the first on your list when you update your contact details.  

Not Keeping Immigration Updated with Personal Details  

Much to the chagrin of Immigration lawyers Australia-wide, processing times for all sorts of visas have blown out considerably.  

Permanent visas can take over 12 months to process, and Partner visas up to 2 years.  

Some family visas have service standards of fifty years! Yes, 5-0. 

A lot can happen in a person’s life during this time. Immigration expects you to let them know about it. 

If you’ve lodged a 186 ENS permanent visa application, you’ll likely lodge financial documents for the most recently completed financial year. When an Immigration officer finally looks at the application, they need to see that the business is currently and lawfully operating. 

Think about Fred in our previous article – do you think, if he picks up the application and sees financials and activity statements from FY2017 but not FY2018, he’s going to approve the nomination? 

Don’t count on it. And a dead nomination means a dead visa application. 

If you’ve lodged a Partner visa application, it’s just as important. I recently had an applicant come to me after their application had been refused – not because they didn’t meet requirements, but because over the 18 months since the application had been lodged, they had not provided additional relationship evidence. 

Harsh? Sure. Within the law? Absolutely. 

Don’t let your application stagnate after it has been lodged.  Think of it as a plant or a garden – you need to tend to it from time to time to keep it alive. 

PRO TIP: After lodgment, set a calendar reminder every 3 months or so to review the documents provided, and check there is nothing more up to date you can provide.

Putting an Application Off… Until It’s Too Late 

If you don’t enjoy paperwork, visa applications are no fun.  

It’s human nature to put things off.   

But days turn into weeks turn into months.  Before you know it your visa expiry is imminent, with just a really narrow window to get that application lodged. 

There are a lot of reasons you should be more organised than this.

Laws change. If you’ve paid any attention at all to the news in Australia over the last 2 years, you have seen how quickly the visa rug can be pulled out from under you. In April 2017, without any notice at all, the 457 visa as we knew it was changed forever (and permanent visa pathways for visa holders along with it).  

Citizenship laws changed at the same time, and applicants were in limbo for months and months. 

Personal circumstances can also change.

CASE STUDY: Ingrid is a 457 visa holder. She is eligible for a permanent visa and her employer is happy to support her with an employer nomination. For various reasons, the application didn’t get started right away. Ingrid, however, was not stressed about it because she had 2 years left on her visa. 

18 months passed in the blink of an eye. With 6 months left on her visa, Ingrid reached out to HR so they could start putting together the paperwork, with what she thought was plenty of time.

Strangely, instead of responding with enthusiasm like they had 18 months ago, she felt like her HR contact was ghosting her. She followed up a few times and after a month requested a meeting because she was getting anxious about her visa expiry date.

When she finally got that meeting, she didn’t get the documents she needed for her visa. Instead, she got told the business was downsizing, and they were looking at redundancies – her role included.

With 5 months left on her visa, Ingrid is in a real bind. If she had pushed ahead with her application when she got the original approval, she would have been a permanent resident by now.

My advice, forever and always, is: if you’re eligible, apply.  


Don’t sit on opportunities that may not exist tomorrow. 

Which brings me to my next point… 

Lodging At the Last Minute 

You’ve done what we all do. You’ve left it to the last minute and you’re white-knuckling it right up to the date of your visa expiry. 

As an immigration lawyer, this makes me incredibly nervous.  

That’s because I know how much can go wrong when you’re lodging an application with hours to spare. 

Credit card details can suddenly and mysteriously not work. 

The Immigration system is notorious for going down, and it usually happens at the worst possible time – especially right before major changes in the law, when all the last-minute applicants crash the system.  I’ve confronted death on more than one occasion. Yet there is nothing more terrifying than staring at a screen blinking an error message when the clock is ticking down on your visa expiry. 

If some time has passed since you originally looked at the requirements, you might suddenly be faced with a requirement you didn’t know about.  

Oops, too late. 

Any number of unforeseen events can come up. Businesses folding, roles being made redundant, relationships ending, managers going on long-term leave, a fire that destroys all your documents (no, really).  

Don’t put yourself into that situation. Get yourself organised, and leave yourself enough time for contingencies.  

Plan Like You Would the Most Important Event in Your Life 

Making a visa application is a bit like going to war.  

Or organising a wedding.  

Major life events require strategies and spreadsheets and binders and diaries dedicated to coordinating the detail. 

You should be putting at least as much effort into your visa application as you would any other life event. 

It doesn’t matter how disorganised you are in your day-to-day life, you need to get your sh!t together when it comes to your visa application. 

And if you can’t get organised yourself? Find someone who can get organised for you. 

You’ve come too far to let your application die by disorganisation.