VACCU: The Visa Applicant Character Consideration Unit

Published on May 14, 2024

Recently, we have received an increased number of enquiries where visa applications are being referred to the Visa Applicant Character Consideration Unit (VACCU).

The VACCU is responsible for evaluating various factors that may impact an individual’s character, such as criminal history, immigration violations, and other relevant information.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the VACCU, including its purpose, assessment process, potential outcomes, and impact on visa application processing times.

australian vaccu

What is the VACCU?

The Visa Applicant Character Consideration Unit (VACCU) is a specialised unit within the Department of Home Affairs that is tasked with assessing the character of visa applicants. Its primary purpose is to determine whether an individual poses a risk to national security, public safety, or the integrity of the immigration system. The VACCU evaluates various factors, such as criminal history, immigration violations, and other relevant information, to make an informed decision about an applicant’s character.

We used to see VACCU being involved with cases where the visa applicant has a significant criminal background, but recently, we have observed the Department referring many visa applications to VACCU even when for minor criminal offences.

Unfortunately, we’re unable to share screenshots due to copyright restrictions. However, you can review the VACCU form through the provided link:

the VACCU form

Who is subject to VACCU scrutiny?

Not all visa applicants are subject to VACCU scrutiny. Generally, the visa application will be assessed in the allocated ‘visa sections’ of the Department of Home Affairs, and they will finalise the matter within the published standard processing time.

However, if a case officer believes that additional checks are required, they transfer the file to VACCU for further assessment.

There are various situations that may trigger a VACCU involvement. For example, if an applicant has a history of criminal convictions, especially for serious offences such as domestic and sexual nature, drug trafficking, or human trafficking, they will likely be subject to VACCU scrutiny. Similarly, individuals who have previously been deported or removed from a country may also be subject to VACCU assessment.

Other factors that may trigger a VACCU assessment include associations with known criminals, involvement in fraudulent activities, or any other information that raises concerns about an individual’s character.

How does the VACCU assess visa applicants?

The VACCU assessment process involves gathering and evaluating information about the visa applicant’s character. This information may be obtained from various sources, such as law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, immigration records, and other relevant sources. The VACCU may also conduct interviews with the applicant or their associates to gather additional information.

What factors does the VACCU consider when evaluating character?

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs issued a very detailed policy that regulates how the Australian government decides on visa and citizenship applications involving non-citizens who have character issues, such as criminal records or involvement in family violence.

This is Ministerial Direction 99.

VACCU, as part of the Department of Home Affairs, is required to follow this direction.

The key factors of Ministerial Direction 99 are the primary considerations and the other considerations that the decision-maker must take into account when deciding on visa or citizenship applications involving non-citizens who have character issues. The primary considerations are generally given more weight than the other considerations, and they are:

  • The protection of the Australian community from criminal or other serious conduct;
  • The best interests of minor children in Australia;
  • The expectations of the Australian community;
  • The strength, nature and duration of ties to Australia.

The other considerations are:

  • International non-refoulement obligations;
  • The impact on Australian business interests;
  • The impact on victims;
  • The extent of impediments if removed.

Ministerial Direction 99 also provides guidance on how to assess and balance these factors, as well as how to apply the character test and the relevant legal framework.

What are the potential outcomes of a VACCU assessment?

If the VACCU determines that an applicant poses a risk to national security, public safety, or the integrity of the immigration system, they may recommend that the visa application be refused.

On the other hand, if the VACCU determines that an applicant does not pose a risk, or despite the applicant’s character issues they may recommend that the visa application be granted.

It is important to note that the VACCU’s assessment is just one part of the overall visa application process, and the final decision on the visa application is made by immigration officers. The VACCU’s findings are considered alongside other factors, such as the applicant’s eligibility for the visa, their ability to support themselves financially, and their intention to comply with the conditions of the visa.

How do you know when your application has been referred to VACCU?

If you have any character concerns irrespective of their nature, and your visa application is taking much longer than the published standard processing time, you can suspect it’s been referred to VACCU.

The immigration officer may also notify you in writing that your case has been referred to the VACCU.

How long does the VACCU review process take?

The length of the VACCU review process can vary depending on various factors. In general, the VACCU aims to complete its assessment within a reasonable timeframe to minimise delays in visa application processing. However, the complexity of the case, the availability of information, and other factors may impact the length of the review process.

On average, the VACCU review process can take several weeks to several months. There are some cases that take over many years.

Frustratingly, further delays arise as when your application is referred to the VACCU, they do not act on it immediately, and it may remain in their pipeline for a significant period even before they review your matter.

Contacting and lodging a formal complaint to the Department always proves to be a waste of time and effort when VACCU is involved.

Recently, we wrote another article with some official news about the VACCU case loads: Department’s update on VACCU. Stay informed with the latest developments in immigration law by visiting our website regularly.

What Can Kris Ahn Lawyers do?

There is no legislative power to request the VACCU to expedite their processing.

Understanding this, and knowing the VACCU’s decision-making powers, we will always first educate you about Ministerial Direction 99 (MD99) and advise you to start preparing a detailed submission outlining each and every consideration that it lists.

It does not matter how insignificant your offence is.

When we suspect your application is referred to the VACCU, without waiting for them to request further information, we will work with you to prepare a detailed legal submission using the MD99.

We do this because we know they are bound by the Ministerial Directions, and by presenting the information and supporting evidence before they open the file – we are essentially helping them to finalise your matter quickly.

  • Is your visa application taking so much longer than what the Department has advised?
  • Did you get a letter from the Department that your file has been referred to the VACCU?
  • Are you planning to lodge your visa soon but do you or your family member have a criminal record?
  • Was your visa refused because of the VACCU’s findings?

Let’s discuss your case in confidence.

At Kris Ahn Lawyers, the team of lawyers look after the clients. Our lawyers have expertise in immigration law, and they cater for clients from different backgrounds. Our Lawyers are multilingual (English, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Mandarin, Punjabi, and Hindi).

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Disclaimer: Not Legal Advice

The information provided in this blog post/article is for general informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or create a representative-client relationship. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, the content may not reflect the most current legal developments or specific circumstances.

Do not rely solely on the information presented here – but please book in a consultation with us to see how you this information applies to you and may benefit you. Any reliance on the material in this post is at your own risk.

Remember Australian immigration law is considered most complex laws in Australia. Seek professional legal advice tailored to your individual needs before making any decisions based on the content of this post.