Q and A: ANU’s Stephen Howes on Australia’s Pacific Engagement Visa quotas

Pacific people who want to move to Australia now have details on how the Australian Engagement Visa will work.

There are 3000 places available, with most Pacific countries given a quota for which people can enter a ballot which opens on 3 June.

Australian National University’s Development Policy Centre head, Stephen Howes, said Papua New Guinea has emerged as a big winner.

Fiji also appears to be a winner – while Samoa, Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands have not been allocated any spaces yet, with their governments yet to agree to the process. But Australia has kept 300 spaces available.

RNZ Pacific’s Don Wiseman (DW) asked Professor Howes (SH) what comes with this visa.

SH: The Engagement Visa allows the successful applicants for that visa to become permanent residents of Australia. It’s quite similar to New Zealand’s Samoa Quota and the Pacific Access Category for other countries. It operates through a ballot, because it’s anticipated it will be oversubscribed. And then those who were successful in the ballot, if they pass the health check, and the police check, and if they’re able to land a job in Australia, they’re then able to move, with their family, to Australia and become permanent residents.

So the visa was announced I think couple of years ago now and it was always going to be 3000 visas per year, at least initially. And last year, the government passed the necessary legislation to make this visa, operational. But what it’s done just now is actually announced how the 3000 visas are going to be divided up between the various participating Pacific countries.

DW: So what do you think of the way they have broken up their quota?

SH: Well, I titled my blog ‘Winners and Losers.’ I think that’s one way one way to look at it. Almost half of the visas go to PNG. So you have to say PNG is a winner. Although if it was strictly done on a basis of population, of course, many more would go to PNG because it is such a big country relative to the rest of the Pacific.

But still, with almost half the visas, you’d have to say that PNG was a winner. I think Fiji emerges as a winner and that’s a bit of a surprise because the point of this visa is to build up the diaspora, the Pacific diaspora in Australia, and Fiji has already is one of the few countries that already has a pretty healthy diaspora. So does Tonga, which gets 150.

It’s not exactly clear how these quotas were allocated. The government said it depends on population, it depended on the diaspora. But it also depended on the discussion with the actual partner government. So perhaps some governments were keener than others.

At the other end, the big surprise, actually is, out of the 3000, they’ve only allocated 2700. So there are 300 left unallocated. On the other hand, there are three countries that haven’t been given any allocation yet Samoa, Kiribati and Marshall Islands. So reading between the lines, you’d think that the discussions haven’t concluded with those three countries, but that the 300 visas have been earmarked for them.

So you know, at least for now, you’d have to say that Samoans, i-KiribatiI and the citizens of Marshall Islands are missing out. But it looks like that might only be a short term problem.

DW: Interestingly, they have got an allocation for two of the Compact of Freely Associated States countries. Why would they have done that, given the strong links of those places to the US?

SH: I think you can be critical of that because all the citizens of FSM, Palau and RMI can move to America indefinitely. It is true, they can’t actually become permanent residents in the United States, whereas here, as soon as they get the visa, they become permanent residents of Australia. So it may still be attractive for those countries.

But I guess the reason that Australia did it is that this is sort of meant to be a Pan Pacific initiative. It’s meant to make Australia more part of the Pacific family. As I said, it’s meant to build up their diaspora, including the diaspora from from these three nationalities. So it’s more of an inclusive approach that’s been taken, rather than really focusing on only those countries that really lack migration opportunities at the moment.

DW: And why no allocation for Kiribati do you think?

SH: Well, we’ve heard that the Kiribati government has said they need more time. I understand relations between Kiribati and Australia, there’s a lot of perhaps tension or unresolved issues around China. But it’s really not clear beyond that, that they need more time, it’s really not clear why neither Kiribati nor Samoa have claimed a quota. It may be in the case of some they’re worried about brain drain, and people leaving. But on the other hand, we know, Samoans are sort of fervent emigrants. There’s a strong desire to move. There’s massive interest in the New Zealand Samoa Quota, that’s hugely oversubscribed.

So I think once people become aware that right now in Samoa, in Kiribati, you won’t be able to apply come June 3rd, which is when the ballot will open in other countries. Once people become aware of that I think there will be pressure brought to bear on these governments. I think eventually they will be given a quota.

DW: When you apply what will be the critical elements that will come into play?

SH: It’s a two step process. So first of all, you got to apply for the ballot. Then second, if you’re successful on the ballot, then you actually apply for the visa. It’s exactly the same as the New Zealand [Pacific Access Category] visa. The actual ballot application is quite simple. It is online so you’ve got to have access to the internet, you’ve got to pay AU$25, you’ve got to be between the age of 18 and 45. But you can also include your partner and dependents in your application. You don’t have to be in your country of citizenship. You could be in Australia, for example, but you do have to be born in that Pacific country or have had to one of your parents born there.

I think the biggest challenge for some countries will be that you’ve got to have a passport, even to apply for the ballot. So I know – I do a fair bit of work in PNG – and it can be a long delay there in actually getting the passport. A lot of people just don’t have a passport in PNG. So definitely I’d advise anyone considering entering the ballots on June 3rd, but especially those in PNG to straight away go and apply for a passport.

DW: Can they apply if they haven’t got work? Do you have to have work lined up?

SH: You don’t need work to apply for the ballot, you’ve just got to meet those few very minimal criteria. If you’re then successful in the ballot, like your name is pulled out of a hat, you then have a period of time where you have to go over the next lot of hurdles and that includes you’ve got to do a health check, you have got to have a police check, and then most importantly, you’ve got to find a job in Australia.

Once you move to Australia, you don’t have to stay in that job. But you’ve got to actually have a job to go to, when you migrate. The Australian government says it will offer a job service to help people find jobs so I wouldn’t be put off by that as a requirement. I also want to clarify that point. It is a requirement that comes as the next step. You don’t need a job to act to enter the ballot.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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