More apply for passports

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DESPITE current travel restrictions due to COVID-19, the Immigration Division says it received an influx of applications for passports this year.

Normally, the peak months for the Immigration office were January and February when students apply for passports to travel overseas for study.

A senior officer in the department who asked not to be named said the high demand for passports came about because people want to travel to work in Australia under the Pacific Labour Scheme.

“In the first quarter (January to March), there were 1000 applications,” the officer said.

“In a day, we would receive up to 40 applications, which can increase to 60 on certain days,” he added.

The officer said it is a busy year for them as people continue to flood their office every day.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade aims to send more than 2,000 workers to work in Australia by end of this year.

Currently there are 533 workers in Australia and 291 in New Zealand.

Minister Jeremiah Manele told Parliament told Parliament early this year that beyond April to June, indicative numbers they have is around 632.

“This will bring the number to more than one thousand two hundred and forty-four workers (1244) by mid this year,” he said.

Manele said getting to 2000 workers by the end year is their goal and they see this as achievable given the growing number of workers entering the Australia market. 

He said the government is mindful of the decline in employment opportunities within the domestic market given the down turn of the economy.

“Seeking employment for our youths remains a priority of the government.”

However, Opposition Leader, Mathew Wale urges the Government to send more workers to Australia.

He said around 100,000 youths are unemployed in the country.

“Australia needs 26,000 farm workers, we have possibly 100,000 young people who are unemployed, and who could go right now to meet the needs in Australian farms.

“But the government is aiming to send only 2,000 by December 2021. What a ridiculous situation! It is clear that the government cannot manage the labour mobility scheme,” he said.

Wale said it must now urgently seek to outsource this important responsibility to a credible private sector operator.

“We must find where in Australia the farms are that need the 26,000 workers, and then do everything in our capacity to get them the workers urgently.”

According to DFAT, the Pacific Labour Scheme helps address workforce shortages in rural and regional Australia, while providing opportunities for Pacific and Timorese workers to gain experience, earn income and send remittances home to support their families and communities.

The Scheme commenced on 1 July 2018 following a successful pilot program in northern Australia and builds on the success of the Seasonal Worker Programme. Under the Scheme, Approved Employers are able to recruit workers from nine participating Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste.

Australian businesses are currently employing workers from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu in low and semi-skilled roles.

Australia’s labour mobility programs are among our most highly valued initiatives under Australia’s ‘step-up’ in the Pacific region, helping to support the economic prosperity of the ten participating countries. Labour mobility benefits Australia and sending countries, and will be even more important as Pacific economies recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pacific Labour Scheme is demand driven and helps fill labour gaps in Australia’s towns and on our farms, by providing access to a reliable and productive workforce. This helps to boost economic activity and competitiveness in rural and regional Australia.

When labour market testing demonstrates that no suitable Australian workers are available, Approved Employers can access workers under the Scheme.