PALM scheme can do more for SI: Sisilo

Solomon Islands High Commissioner to Australia, Robert Sisilo
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SOLOMON Islands High Commissioner to Australia says Australia can do more to improve the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) scheme and in doing so can advance Solomon Islands and Australia’s bilateral relationship.

Speaking to Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), this week, Robert Sisilo said the scheme is currently confined in rural Australia and there are rooms to expand the scheme to cities.

“If only the scheme can be extended to the whole of Australia; in metropolitan city like Sydney, Brisbane, Wollongong, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, New Castle and Gold Coast where the demand for plumbers, brick layers, care-givers and domestic servants is huge, what an impact it should have on the livelihood of our people,” he said.

Sisilo adds that the issue of permanent residence could also be a good way of forwarding and advancing the two country’s bilateral relations.

“I understand that the Agriculture VISA agreement with Asian countries also has a provision of permanent residency, so why not for the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme. That would certainly be a good prospect to further advance our relationship with Australia,” he said.

Sisilo said PALM scheme has contributed big time to the local economy via the remittances workers continues to send home.

He said number of Solomon Islands seasonal worker have increased from 189 in 2019 to more than 3000 this year.

Sisilo described PALM scheme as one among other opportunities that would address the high unemployment rate in Solomon Islands.

“I was in Honiara undergoing quarantine during last year’s riot. From my hotel’s balcony I could clearly see that a lot of those involve in the looting were our youths.

“With our unemployment rate very high, this is going to be one of our major challenges and this is where the Pacific/ Australia labor mobility scheme has contributed big time to our economy via the remittances our workers continues to send home,” he said.

Last week, as part of its campaign for the May 21st election, Australia’s Labor Party vowed to build a stronger Pacific Family by expanding access to labour migration schemes and permanent residence for Pacific Islanders.

In a statement Labor Party promised to:

• boost permanent migration from Pacific countries to Australia by creating a new Pacific Engagement Visa for nationals of Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste. 

• improve the mainly agricultural Seasonal Workers Program (PALM-SWP) by allowing workers to stay up to 9 months, improving workplace standards and tackling exploitation and mistreatment of migrant workers.

• allow workers on the skills-focused   Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme (PALM–PLS) who spend up to 4 years in Australia, to bring their partners and children with them.

• relocate the proposed Agriculture Visa, which critics have suggested would undermine opportunities for Pacific workers, to  sit as a third visa stream under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM)_ program.

The new Pacific Engagement Visa that would lead to permanent migration would see uto 3,000 visas allocated annually by a ballot or lottery process modelled on the New Zealand Pacific Access Resident Category visa.

“While detailed design still needs to be done, we envisage applicants being aged between 18 and 45 years, them or their partners being required to have a job offer in Australia, as well as some English,” the Labor party announcement said

“There would be country-specific quotas within an overall quota of up to 3,000 places a year, and applications will be open to Pacific nationals in their home countries or who are in Australia on a valid temporary visa.

“The program will commence in July 2023.