Australia’s Pacific Engagement Visas

By Mika Kelekolio 08 June 2024, 6:00PM

When presented with an opportunity like Australia’s Pacific Engagement Visas Scheme (PEV), don’t demur. Grap it with both hands and be grateful. Other Pacific countries including Fiji are all ready to sign on the dotted line. It’s just basic common sense unless of course you live in a country whose political leaders’ decision-making tells you that sense is not very common commodity.

Our Minister of Finance, Lautimu’ia Va’ai, is reported by the media to have said last week that our people would not be denied the opportunity, but we need to be cautious and not rush into making a decision, implying that we need to have some regulation in place first “for our protection…..It is not a missed opportunity because the opportunity will always be there forever.” FOREVER! Really? What planet does the Minister hail from? We do not need regulation for people emigrating under PEV as they will be leaving permanently unlike those going under PALM Scheme whom we need to negotiate their work conditions and pay rate.

As one of my colleagues said cynically, “The only regulation we need is one that will protect us from corrupt politicians.”

The Minister also fears that buying into the PEV Scheme “will have a major brain drain [for our country] going forward.” Yet, according to the Australian High Commissioner, “[t]he use of the ballot system will provide equal access for applicants regardless of skill level.” Very much like the NZ Quota System by the sound of it.

We don’t often get opportunities like this that can lead to a better life for some of our people and subsequently our economy. Where would we be now as a country, economically, had many of our people including thousands with skills and qualifications not left the country for a better future in New Zealand, Australia or the United States?

One of the major drivers of our economy is the hundreds of millions of dollars in remittance send back by those very people - $776m for the year 2022/2023 when total government revenue was forecast at $895.5m. (Source: Government Budget Document 2022/2023).

The Leader of the Opposition, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele pointed this out by reminding the government that our people who have migrated overseas had contributed a lot to the development of the country by remitting money back to Samoa, stressing the importance for the government intervening to secure opportunities – like what the PEV Scheme offers – for our people.

I doubt many will disagree. It is the dream of every Samoan, skilled and semi-skilled, earning a below average income to emigrate to Australia or New Zealand to raise their family and earn a decent income. To deny them that opportunity for fear of ‘brain drain’ on our work force is an ignoramus way of saying to them: “Endure your current situation. You don’t deserve any better.”

Every country, developed. developing, or under-developed, experience ‘brain drain’ as its citizens leave for greener pastures elsewhere. New Zealand for example lost 47,000 skilled workers last year alone – doctors, nurses, teachers, and trades people - mainly to Australia where they’ll getting paid twice what they got in New Zealand. Yet, never once did the government consider placing roadblocks in front of them because it believed that the experience they bring with them when they return in the future can only be good for the country. Instead, they have in place a scheme strongly backed by businesses and industries through their Training Organisations to ensure that skill gaps appearing in any of the industries are plugged.

Samoa has benefitted greatly from the decision by some of our people to migrate. Their well-qualified and highly skilled children and grandchildren are here serving our country in all spheres, legal, medical, education, trades, commerce, you name it. And their education did not cost our government a cent.

We’ve been complaining about this ‘brain drain’ for the last 50 years but we do not seem to be able to come up with a concrete plan to ensure we have enough skilled workers and trades people coming through our education and vocational training system to replace those leaving the country. If we do have one, it doesn’t seem to be working.

It’s a problem that can be easily remedied but we need to begin by promoting and raising profile of vocational education and trades training starting at school. For example, 2 years ago, my son who is now 19-years old, was a year-12 at college in New Zealand. He showed no interest in his schoolwork. I went and talked to his school’s career advisor suggesting that he be placed with a building and construction industry contractor for work experience one day a week for the whole school year until he’d decided on what he wanted to do. He’s now in his second year of apprenticeship (carpentry) and loving it.

The beauty of the New Zealand system lies in the schools, industries training organisations and employers with the support of the NZ Qualifications Authority all working together to set career pathways for students to follow once they leave school

For too long, we’ve been brain-washed to believe that the only form of post-school education that is worthwhile having is that offered by universities. Unfortunately, many students do not have the propensity to succeed academically. Therefore, when they some of them leave school without a Senior Secondary Certificate, they feel they have failed.

My advice to the Minister: Brain drain should not be a big issue if we have an effective training scheme to plug any skill gaps. And remember: Our people are our biggest and most valuable export. So, ‘Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg’ for our country.’

By Mika Kelekolio 08 June 2024, 6:00PM
Samoa Observer

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