Exclusion from the Australian quota has mixed feelings

By The Editorial Board 01 May 2024, 10:00AM

The news that Samoans have been left out of the new Australian permanent migration quota called the Pacific Engagement Visa (PEV) has brought mixed reactions.

The many Samoans looking forward to migrating to Australia for a better life are disappointed. If anything, the continuing increase in the cost of living and the failure of the government to improve health, education and other basic infrastructure is prompting many skilled Samoans to think about relocating.

On the flip side, businesses and investors have been provided temporary relief that they would not lose part of their skilled workforce. The loss of labour in Samoa has constantly hampered the growth of its economy.

To fill the shortage created by those leaving for seasonal work in Australia and New Zealand, overseas workers have been brought in. They had to be, otherwise the businesses were looking at closure. That is a fact that most business owners in Samoa would tell you.

One of the key reasons why the Australian government excluded Samoa from the PEV is the labour drain. The PEV is a ballot system, much like the New Zealand quota and names are drawn out randomly, however, it is mostly people with skills who tend to apply.

According to the Australian Government, the Pacific Engagement Visa is a new permanent resident visa for participating countries across the Pacific and Timor-Leste which will deepen connections between Australia and the region.

Samoa and Kiribati are the only Pacific islands that participate under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme whose citizens are not eligible to apply for the new permanent residence visa under the P.E.V., however, this has no impact on the nation's participation in PALM.

Australia’s High Commissioner to Samoa, William Robinson said countries are invited to participate based on their priorities.

“Samoa is still considering its participation in the Pacific Engagement Visa,” said Mr. Robinson.

“Australia understands and respects Samoa’s position and continues to discuss this topic with the Government.”

The High Commissioner said the Australian Government carefully considered concerns raised by Pacific nations regarding brain drain during the consultation phase of the scheme’s design.

In August last year, Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa again raised deep concerns about the exodus of workers to Australia and New Zealand, arguing that countries like hers should not be seen merely as "outposts" which "grow" labourers for developed nations.

Prime Minister Fiame acknowledged labour schemes had been an invaluable source of income for Samoa during the pandemic, but said more problems had cropped up as they "broadened" beyond unskilled farm work to take in professions like aged care and hospitality.

"When we're feeling the impact of losing our human resources through these various labour schemes, we really do have to look at how we respond," she had said.

Samoa is not the only nation to feel the labour drain, the PALM scheme has left Vanuatu without skilled people. Businesses on that island are looking elsewhere as well to fill the shortage.

Similarly, in the Cook Islands, Fiji and Tonga, overseas workers are looked at filling certain fields. This problem will continue to persist until the Pacific island nations are developed and start boasting healthy economies that offer the best possible lifestyle with good education and better health care.

A solution could be creating a European Union-style common market in the region, allowing the free movement of goods and people across Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations. However, for this to happen, Australia and New Zealand need to consider an open visa system for all Pacific island nations, something the two big brothers are not ready to do.

While Samoans may not be eligible for the P.E.V., Samoans employed under the P.A.L.M. scheme may still be able to have their families join them in Australia.

The Australian Government has also committed to allowing long-term PALM scheme workers to bring their families to Australia, commencing with a pilot of 200 families in 2024. This particular visa initiative is yet to be announced.

Labour migration is nothing new, it has been happening for years but with international travel becoming easier, this is being seen more.

Migrant workers contribute to growth and development in their countries of destination, while countries of origin greatly benefit from their remittances and the skills acquired during their migration experience.

It does leave a gap in their country of origin. In Samoa, most industries employ overseas workers, the fishing industry, the hospitality sector, health, education and even the civil service. Why, because there is a shortage of labour in the country?

A fine example is the 100 plus doctors who are needed, the 300 plus teachers and 500 plus nurses needed just to right size these workforces. The government opted not to be part of the scheme because it could not afford to lose more people. As it is, skilled people are finding means of making it on seasonal work schemes when they should not be.

For Samoa, the solution lies in increasing the quality of life. Exports need to grow, agriculture and fisheries need to thrive, tourism needs to grow, education and health need to improve, and the government has to invest and stop relying on aid, then perhaps some can be persuaded to stay back in the motherland, otherwise the preference will be to go abroad.

By The Editorial Board 01 May 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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