New Australian Pacific visa scheme gets green light

Thousands of Pacific islanders will be offered a path to Australian life after a government effort to boost regional employment and address shortages was given the green light.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles secured the votes of the Greens to have the Pacific visa scheme legislation pass the Senate after agreeing to a review of the significant costs threshold in a bid to reduce discrimination.

The cost threshold is a mechanism to give the government the power to reject temporary visa applicants if they have a health condition that will be “a significant cost to the Australian community” to treat or support the illness or disability.

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said it would boost cultural, business and educational exchange within the Pacific region.

“This will grow the Pacific diaspora in Australia and will further strengthen our people to people connections across the Pacific family,” Senator Wong told parliament.

“This visa will ensure more of our closest neighbours can call Australia home.”

Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said the migration system needed to be fair and inclusive.

“We will continue to stand up for the rights of everyone, no matter where they come from, or their disability,” he said.

“The government needs to respond to this review by ensuring that no child born in Australia to temporary visa holders is deported by the use of the significant cost threshold.”

The review will be led by the Department of Home Affairs chief medical officer.

The opposition has refused to support the Pacific visa scheme due to its “lottery” system.

However, this process is used in New Zealand and will reduce processing times and costs, the government says.

The scheme will allocate 3000 visas to Pacific islanders each year through a ballot process across countries. Those selected will then be able to apply for permanent residency.

To be granted a visa, applicants will still need to meet eligibility criteria including a job offer, health and character requirements.

Addressing questions over why Pacific Australia Labour Mobility workers already in Australia were not part of the visa scheme, Senator Wong said it would “pull the rug out” from Pacific partners who had signed up to it. “It would (also) increase brain drain and skew the spread of engagement visa holders to countries that participated in PALM instead of the broader Pacific family,” she said.