Australia’s Microstate Visa brings in Kiribati workers

In 2015, the Australian Government put in place a pilot ‘Microstate Visa’ policy as a migration pathway for the small Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.

PT&I Sydney Trade Commissioner Caleb Jarvis (in blue shirt) with the newly-arrived workers from Kiribati in Australia's Northern Territory.
PT&I Sydney Trade Commissioner Caleb Jarvis (in blue shirt) with the newly-arrived workers from Kiribati in Australia’s Northern Territory.

This was in addition to its already existent Pacific Labour Mobility policy that allows seasonal workers from Pacific Island countries to work in the horticulture sector in certain Australian states through the Seasonal Worker Programme.

To begin with, the Microstate Visa Programme pilot is restricted to Australia’s Northern Territory, where filling jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector has been an issue. Pacific Trade & Invest (PT&I) Sydney worked closely with an employer in the Northern Territory and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) to secure the first batch of workers from Kiribati.

In January last year employer Mulpha met with the DFAT. Then working with PT&I and a migration specialist, Mulpha became a registered employer and qualified to sponsor workers under the programme. The employer’s representatives later in the year travelled to Kiribati and interviewed more than 80 people and working with the Kiribati Institute of Technology, some 30 people were initially shortlisted. The first batch of indigenous i-Kiribati workers under the Microstate Visa Programme arrived in Australia late in 2016.

Speaking on the rationale behind the programme, PT&I Sydney Trade Commissioner Caleb Jarvis told the Devpolicy Blog, “Pacific labour mobility shouldn’t be restricted to the horticultural sector when the more obvious and logical step is to work in tourism and other service-sectors like childcare and aged care. For small island states like Kiribati, there is no opportunity to take learned horticultural skills and translate them from Australia back to Kiribati. This isn’t the case with tourism.”

Unlike the Seasonal Worker Programme which runs only for part of any year depending on the seasonality of the crop, the Microstate Visa Programme gives a longer tenure to workers. “At the moment, there will be a 12-month engagement with an opportunity to extend to two years, which will be performance-based. The type of work will vary from housekeeping, maintenance, stewarding, and food and beverage positions,” Mr Jarvis told the Blog.

Interestingly, this throws open employment opportunities for women, who have been under represented in the Seasonal Worker Programme with only 14 per cent of Pacific Island seasonal workers being women. This is also the case for maritime labour, which employs a high number of residents from Kiribati and Tuvalu – almost no females are employed in this sector.

However, in the new Microstate Visa Programme pilot, “Over 80 per cent of the workers are women, a shift away from the heavily male dominated Seasonal Worker Programme,” Mr Jarvis was quoted as saying.

In total, the pilot will provide the opportunity for 250 citizens over five years to access a two-year work visa, with the option of applying for a third year. According to the Devpolicy Blog, Kiribati is the first country to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Australia. An agreement with Tuvalu is currently awaiting signature while negotiations are ongoing with Nauru. Conflicting migration pressures stemming from asylum policy and labour policy may make the agreement with Nauru more difficult to finalise.

For more information email PT&I Sydney Trade Commissioner Caleb Jarvis at caleb@pacifictradeinvest.com

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