- Country of destination: Australia
- Country of origin: Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu
- Sectors: Agriculture, Horticulture, and Food Processing, Tourism and Hospitality
- Skill level: Low and Mid-Level
- Timeline: 2018 - Ongoing
- Number of beneficiaries: 6,547 arrivals between April 2020 and February 2022 (uncapped)
The Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) offers temporary work visas in low- and semi-skilled nonseasonal occupations. The uncapped scheme connects workers from nine Pacific islands and Timor-Leste with employers across Australia. The scheme is financed by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which administers it in partnership with the Pacific Labour Facility (PLF).
Why was it started?
The PLS was created to help fill labor gaps in Australian towns and farms by providing access to a reliable and productive workforce. It builds on the successful Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program (NAWPP), which increased labor mobility from the Pacific Islands in targeted non-seasonal sectors. The PLS seeks to boost economic activity and competitiveness in Australia and promote economic and skills development in the Pacific.
How does it work?
Through their labor-sending units, governments in nine Pacific Island Countries and Timor-Leste build work-ready pools of qualified workers. The PLF then connects approved employers in regional Australia with these workers.
Workers age 21 and over who are eligible for visas and accepted into the scheme are allowed to live and work in Australia for one to three years (workers who have spent 3 years in Australia are allowed to continue working for an additional 12 months while COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place). They are not permitted to bring their families with them. Workers must cover the costs of all visa and health checks themselves, though approved employers can help with these costs up front and recoup them through deductions from workers’ pay.
The PLF supports Pacific governments in recruiting and preparing workers before their departure to Australia. In Australia, the PLF facilitates a “community of care” approach with approved employers and community organizations, to reduce risks to worker welfare and maximize program benefits. Workers are protected by the same workplace laws as Australians.
At the end of 2021, the government of Australia announced that Australia’s Pacific labour mobility initiatives – the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) – would be put under the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme. This new scheme has one visa, and improvements to cut bureaucracy. Features of the scheme are being rolled out throughout 2022.
What impact has it had?
The PLS got off to a slow start. By July 2019, a year after it began, only a small fraction of the 50 employers that had received approval to hire workers did so. As a result, only 203 workers from the Pacific Islands entered Australia, with the majority going to a single state (Queensland).
A year and a half later, the scheme picked up pace. By the end of March 2021, 2,180 visas had been granted, 17 percent of them to women. One hundred and nineteen employers had been granted approval to hire workers. Workers are spread out across a range of industries and geographic areas, with many working in the meat-processing industry.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, workers were unable to enter Australia. In September 2020, the Australian government announced that it was reallowing entrants from the Pacific islands. Since then, demand for workers in agriculture/horticulture and meat-processing has been high.
The long-term aim will be to better align training provided by the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) with opportunities provided under the PLS, in order to make the PLS a sustainable system for labor mobility. Program designers are working to improve alignment between workers and employers and to have employers and sending countries take on some of the functions currently handled by the program.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 2019. Pacific Labour Scheme: Policy handbook.
- Australian Pacific Labour Scheme. n.d.
- Hill, E., M. Withers, and R. Jayasuriya. 2018. “The Pacific Labour Scheme and transnational family life.” Policy Brief. University of New South Wales, Sydney
- Jarvis, C. 2020. “A new chapter for Pacific labor mobility.” DevPolicy Blog, March 5
- Leon, R. 2020. “Review of the Pacific Labour Facility.” Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Canberra.
- Sharman, E., and S. Howes. 2022. "Pacific labour mobility growth: winners and losers." DevPolicy Blog, May 6.