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Visa lottery to offer 3000 Pacific workers Australian residency

Australia will launch a lottery to bring 3000 foreign workers into the country every year under a new law to be proposed that adapts the “green card” system used in the United States to give the winners a pathway to citizenship.

In a departure from decades of visa policy, the federal government will open the scheme to people from across the Pacific so they can apply for permanent residency in the hope of winning the random selection.

But the two-step scheme will require those who succeed at the first stage to secure a job offer in Australia and meet tests to check their health, character and basic English skills before they can arrive. The applicants also have to be aged from 18 to 45.

The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, says the draft law will be introduced to federal parliament on Thursday with a vow to build up communities in Australia with strong ties to the region.

“This is the first time that we’ve allocated part of our permanent migration allocation to a specific region – and it is revolutionary,” he said. “The reason we’re doing it is a desire to build the people-to-people links with the Pacific, and one of the best ways of doing that is building our Pacific diaspora.” The scheme is meant to start in July and is being discussed with regional leaders ahead of the Pacific Island Forum next week, where Foreign Minister Penny Wong will represent Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a time of heightened sensitivity about China’s influence in the region. Albanese and Wong launched a major diplomatic effort after the election last year to improve relations in the region after tensions under the former government, with the new visa scheme pitched as one way to tighten Australia’s links with each country.

A key reason for the lottery is the concern in the region about the unfairness of a visa system that would select people on a hierarchical list of skills, leading to an exodus of people with specific skills from each country.

Applicants from other countries seeking permanent residency under the skills program are currently waiting about six months for decisions, according to the Department of Home Affairs, but they will not be eligible for the new program.

As well as East Timor (Timor-Leste), the new scheme will be open to applicants from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

It will be separate from the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility program, which is an important source of farmworkers and has been expanded from 29,000 to 35,000 places under changes in the budget last October.

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