Australia is preparing to offer Papua New Guineans the chance to work here under the Pacific Labour Scheme.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was in PNG at the weekend for the APEC summit, said the scheme would be progressively rolled out to all Pacific island countries, with Tonga being the next to join.
The scheme’s cap of 2000 places will be scrapped, allowing more overseas workers to undertake non-seasonal work for up to three years.
The Pacific Labour Scheme’s uncapping follows a similar model used in the Seasonal Worker Program, which has created 28000 jobs for workers from the region since 2012.
‘‘Together, these measures will help farmers and regional communities get the workers they need, when they need them,’’ Mr Morrison said.
‘‘Australia will continue to prioritise the Pacific to help fill jobs where Australian workers are not able to do so.’’
A new Office of the Pacific will be set up in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to co-ordinate policy.
It’s the latest measure to try to address farm labour shortages which the horticulture sector is desperately trying to address before the upcoming summer harvest.
Agricultural lobby groups have been calling for a dedicated visa category, which the prime minister has conceded won’t be in place in the short-term.
Last week, the government announced backpackers would no longer have to leave jobs every six months and would be able to triple the length of their stay if they undertook extra agricultural work.
Farmers are also being encouraged to register their labour shortages with the government to provide data on the scale of the issue.