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Australia quietly allows Pacific Islander workers to bring their families in – as numbers hit record high

The Albanese Labor government has launched a new pilot program allowing temporary workers from Pacific Island nations to bring their family members to Australia.

Called the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme family accompaniment pilot, it will start with workers from Kiribati and Timor-Leste, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy said last week.

“The Albanese Government is listening to the Pacific and Timor-Leste and taking steps to address the impacts of family separation on workers coming to Australia for extended periods,” Mr Conroy said in a statement.

“This initiative will reunite PALM scheme families and deepen connections between Australia and the region.

“It recognises the important contribution PALM scheme workers make to essential sectors and regional communities across Australia.”

The first selection process will be open from 26 January to 23 February 2024, and a second selection process for the pilot will be run later this year.

The number of PALM scheme workers in Australia has nearly doubled since Labor came to power in 2022, hitting a record high of 38,164 in December 2023, up from 6,753 in 2019.

21% of those are women, and PALM workers have sent a total of $212 million back to their home countries in remittances.

Pacific Islander workers were the subject of community complaints in at least two rural towns in 2023 – Arrawarra in northern NSW and Red Cliffs in Victoria.

A Samoan man who required an interpreter was denied bail in November after being charged with raping a teenage girl at Arrawarra Beach, where local residents say they are “living in fear” of hundreds of PALM workers housed at a caravan park after a rise in violent incidents and sexual harassment.

In Red Cliffs, south of Mildura, locals said an influx of PALM workers from Vanuatu had made them feel unsafe.

Residents reported alcohol-fuelled violence, shoplifting, obscenity, noise and intimidation towards female shop staff.

The new scheme comes as Labor plans to stop screening student visa applicants who wish to settle in Australia, and a record-high 737,000 immigrants arrived last year.

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