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Australia and Tuvalu announce new pathway for permanent residency

By Kian Bone and Hamish Glaspole

On Friday 10 November, the Australian Government announced that it would be introducing a new special category of visa for Tuvalu citizens, providing up to 280 Tuvaluans access to permanent residency in Australia each year.

The new category of visa comes as part of the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union – a treaty between the two nations which aims to address the vulnerability of Tuvalu citizens to the impacts of climate change, and to secure Australia’s security interests in the Pacific.

How the visa works

While full details are yet to be released, a joint press conference between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Tuvalu Prime Minister Kausea Natano revealed that up 280 Tuvalu citizens can apply for consideration for the new visa, which will grant them “special rights to work, to study, to participate in Australian society”.

According to Prime Minister Natano, Tuvalu will “scrutinise all people who are interested to apply” to avoid applicants taking advantage of the new visa arrangement and “abuse the relationship” between Tuvalu and Australia. Mr Natano also stated that the cap of 280 applicants annually will avoid causing “brain drain” in the region. The annual cap represents 2.5% of the total Tuvaluan population (11,200).

Notably, given the visa’s introduction as part of the new treaty, which was framed to facilitate mobility across the Pacific in the context of climate change, there does not appear to be an associated work requirement. This visa is novel, as it is the first of its kind to emphasise climate change as its founding principle. However, applicants should be aware that this visa does not automatically provide them with a right to leave and re-enter Australia as they please. Successful applicants will subject to the restrictions of permanent residency for which there is normally a 5-year travel facility. After this facility, applicants will need to apply for either a resident return visa or Australian citizenship to be able to freely leave and re-enter Australia.

The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union

The new visa comes as part of a suite of initiatives introduced as part of the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union. Founded on the principles of ‘falepili’, the Tuvaluan word for the values of “neighbourliness, care and mutual respect”, the treaty is a result of Tuvalu’s request for Australia to assist in ensuring “regional stability, sustainability and prosperity”. Mr Albanese described the treaty as “the most significant agreement between Australia and a Pacific island nation ever”.

Included in the treaty is a commitment from Australia to assist Tuvalu in the event of emergencies, including natural disasters, pandemics and military aggression. Australia has also agreed to allocate $16.9 million to expand Tuvalu’s main island landmass by 6%.

In return, Tuvalu is required to “mutually agree with Australia” to any partnership, arrangement or engagement with other States on security and defence-related matters. This, in essence, provides Australia with a power of veto to any security arrangements Tuvalu may enter into. Australia will also be provided with a right to access, presence within, and overflight of Tuvalu’s territory, if it is necessary for the provision of assistance requested by Tuvalu under the treaty.

What’s next?

The visa comes as another initiative by the Australian Government to secure its interests in the Pacific and Timor-Leste region following the release of its Migration Strategy. Other initiatives include the upcoming introduction of the Pacific Engagement Visa, and the revamped PALM Scheme.

Australia has emphasised the “critical” role the Indo-Pacific plays in Australia’s future prosperity and security. This largely includes combating China’s footprint in the region, particularly following its recent policing pact with the Solomon Islands. However, Australia is also seeking to address its image as a high-emitting nation amongst its Pacific neighbours.

Of these neighbours, likely none are more impacted by climate change than Tuvalu, where the impact of rapid sea level rise has created massive environmental risks to the small nation. By offering this new permanent residency pathway and committing to the provision of aid to Tuvalu, Australia is looking to secure its key position in the Pacific region.

Given the novel nature of this visa, it may pave the way for future pathways to open up between Australia and other Pacific countries. We will provide more detail on the visa once further information is available.

How Macpherson Kelley can help

If you have any questions about the new visa or the treaty, the Employment, Safety and Migration Team at Macpherson Kelley are well positioned to assist. Please do not hesitate to contact us.


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