Workers are trained abroad to come and take care of Australia’s older people.

Dozens of Fijian aged care interns hope to come to Australia as part of the first-ever training and acceleration program for Pacific workers.
Forty students are taking the 12-week Australian Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) course, but hundreds more want to take part.

Coach Miliakere Nasaroa said the pilot program only started this year, but they have already received hundreds of applications.

Woman in blue polo shirt standing in front of the camera

Dominic Buliwow

Dominique Buliwow, 39, said she wants to work in the sector to help older people in her area.

“I was brought back by the vulnerability of elders in my society, so I decided to join a course to improve my skills,” she said.

Woman in blue polo shirt on camera

Shinal Prasad is studying to be an aged care nurse in Australia.

Shinal Prasad, 28, says that in Fijian culture, older people are not usually sent to nursing homes, but are instead cared for by relatives.

“In my culture, mostly older people, they stay with us, stay with the family. So we treat them with respect and value them and they have dignity,” she said.

The federal government’s Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) program brought 25,000 workers to Australia from the Pacific region, including 2,600 from Fiji.

It has traditionally been focused on the agriculture and labor industries, but has been expanded to include the aged care sector as it struggles to fill a severe shortage of workers.

In my culture, older people…we treat them with respect and value them.

Shinal Prasad

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the scheme would be expanded to allow workers’ families to also come to Australia.
“My government has pledged to provide 215 minutes of care [every resident to receive a minimum of three hours and 35 minutes of care per day] in accordance with the Royal Commission for the Care of the Elderly,” he said.

“We know we’ll need more workers to keep up with the demand.”

A woman in a bright dress (left) stands next to a woman in a dark gray shirt.

Carolyn Jalal (left) with aged care coach Milaquere Nasaroa.

Pacific Minister Pat Conroy said the government is looking to make a number of changes to visas because it is “a huge opportunity for both Australia and the Pacific.”

Starting in April, two separate streams of PALM work visas – the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Employment Scheme – will be merged into one PALM visa. The new visa will be valid for a longer period of up to four years and will allow workers to return to Australia multiple times.

During the election, Labor also promised a voting system for 3,000 permanent residence visas.

Mr Conroy said the Pacific Engagement Visa represents “a revolutionary change in the way we conduct immigration policy in Australia”.
“For the first time, we will reserve 3,000 permanent migration sites for Pacific Islanders each year,” said Mr. Conroy.

He said it would help create a significant diaspora in Australia, which is already strong, but not as strong as it could be.

Four people in a ward with medical equipment

Interns at an APTC facility in Fiji.

He said that in 2019, only 621 Pacific Islanders came to Australia as permanent migrants, representing 2.6% of Australia’s total permanent migrants.

“We will deploy 3,000 people and consult with countries on how we will handle this process,” he said.
“The goal is for us to have opportunities for every Pacific nation to get involved, but we’re working on the details of that.”

He said people applying for this must receive a job offer before they come to Australia, similar to the US green card scheme or the New Zealand visa scheme.

Record low unemployment and rising COVID-19 cases have left industries across Australia facing a shortage of workers. This is exacerbated by Australia’s low migration rate during the pandemic.
APTC labor mobility manager Caroline Jalal said students who complete her program will qualify for a Certificate Three and then be sent to locations in Queensland.
“After they get their job letters, apply for a visa and they leave, so they’ll be in Australia in early September.”

The locations are Yeppoon, McKay, Bundaberg, the Sunshine Coast area, Gympie and Toowoomba,” she said.

Large group of people inside posing for a photo

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Pacific Minister Pat Conroy with APTC students and staff in Fiji.

She said her program could not meet the huge demand from aged care employers in Australia.

“We have already placed several hundred of our graduates in aged care facilities in Australia and we have received feedback – they want more.”
But not only Australia will benefit. APTC student Shivnesh Sami, 35, said he would send all the money he earned to his family in Fiji.
“I have a work visa so I will work there and support my family in Fiji.”
Mr. Albanese said the average participant in the scheme transfers about $6,000 a year back to their country of origin.
“It’s a way to stimulate the economy (in the Pacific) while making a real difference in Australia. I think this is an example of how our practical partnership brings great benefits,” he said.
Pasemaka Temo, 38, says it will help her improve her family’s lives.
“A privilege to bring our families to Australia. From a financial point of view, I know that this is very good and really helps our children learn. It will be very good to bring our families back there.”
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