2025 — AUSTRALIA and New Zealand will open their borders to Tongans in an initial step toward establishing free movement across the Pacific.
From next month Tongans will be able to enter New Zealand and Australia to work or live without a visa. The agreement was prompted by deteriorating living conditions on the island, including food shortages, regular flooding and acid rain.
Ash from the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano three years ago destroyed fisheries and damaged coral reefs, leaving islanders hungry and more vulnerable to a rise in sea level.
Applications for seasonal worker visas tripled in the year following the eruption as people sought to leave the island for food, shelter and work.
Many workers filled vacancies in health, education, and aged care, helping to rejuvenate services crippled during the Covid outbreak.
The new free movement policy was negotiated following lobbying from industry leaders who complained that ‘seasonal’ visas were not appropriate because good workers had to go home.
Other Pacific nations will be included in the program over the next five years.
The new visa arrangements are seen as a way of avoiding a future refugee crisis as climate change forces Pacific Islanders to relocate.
In a statement, Australia’s Home Affairs minister said: “This way people can move, get established and begin paying taxes. It’s more cost-effective than putting people in detention for overstaying their visa.”
The potential consequences of the January 2022 volcano eruption on Tongan fisheries and Australia’s ‘deep betrayal’ of Pacific nations at COP26.