first_imgImmigration Minister Brendan O’Connor told Neos Kosmos this week that despite his personal advocacy for a Working Holiday Visa agreement between Australia and Greece, no firm date could be predicted for its introduction. “It’s not up to me, it’s up to whoever’s making decisions in Greece,” said Mr O’Connor. “We’re continuing our discussions with Greece to establish the visa arrangement, but it’s not a unilateral decision, it’s a bilateral agreement.” The Minister said that such a scheme, offering young Australian and Greek tourists the chance to visit and work in each other’s countries has his full support, but that “complex negotiations” to deliver the agreement had not yet run their course. “We need to get them right and there needs to be agreement by both countries,” said the minister. “My personal view is that I’d like to see the realisation of these negotiations to ensure the agreement. It would be fitting for holiday makers from Greece to come here and have limited work rights. We have a very strong relationship.” The minister declined to say if the agreement might come into effect within this parliament, such is the uncertainty around the deliberations between Immigration Department officials and their counterparts in Athens. The Australian government has been engaged in protracted discussions with Greece for years on establishing a reciprocal Working Holiday Visa arrangement. The economic crisis and legislative hold-ups are likely to have been factors in the Greek government dragging its feet on finalising its side of the deal. Asked if Australia’s current immigration policy could ease the path of Greek nationals wishing to migrate to down under, Mr O’Connor said that because of the non-discriminatory approach enshrined in Australia’s immigration policy, it was not possible to make Greece a special case. “We have about 190,000 people who migrate permanently each year, two-thirds of them are under the skilled migration scheme and have to have particular skills and proficiency in English, the other third relates to family reunions – which adds a very important social dimension to our immigration policy. “Greeks are coming here on either a permanent pathway for citizenship or on a temporary basis and we treat all people the same,” he said. “We would expect to see an increase in migration from a country when things are tough in that country, and Greece is of course doing it very tough at the moment.” The minister pointed to the Parent visa scheme as being one of the government’s most popular recent interventions that benefit diaspora communities in Australia. “We did reach an agreement, that was announced last year, where parents can enter Australia for 12 months on five occasions over five years.” Asked what trends in the last three years the Department of Immigration had been able to identify, in terms of migration from Greece, Mr O’Connor said that there had been a “mild increase”, according to the latest data. In the 2011-12 financial year the number of Greek citizens who permanently migrated to Australia was 325, compared to 119 in 2009-10 and 134 in 2010-11. In the last six months of 2012, 241 Greek nationals were given permanent residency. In 2011-12, 587 Greeks were successful in applying for temporary student visas to study in Australia, with another 415 being awarded student visas in the last six months of 2012. Business (457 visas) and other temporary visas accounted for 389 Greeks entering Australia in the last financial year, and looks set to remain at a similar level this year. Temporary tourist and visitor visas – allowing short stays (usually a maximum of three months) continue to be the most common method for Greek nationals to enter Australia. In 2011-12, 7938 Greeks came to Australia on temporary offshore visitors. In the last six months of 2012 just over 5000 had taken the same route to enter the country. Since introducing reforms to the 457 temporary skilled worker visa scheme, Minister O’Connor and the Gillard government has been criticised for suggesting the 457 scheme was prone to widespread rorting and potentially denying Australians work. Commentators have claimed the government’s crackdown has been motivated to build populist appeal in the run up to the election. The minister told Neos Kosmos that it is an accusation he firmly rejects. “The reforms come out of the department’s analysis and were recommended to my predecessor Chris Bowen last year. This conspiracy theory about them is wrong,” he said. “All we’re looking to do is make sure there are no rorts so that the confidence in the scheme is not undermined. “We will always need temporary skilled labour but it should be genuine. The reforms are about ensuring Australians are offered jobs first before they’re offered elsewhere.” Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagramlast_img

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