One of the Australian government’s biggest diplomatic efforts to develop closer relations with the Pacific starts today with the opening of the Pacific Engagement Visa(PEV).

The visa allows 3000 Pacific Islanders to permanently settle in Australia every year and it’s got many across the region excited, but there are concerns by some that it won’t be a level playing field.

Most Pacific countries will take part in the new scheme, with only Samoa, Kiribati and Marshall Islands opting out. Every participating Pacific country has a yearly quota: Fiji has three hundred while Papua New Guinea has more than a thousand.

Higher standards of living and access to quality healthcare are among the main drivers for applicants, who include qualified professionals.

A Tongan applicant, Vasa Salupe, said it’s in her best interests to permanently migrate to Australia.

“The main reason I want to apply for the PEV is for me to see if they will grant me a visa to stay in Australia, just because the cost of living here in Tonga is very high compared to the pay that we get,” said Salupe.

The visa process which requires an employment offer, a medical assessment and proof the applicant can support themselves in Australia for a year.

It facilitates Pacific labour mobility to Australia, which is in high demand as Pacific Islanders seek a higher standard of living.

“There’s simply not enough decent jobs in PNG to absorb it growing population…so the PEV is a highly attractive migrant pathway for those seeking, to secure a decent job,” said Natasha Turia a PhD scholar the Australian National University.