Labour Mobility Could Generate an Additional $10 Billion for Pacific Islanders by 2040

July 18, 2016

New research highlights benefits from increased labour mobility across the region.

SUVA, July 18, 2016 – The full potential of labour mobility between Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific region remains largely untapped, according to a new report launched today by the World Bank and the Australian National University (ANU) during the Pacific Update Conference in Suva, Fiji.

Taking a long-term view, Pacific Possible: Labour Mobility found that, with reforms made by both sending and receiving countries, 240,000 more Pacific Islanders could migrate abroad by 2040. The increased number of workers could generate up to $10 billion of additional income, relative to a business as usual scenario. Most of this income would be retained by the workers themselves, however a significant proportion would also be sent home, resulting in up to an additional $800 million in remittances for sending countries.

“Increasing labour mobility options for Pacific Islanders has the potential to be transformative, not only for workers and their families, but also for Pacific Island economies,” said Jesse Doyle, joint report author and Social Protection Economist at the World Bank. “Our research quantifies what these opportunities could look like and outlines ways they can be achieved.”

Looking at both sides of the equation, the report also highlights an increasing need for Pacific workers in labour receiving countries, particularly Australia and New Zealand. For example, by 2040, the share of people aged 80 and over will double. As a result, the aged care sector will have shortages of both residential and community care workers. Training and recruiting Pacific Islanders would represent a reliable and economical option to fill this upcoming labour market shortage.

“Given the region’s unique characteristics, increasing labour mobility is critical for the future of the Pacific, and would also be of benefit to Australia and New Zealand. We present a range of options which governments could pursue with the aim of stimulating debate and discussion,” said Professor Stephen Howes, joint report author and Director of the Development Policy Centre at ANU. “The challenge of realizing these opportunities falls to all governments of the region – Pacific Islands to lift education and training standards and Australia and New Zealand to reduce the constraints for Pacific Islanders wishing to move for work.”

The report proposes a number of labour mobility reforms and programs for both sending and receiving countries. Some of its recommendations include:

  • Introducing a Pacific caregiver program to facilitate access to trained Pacific migrants to provide residential care.
  • Reforms to the Australian Pacific Technical College to enable better labour mobility outcomes.
  • Australia introducing a reformed version of New Zealand’s successful Pacific Category visas.
  • Reforming Australia’s and New Zealand’s seasonal worker programs to reach their full potential.
  • Investigating new labour markets around the Pacific Rim.  For example, Korea’s Employment Permit System for low-skilled workers already includes Timor-Leste, and could be extended to the Pacific Island countries.
  • Improving education and training in Pacific Island countries to avoid brain drain and increase opportunities for employment at home and abroad.
  • Promoting Pacific workers abroad, and taking measures to mitigate any negative social outcomes associated with labour mobility.

The report is part of the Pacific Possible series looking at potentially transformative opportunities for Pacific Island countries that warrant further research, understanding and policy action. The series aims to inform government and stakeholder decisions on planning and long-term decision-making.

The World Bank is welcoming public comments on Pacific Possible: Labour Mobility until Monday August 15, 2016. Download the paper and submit your comments via email to   

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