Can PNG really supply 8,000 people to work overseas?

Governor Allan Bird (centre) with people from East Sepik leaving to work in Australia
Governor Allan Bird (centre) with people from East Sepik leaving to work in Australia (Greater Sepik Labour Mobility program)

Papua New Guinea continues to have a low share of jobs under both the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) and New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) schemes. From the total 48,000 visas issued under the schemes in 2022-2023, the ‘big three’ Pacific Island countries of Vanuatu (16,562), Samoa (6,736) and Tonga (6,449) dominated. PNG received only 1,459 visas. It has 3% of the total, yet based on country population alone, it should be able to supply a workforce that can fill the entire labour quota of these schemes.

The PNG government remains committed to sending a cumulative 8,000 people to work overseas by 2025. But, despite recent rapid growth, it will not reach its target if it does not more than double its current numbers every year over the next two years. The challenge, acknowledged by the government last month in parliament, is to fully engage with every district and province to achieve equal opportunity across the country.

PNG introduced reforms in three key areas in 2019, which were aimed at generating this growth.

First, the Labour Mobility Unit (LMU) was established at the Department of Treasury to manage the central government-led Work Ready Pool (WRP). This is the only recruitment pathway to obtain visas for PALM and RSE jobs. This is unlike the more successful ‘big three’ countries, which access all three recruitment pathways to send people to Australia and New Zealand: WRP, agent and direct recruitment by employers.

Second, smaller labour sending units, known as recruitment hubs, were to be established within PNG’s existing decentralised governance structures, comprising 22 provincial governments, 96 district administrations, and Motu Koita Assembly (MKA). This means there are 119 electorates with sponsorship by an elected Member of Parliament – either a governor, an open member or the chairperson of the MKA. Initial screening and recruitment of workers is to be conducted by the hubs in their electorates and supported by the elected MP. These candidates are then vetted by the LMU and admitted into the WRP. The current arrangement is that the hubs supply a workforce to the LMU that is captured in the WRP that the employers then draw people from.

To date, around 55 hubs have registered, up from 13 in 2021, but only 12 hubs have deployed people (Figure 1). While the number of registered hubs has quadrupled, this same growth rate is not reflected in the number of people deployed. Only PALM has engaged through the current recruitment hub arrangement, resulting in increased growth compared to the RSE.

Figure 1: Registered and active recruitment hub clusters in PNG

Source: Natasha Turia. Note: Active hubs are based in the following provincial and district electorates: National Capital District, MKA, Central, Hiri-Koiairi, Abau, Namatanai, Kavieng, East Sepik, Enga, Southern Highlands, Western Highlands and Lae.

RSE employers are yet to fully engage through the hub arrangement and currently negotiate with the LMU to place the people they recruit into the WRP. This presents barriers to diversifying opportunities and there is scope to adapt the current arrangement to a hybrid model which incorporates hubs to increase uptake.

Third, unlike standard practice across the region where individuals meet their own costs to travel for work, in PNG the hubs support mobilisation costs for people from their electorate through provincial or district services improvement program funds (constituency development funds) or internal revenue. This support varies from limited to fully funded, and can cover paying for passports, police clearances, health assessments for visas, domestic airfares and related accommodation costs.

However, accessing these funds can cause delays in progressing recruitment. Hubs that have been able to secure funding and access service providers have outperformed others. There remain questions as to how sustainable this model will be at the scale required.

The reforms, while positive, have also highlighted complex challenges impacting on PNG’s capacity to simultaneously scale and guarantee equal access.

There are a limited number of PNG Civil and Identity Registry offices, and police clearance issuing centres throughout the country, and even fewer PNG Immigration & Citizenship Authority passport issuing centres. Currently the latter are located only in Port Moresby, Lae and Kokopo.

There are only three registered panel physicians, two located in Port Moresby and one in Lae. Hubs located further away from major centres, like Namatanai, Enga and East Sepik, find it more challenging and costly to access service providers. Fully operational providers of services such as issuing birth certificates and passports, and panel physicians, need to be established in more provinces to scale numbers across PNG. The proposal for a one stop shop model would contradict the goal of decentralisation.

Resourceful hubs have been able to overcome some of these challenges with limited support from the LMU. Upfront credit payments to registered panel physicians is one such initiative. But there needs to be a sustainable hybrid financing model, with both hub and individual investment.

Hubs could consider establishing a pool fund or revolving fund, acting as a guarantor with a private commercial bank as the fund manager. Individuals apply for the labour mobility loan to cover predeparture costs and repay over a fixed amount of time at an agreed rate during their employment overseas. Failure to repay would result in hubs blacklisting individuals from the LMU-WRP which would impact their ability to apply for future employment opportunities.

PNG still needs to establish itself as a trusted recruitment brand that can efficiently mobilise people into jobs. It will need to carefully manage expectations among recruitment hubs, employers and interested applicants if it is to gain traction and increase uptake.

Beyond alternative financing models, there are some immediate practical steps that can be taken to boost labour mobility growth.

First, invest in communication outreach to ensure accurate information is disseminated, through the LMU as the central authority via its own designated website. Lessons can be learnt from the Solomon Islands LMU, which has published a labour mobility policy and strategy. PNG is yet to finalise these documents, and consultations towards formulating them are well overdue.

Second, build the capacity of all the recruitment hubs to achieve equitable access and market share of the PALM and RSE schemes. This can be done by developing a recruitment hub tool kit that contains entry requirements for registration – be that access to operating office space, funds, or staffing arrangements – and standard operating procedures. A policy handbook similar to that of the Australia Awards scholarships should also be developed.

Third, proactively facilitate connections between employers and the hubs at key dates during the year. A regional trade show format covering the New Guinea islands, Momase, Highlands and Southern regions could be arranged for interested employers to attend.

With ongoing labour shortages in Australia and New Zealand, there remains untapped potential to access PNG’s large workforce. But PNG is unlikely to reach its 8,000 person target by 2025 unless efforts are aggressively stepped up.

Natasha Turia

Natasha Turia is a development practitioner and Papua New Guinean PhD candidate at the Department of Pacific Affairs, Australian National University.


  • Hi Natasha,
    A really interesting article. I am trying to establish firm figures on the growth of PALM workers in Australia.
    You wrote for 2023:
    PNG received only 1,459 visas.
    What was your source?
    I have tried to get trend data from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations in Australia and PALM in Port Moresby without much success.
    I don’t doubt your data. I would like to provide a data source for the figure.

    • Hi Richard,

      Obviously not Natasha. But we have some numbers to 2022 that are correct in chapter two here

      And there is Charlotte’s great blog published just before Natasha’s with some updated numbers, still 2023 though

      There isn’t anything official online yet from DEWR as you note, as far as I am aware. I certainly can’t find updated figures anywhere publicly yet.



      • Hi Ryan,
        Thanks for joining in on data matters. The additional references you have given me are very useful and give me better data than what I have been able to find.
        I am doing some work for the Department of Health in PNG and its concern about losing qualified nurses and health care workers to labour mobility schemes. DFAT has provided data which is much lower than the figures provided in the blogs which look so much more reliable.
        I am still interested in the sources of the data though for reference purposes. Where are you finding the data? I can use the blogs for reference purposes but is there a database that people are accessing?

    • Hi Richard,

      Thank you for your comments.

      Unfortunatley, until the LMU (PNG specific data) or DWER publishes more recent PALM data then the links that Ryan has provided in his response to you are the most current figures for now.

  • Thanks for the interesting research done Natasha;

    PNG has a vast resource that needs trained and skilled people to work and boost the economy of the country rather than sending them to overseas to seek employment. Why are we sending more young energetic people to go and work in farms overseas and not creating opportunities for them here in our resource rich nation. I think that its unrealistic for us to do that however as for our other Melanesian Brothers such as Solomon Is and Vanuatu thus may be realistic for them because they do not have much resource compared to PNG.
    Therefore is there any creative and innovative concept that we can think of in order to make Vision 2050 come to reality in terms of job employment opportunities and economy boost within our nation.
    Why are we searching for employment elsewhere when we have a lot to do in our own backyard to boost our economy. If we can do our own farming here and employ nationals to work in those farms rather than sending them overseas would be more benefiting to our economy and the people as well.

  • Thanks for the article dated on the 11th of November 2023.

    Hopefully, things will turn out well in the months to come.

    1. Several issues, some applicants who have applied several months back and have not received any opportunity and yet some of their documents (police clearance esp) have expired in the waiting process.

    2. And some hubs have already reaped a lump-sum of money from good people who have been hoping to gain access to the greater opportunity and yet still remains unattended.

    3. There are potential registered non-profit organisations who have been very committed to their work in trying to get everyone on board on a voluntary basis but is yet to register into LMU due to waiting recognition from our MPs or Governors.

    If only this was simple as possible, all these potential youths and adults would already be in the process to be recruited.

    God Help Us.

  • So many Agricultural college graduates coming out of Agriculture Colleges every year doing nothing, no jobs, floating on the streets, feed those graduates to farms in both Australia and NZ, they are qualified and meet all the application procedures.

  • Any opportunities for Technical Trade people to go overseas earning better than being used as cheap labours back here at home?

  • Never too late, Never too soon, Working abroad brings a wider perspective and a more tentative experience. Mobilising an effective task force as control monitors of the hubs, would lessen hurdles faced by LMU and WRL.

    • Due to Png currency is falling etc…we as indigenous of this country as to do something work outside ,for bitterness of our family hood and bring back more money into Png, uplift kina also into our regions,Eg $30-40/h and 1,152/day and 5,760/5d and 11,520/10d a person can have to fulfill their vision and dreams back at home after 8 months or a year etc..

      Also we as indigenous we must be proud of some our great spokes man and woman with their free labour, also great minded leaders who spent effort to help this program Pacific Australia labour mobility (PALM) to attract and increase in financial goals in respective zones for the good of all citizens in our nation.

  • Upon initial reading I thought this article was a reprint from April 1st.

    Had it not been penned by such a reputable source I would not have believed how the system could have been designed so comprehensively to fail.

    Firstly, it is centralised in Waigani within the Department of Treasury. Take a moment to digest that. What has the Dept of Treasury got to do with labour recruitment?

    Secondly, it is handled at provincial and district level by the sitting Member. Does it really require the local MP to “support” the choice of candidates? How many people living in rural settings do you think would describe this as a fair and equitable approach?

    Thirdly, PNG recruitment hubs support mobilisation costs for people from their electorate through provincial or district services improvement program funds or internal revenue.

    Anyone reading this who has had experience seeking approval for anything from a local MP will know how this system is wide open to “non-performance.” It beggar’s belief on a mind numbing scale.

    If you wished to design a process good on intent but impossible to navigate, this has to be it.

    Apparently, while the “Big Three” (no irony here), Vanuatu (pop 320,000), Samoa (pop 220,000), Tonga (pop 107,000) have contributed 16,600, 6,700 and 6,500 respectively, PNG (pop 10,500,000) has managed 1,450 visas. These figures speak for themselves.

    I wonder how the average Australian would feel if subjected to this process.

    Article 23 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that people have a right to desirable work, a right of freedom from interference (Article 12) and movement in and out of their country (Article 13).

    In this instance, what was intended as an opportunity to access a regional labour market has turned into a dystopian bureaucratic nightmare.

    The government of PNG no more owns its people than any other and elected representatives cannot and do not represent interests of such a large population. We are not talking about a few villages here – at least half the population of Australia.

    And like the average Australian, PNG people are perfectly capable of navigating the necessary processes with assistance from a reputable migration agent and an intended employer.

    The nanny state over-kill exemplified by the current system treats applicants like children. It smacks of paternalism, implies some are more equal than others and will fail.

    As it stands it represents the worst excesses of bureaucratic overreach and does Australia’s reputation no favours.

    Apart from the issuance of passports keep government well away from it. Let the market and those with the desire to participate navigate this scheme in the usual manner.

    • I agree keep this arrangement simple as is and out of too much political jugling.
      This is already giving answer to the high unemployment rate png govt has on hand. So keep it simple and if improvement is needed, they need to check and assess the current or present recruiting and selection criteria.
      Otherwise, Australia come gud liklik, PNG bikpla brother among the Pacific Islands in both landscape rich in raw marerials and population for labour if needed, as indicated in this excercise.
      Yes like everything else (PNG Youth), we must prove our worth, do things right.
      Thank you very much Australia for the PALM program – a next level program, eye opener and seriously for those of us (parents) not knowing what to expect next for our unemployed youth, this is God’s blessing.
      God bless Australia and Papua New Guinea.

      • I really appreciate your comments concerning simple arrangements, well that’s true PNG and Australia are brother since PNG gained Independent. Australia is a develop Nation and we Papua New Guineans still under developing stage. So I’m sure this PALM program will help us build our economy in terms of Human resources development and recruiting of Farm Jobs in Australia.

  • PNG Labour Mobility efforts is handicapped by Lack of NID printing machines in the provinces and similar with the PNG Immigration office needs to streamline its services especially passport printing to all provinces. Namatanai District in NIP currently has 200 plus youths in Australia but can’t send more due to lack of NID Card printing services in Namatanai or Kavieng and for passports you need to have a relative in POM to accomodate you for 6 weeks to follow up on your passport and Aus visa application.

  • Thanks for highlighting the issue. One thing there should be more awareness done to reach out to rural population who does not have access to media..

  • There is no hub in Daru. The District right on Queensland’s doorstep. A atonal government office that can issue passports in Daru to liaise with Australian immigration officers in Thursday Island and Saibai. A short boat ride to TI and an internal flight to Mareeba airport and the workers are where the work is in North Queensland. plenty of people available who want work in Western Province.

  • I’m impressed and really want to see more local workers participate in PALM & RSE. Establish office in each district & province so we could meet the demands of workers.

  • Can Australia do everything for Papua New Guinea, cause Aussie you only talk but no bench marks, I think that’s the reason why China is coming into Papua New Guinea

  • Firstly, thanks so much of the initiatives to create employment to unemployed population.

    Now, if you could clarify this includes skilled labours as well.

  • Thank you for providing the additional links that further justify the need for PNG to agressively step up its efforts in exceeding the 8,000 by 2025 targe. An increase in the target numbers should be the next step once systems to scale are in place.

  • The challenges highlighted in this blog regarding the recruitment and deployment of Papua New Guinea seasonal workers to Australia and New Zealand are significant. It’s crucial for PNG to address the issues of equitable access, infrastructure, and financing to ensure the success of its labor mobility program. Additionally, improving communication, providing resources, and fostering connections between employers and recruitment hubs can play a pivotal role in achieving the target of sending 8,000 workers by 2025. This initiative has the potential to benefit both PNG and the host countries, addressing labor shortages and providing opportunities for PNG citizens, but overcoming these obstacles is essential for its success.

    • it’s ok to find jobs or employment outside of PNG

      if your attitude is right you will sustain your self.

      PNG is blessed with tones of opportunities to start your own business….I wonder why travel so far to make ends meet…

      I love my small sme…..soon getting somewhere

    • Yes well said but when does Png G’ment ever think of the grassroots people striving to get ahead with opportunities….?……..never !

  • PNG accounts for 85% of the entire Pacific Island population. The target of 8,000 is still low. They should consider the three practical steps mentioned in this blog and target over 20,000, for instance, if given the opportunity. Vanuatu, with a much smaller population of approximately 320,000 people, has successfully sent 16,522 workers, in stark contrast to PNG, a country with a significantly larger population of around 10.33 million, which has only managed to send 1,459 workers. PNG needs to take these work opportunities seriously and leverage them more effectively.

    1.) https: //

    • Some documentations are relief of helping tough situations within our beautiful country. The well being of an individual also depends on a single DECISION from our government.
      Most qualified applicants are wishing to be Change through this path way. How long will it take to bring these exciting news to those applicants. Some fake hub has taken these opportunities to reap some good money from the people. Fingers crossed.

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