Labour Migration in Vanuatu

Labour migration from Vanuatu was limited until the Recognized Seasonal Employer scheme was introduced to New Zealand. This scheme is now one of the key employment prospects for rural ni-Vanuatu, who make up the largest Pacific Island contingent.

Project documentation | 14 April 2015
Vanuatu seasonal worker

While labour migration had an important impact on Vanuatu in the 19th century when around 40,000 ni-Vanuatu were recruited (and sometimes kidnapped) to work on Queensland’s sugar plantations in Australia (a practice banned in 1901), there was an ebb in labour migration for almost a century until seasonal worker programmes to Australia and New Zealand were introduced.

The UN Population Division’s International Migrant Stock database has just over 8,800 people born in Vanuatu living in other countries in 2013, with 6,000 of these living in French territories.241 The Republic of Vanuatu, with a population approaching 265,000 in 2013 (SPC, 2013), thus has a very small diaspora in per capita terms, reflecting a history of limited opportunities for overseas migration, especially since independence in 1980.

Vanuatu has been involved in New Zealand’s RSE scheme since it was piloted during the 2006/07 harvesting season. It was the country that provided around 100 workers for employment on vineyards in Central Otago in a pilot programme which was supported by the World Bank. From the outset of the RSE policy, Vanuatu has been by far the largest provider of seasonal labour for New Zealand, with numbers recruited reaching over 2,000 by the 2008/09 season. Seasonal work in New Zealand has become Vanuatu’s major source of employment offshore since 2006/7 and there is a strong link between the officials in Vanuatu’s Employment Services Unit (ESU) within the Department of Labour and Employment Services and the equivalent unit within New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Vanuatu has been part of Australia’s seasonal work scheme to assist the horticulture industry since the inception of the PSWPS in 2009 but numbers recruited for work in Australia have been small by comparison with New Zealand. In the year ended June 2013 119 ni-Vanuatu were employed on seasonal work visas.

Vanuatu is also a member of a regional labour mobility scheme under the Melanesian Spearhead Group, titled the Skilled Movement Scheme, which allows skilled workers in specific occupations to migrate more freely between Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.