19 Aug 2008

Pacific nations queue up for guest worker scheme

5:40 am on 19 August 2008

More Pacific nations want to take part in Australia's pilot guest worker program but will have to wait at least 18 months before Canberra considers expanding the scheme.

The government confirmed yesterday it would offer 2,500 visas to workers from Tonga, Kiribati, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to come to Australia for up to seven months a year to work in the horticultural industry.

Details are scarce on how the scheme will work but workers will use an existing temporary visa category to gain entry to Australia.

Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith admits more countries than the four initial participants were keen to take part.

He says a number of Pacific Island Forum member countries have made it clear they would like to be involved in any pilot program or subsequent scheme.

He says the capacity is there to give consideration to other countries down the track.