Fiji’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Professor Biman Prasad, has passionately advocated for a visa-free travel arrangement across the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) region, underlining the crucial importance of economic integration. Speaking at the PIF Economic Ministers meeting held in Suva, Prasad shed light on the potential that such an arrangement holds for the future of the Blue Pacific.
“In order to fully embrace integration and bolster the progress of the Blue Pacific, it is imperative that we expedite the establishment of a visa-free travel system among all members of the Pacific Islands Forum family,” Prasad said during his address.
Notably, Prasad commended the initiative undertaken by Australia in introducing the Pacific Engagement Visa, a program designed to facilitate the settlement of up to 3,000 Pacific Islanders in Australia. However, Prasad expressed concern about the proposal’s current status, as it remains pending in the Australian Senate.
“While I appreciate the significance of Australia’s Pacific Engagement Visa, its advancement seems to have encountered a hurdle, possibly due to the suggested lottery mechanism within the PEB. It’s worth noting that New Zealand operates a similar program, implying that a deeper integration between the Pacific Island nations would undoubtedly be the most effective avenue for enhancing employment prospects for our youth,” Prasad commented.
Highlighting a pressing issue in the region, Prasad said that a visa-free PIF region could address the continual loss of skills and knowledge, presenting an urgent need for its implementation rather than treating it as a medium-term goal.
As discussions within the PIF Economic Ministers meeting continue, Deputy Prime Minister Prasad’s call for a visa-free travel arrangement remains a focal point, resonating with the aspirations of economic cooperation and integration across the Pacific Islands Forum region.