MP warns of window closing for roll-out of 462 visa program
On the anniversary of the signing of the Work and Holiday visa agreement between Australia and Greece, the long-awaited program is stuck in limbo – waiting for the Greek and Australian governments to complete “necessary domestic processes”.
One year after Greece’s former Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni put pen to paper with the then Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, the implementation of the agreement seemingly lies dormant – the result of bureaucratic indifference to the program that will allow 500 young Greeks and Australians a year to live and work in each other’s country.
Confirmation of the lack of progress on the sub class 462 visa between the two countries was obtained this week by Neos Kosmos, after the newspaper requested an update of the situation from the Australian government.
A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration said that the visa arrangement would “come into operation once both Australia and Greece have completed the necessary domestic processes, so Work and Holiday visa grants to each other’s citizens can start”.
“Subject to the required procedures being in place in both countries, the arrangement is expected to commence during 2015.”
The Department of Immigration’s comments are thought to refer to the problem lying squarely on the Greek government’s side.
Asked to comment on the situation, Greece’s ambassador to Australia Mr Haris Dafaranos said: “The process of ratification by the Greek parliament is still continuing. We have asked Athens to expedite the relevant process during the coming months as a priority.”
Meanwhile the reaction of Greek Australian community leaders to the latest hold-up can only be described as one of frustration – if not exasperation.
Bill Papastergiadis, president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne, who played a central role in persuading the Australian government to adopt the visa program, said that the situation was “deeply disappointing”.
“There are significant efforts being undertaken by organisations in Australia of Greek background, to provide assistance to Greeks wishing to migrate to this country.
“Many of these have been assisting humanitarian efforts in Greece for those affected by the economic crisis,” said Mr Papastergiadis.
“It’s sad that this effort is not being respected, in that the Greek government fails to ratify this agreement.”
Lobbying for the agreement in Canberra over the past four years has involved a number of Greek Australian MPs, with Labor’s Maria Vamvakinou being one of the most active.
Ms Vamvakinou told Neos Kosmos that while the Greek parliament’s legislative agenda might not see the ratifying of the visa program as a priority, she believes other factors may be impacting the situation.
“They may be concerned about the reciprocal nature of the agreement, that is, that the equivalent working rights have to also be given to Australians visiting Greece.
“The hold-up might be because of these concerns given the high levels of unemployment in Greece. Unfortunately, none of this will ever be stated publicly, so the whole issue will remain in a state of passivity, caught up perhaps in the ongoing challenges facing the Greek state.”
The Member for Calwell added that the Australian government was increasingly engaged in examining the impact of working holiday visa arrangements, amidst concerns over their impact on local employment.
“A lot of effort has gone into this campaign – to finalise the working holiday visa arrangements between Greece and Australia – and I fear that the window of opportunity may be closing.”
Ms Vamvakinou said she will raise the matter with Greek parliamentarians on a visit to Athens in July. Neos Kosmos understands a representative from the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne will also meet with the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad to encourage movement on the program.