Maria Vamvakinou MP has told Neos Kosmos that the Greek government’s reluctance to sign-off the Work and Holiday Visa agreement with Australia could be due to a perception in Athens that a Coalition government might amend the terms of the deal currently negotiated.
The agreement on the table will limit the number of Work and Holiday Visas (Subclass 462) on offer to Greece to 500 annually.
Capping the number of such visas offered by Australia differs between countries, depending on the partner country’s economic circumstances and labour market formulas.
Ms Vamvakinou believes some members of the Greek Australian community seeking a higher limit have suggested to the Greek government – by lobbying Greek diplomats in Australia – that if the Coalition were to win the next election, the threshold could be increased.
But she says given the extended rounds of negotiation that have stalled the agreement over many years, any further distractions to Greece signing the agreement could have serious implications.
On a recent visit to Athens Ms Vamvakinou took up the matter in person with Greece’s Deputy Minister for Greeks Abroad, Mr Kostas Tsiaras.
At a meeting convened at the Australian Embassy in Ambelokipi in late April, the federal member for Calwell spoke with Mr Tsiaras in the presence of Australia’s Deputy Head of Mission in Athens Mr Michael Opie.
Ms Vamvakinou told Neos Kosmos that at the meeting she had been keen to raise the matter of the visa deal.
“I asked the Deputy Minister when he thought the Greek Government would be in a position to sign off and he indicated to me that a decision was imminent.
“I also asked if the Greek government had any problems with the terms of the visa and he was emphatic in his response; ‘none at all’.”
On pressing Tsiaras further, Vamvakinou says the deputy minister indicated Athens could be in a position to sign the agreement before September 2013.
“I reaffirmed to him that the view expressed by some in the Greek Australian community – that Australia should press for a lifting of the cap of 500 and hold-off for a better deal – was misleading, and that any Australian Government is highly unlikely to make exceptions, particularly at the first stage of implementing the scheme,” said Ms Vamvakinou.
The Deputy Minister reaffirmed that the Greek government had no outstanding issues with the arrangements that have been negotiated to date.
Last week, Australia’s Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor told Neos Kosmos that the ball was firmly in Greece’s court to end the protracted delay on the agreement.
Australia remains a focus for young Greek nationals seeking better opportunities, many of who use tourist visas to visit.
Overall, unemployment in Greece has risen to an all-time high of 27 per cent according to the latest data, while joblessness in the 15-to-24 age group jumped to over 64 per cent in February.
While the intentions of those seeking a higher cap on the Work and Holiday Visa are benign – an effort to increase the number of visas available to Greek applicants – Vamvakinou says that not only is such an adjustment extremely unlikely in the short term, but any further delay to the agreement could be counterproductive.
The MP says any continued delay of the agreement may be an incentive for young Greek nationals to overstay when visiting Australia on tourist visas.
The effect of greater numbers of ‘overstayers’ could result in Greece being placed by Australia’s Immigration department in a higher-risk category, resulting in tourist visas being more difficult to obtain.
Ms Vamvakinou’s message is to strike while the iron’s hot.
“People in Greece are writing to me all the time asking about the status of the working holiday visa agreement,” she says.
“Let’s go with it as it is, and look at the possibilities for expanding it later.”