All non-citizens who seek employment in Papua New Guinea’s private sector must possess a valid work permit and visa before commencing employment. The purpose of Section 1 of the Employment of Non-Citizens Act 2007 is two-fold: The first is to provide a balance between the need of the economy for non-citizen labour and the aspirations of Papua New Guineans for decent work by assisting business to attract and retain the services of qualified, skilled and experienced non-citizens without unnecessary impediments. Second, it is intended to promote a Work Permit System that contributes to the creation of employment, training and the acquisition of skills for all Papua New Guineans.
The regulation of non-citizen employment in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is based on three principles: First, employers should be able to freely recruit non-citizens for managerial, professional occupations, skilled trades, and other occupations that require a high skill level. The second principle is that jobs regarded as “semi-skilled” should be advertised in PNG first. This is called a “Labour Market Test”. If a suitable candidate cannot be found, the employer can recruit a non-citizen for that position. Third, unskilled and low skilled jobs are reserved for Papua New Guineans. Department of Labour and Industrial Relations (DLIR) uses a traffic light system to categorise all occupations. The “green” category of occupations is open to citizens and non-citizens, the “red” category is reserved for Papua New Guineans, and the “amber” category requires a Labour Market Test before non-citizens can be employed.
The PNG Classification of Occupations, which was developed specifically for the current Work Permit System, is based on the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO), and the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANSCO). The provisions in ISCO and ANSCO have been changed slightly to create an occupation listing that suits the PNG labour market. There are eight major occupational groups: managers, professionals, technicians and trade workers, community and personal service workers, clerical and administrative workers, machinery operators and drivers, sales workers, and labourers.
Work permit applications are processed by the Foreign Employment Division of DLIR. The Secretary of DLIR makes decisions in accordance with the Employment of Non-Citizens Act 2007 and the Employment of Non-Citizens Regulation 2008. The assessment of applications for a work permit is based on whether the applicant has the relevant qualifications, skills and experience for the position; whether professional registration requirements are met where applicable; and whether the applicant’s language skills are sufficient. Sufficient language skills are required because non-citizen workers are required to share their knowledge and experience with their PNG counterparts. For this reason, the Employment of Non-Citizens Act 2007 requires all non-citizen work permit applicants to prove that they are proficient in English, Tok Pisin (Pidgin) or Motu. Applicants from non-English speaking countries have to undertake an online English test, unless they have worked in an English-speaking country for at least three years. Professional registration of non-citizens is required before taking up employment in these fields by the following professional bodies: (1) Institute of Engineers PNG, Inc., (2) Certified Practicing Accountants of PNG, (3) Nursing Council of PNG, (4) Maritime Safety Authority of PNG, (5) Pharmacy Board of PNG, (6) Law Society of PNG, (7) Medical Board of PNG, (8) PNG Association of Surveyors, (9) PNG Institute of Architects, and (10) Civil Aviation Authority.
If the application is successful, the work permit is issued to a specified employer, for a specified non-citizen and for a specified occupation for the duration of the employment contract, which is usually three years. The fee for the work permit is K 1,000 per year. In order to renew a work permit, a training report must be submitted to the National Training Council (NTC), which is a statutory body within DLIR. In its decision, DLIR considers the extent to which the applicant and employer have contributed to the training and development of Papua New Guinean workers.
The maximum turnaround time for the issuing of work permits by DLIR is 42 days; however, according to consultations with DLIR’s Foreign Employment Division, the process is often quicker. If a work permit is issued, the non-citizen worker must apply to PNG’s Immigration and Citizens Services for a Working Resident Entry Permit. Entry permits are regulated by the Migration Act 1978 and Migration Regulations 1979.
The Work Permit System during the LNG construction phase
During the LNG construction phase (2007–2012), PNG’s economy underwent enormous changes. The labour market experienced an unprecedented growth in employment creating many opportunities for national and non-citizen workers alike in ExxonMobil PNG Limited which operates the LNG project, in co-venture companies, in the major engineering, procurement and construction contractors, as well as in various associated and auxiliary industries. Many Papua New Guineans left their previous positions in the private and public sectors to work on the LNG project. At the same time, the number of non-citizen workers increased rapidly as evidenced by the number of work permits issued per year, which increased from less than 6,000 in 2005 to more than 25,000 in 2012. After the end of the LNG construction phase, the number started to decline and stood at 18,000 in 2014. The hike in work permits was a response to the unavailability of skilled workers within PNG. For instance, the LNG project required some 3,000 welders but only 300–500 were available locally. In order to deal with the demand for non-citizen workers, DLIR established a “LNG Priority Line” which worked towards a turnaround time of 10 days for work permit applications instead of the usual 42 days. This priority line was in place during the LNG construction phase.