Tuvalu, one of the world’s smallest independent states in terms of land area (26 km2) and population (11,000),1 has an extensive history of labour migration overseas dating back to the 1800s as one conduit for increasing development in the country.2 The second decade of the 21st century is, however, shaping up to be a challenging one in so far as opportunities for overseas labour migration from Tuvalu are concerned,3 with fewer than 220 Tuvaluans employed as seafarers, seasonal workers, or on other temporary employment contracts during 2014.4 This compares with around 500 in 2008 (376 seafarers, 99 seasonal workers, and 25 other temporary workers overseas). Since the onset of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 numbers of seafarers employed offshore have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1990s when Tuvaluans still had access to employment on Nauru and to a work permit scheme in New Zealand.
Re-establishing openings for employment of Tuvaluan seafarers on overseas shipping lines and developing new opportunities for work (temporary and long-term) in other countries in and outside the Pacific region is a major priority for the Government of Tuvalu. To facilitate this, and to take advantage of several initiatives to foster greater collaboration between groups of countries in the region in the search for and supply of labour to overseas markets,5 the Government of Tuvalu has developed this National Labour Migration Policy (NLMP).
The National Labour Migration Policy is designed to provide a coherent strategy for promoting overseas employment and protecting the welfare of Tuvaluan citizens abroad, within the broader context of generating productive and decent employment opportunities for all Tuvaluans. A fundamental requirement for the successful achievement of better labour migration outcomes for Tuvalu is a co-ordinated, whole-of-government approach (including the island communities) to growing work opportunities overseas, and mainstreaming of labour migration into the country’s policies for national development.