View Full Version : Aussie allies catch a break

05-14-2005, 07:04 PM
Aussie allies catch a break in war bill with generous visas

By Cam Simpson
Washington Bureau
Published May 13, 2005

Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0505130312may13,1,2838689.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed&ctrack=2&cset=true)

WASHINGTON -- It doesn't quite say "Good on ya, mate," which is a common saying in Australia for "Nicely done."

But buried on Page 91 of the $82 billion military spending bill passed by Congress this week is an extraordinary provision for Australia, a nation that considers itself America's steadiest comrade in arms and just sent fresh troops into Iraq.

A passage near the end of the bill for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan creates a new class of visa just for Australians.

The provision will allow up to 10,500 Australians to move to the U.S. for professional employment every year. Their spouses and children can live and work in the United States too. And the visas can be renewed indefinitely, provisions more generous than those offered to most other foreign professionals.

The special new visa for Australians comes as the number of similar visas for professionals from the rest of the world remains stuck at 65,000 annually. The backlog for such visas is so vast that the annual cap was reached on the first day they were made available last fall.

Creation of the new Australian visa came as 450 additional Australian troops were arriving in Iraq, but a spokesman for the Australian Embassy in Washington said there was no quid pro quo.

The legislation passed Tuesday and was signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday. It will boost total spending for the Iraq war past $200 billion.

Australia's deployment was politically significant for the Bush administration, more than doubling the number of Australian troops in Iraq. It also follows decisions by several other nations to pull out of the U.S.-dominated force or draw down their numbers.

In fact, the Australian forces, which are providing security for Japanese reconstruction efforts in southern Iraq, are meant to replace 1,700 withdrawn by the Netherlands.

In a statement released when the deployment was announced earlier this year, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his country "has a track record second to none as a reliable ally of the United States."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) inserted the Australian visa provision into the spending bill just before the final version passed, apparently without any objection from the Bush administration.

Amy Call, a Frist spokeswoman, would not comment on whether it was tied to Australia's support in Iraq, but she did say her boss saw it as a natural continuation of a free-trade pact between the two nations, which took effect Jan. 1.

She compared it to deals given to Singapore and Chile, which also have free-trade agreements with the U.S. They secured provisions in their pacts entitling their citizens to dedicated shares of the U.S. visa pool.

But the Australian deal, which comes in separate legislation, is far better than anything secured by those two nations, a fact that had Australian officials privately crowing this week in Washington. Call said Thursday that the Australia provision is more generous "because it is a much bigger country than Singapore and Chile."

Matt Francis, the Australian Embassy spokesman in Washington, said it was "absolutely wrong to describe the new visa as `quid pro quo' for our role in Iraq." He said it was a natural outgrowth of the free-trade deal.

In a statement issued by his office, Mark Vaile, the Australian trade minister, said the deal "represents a quantum leap forward in the access that Australian professionals will have in the U.S."