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Pacific visa won't rob nations of skills: minister

Pacific Minister Pat Conroy has defended his government's green card-style lottery that would grant permanent residency to thousands of Pacific islanders, saying it won't cause a brain drain in the region.

Under the policy, 3000 places a year would be offered under a new Pacific Engagement Visa to applicants aged between 18 and 45.

Successful migrants would be able to bring their family on the visa, if they have secured a job offer and passed health, character and basic English tests.

Visa ballots, which have been successful in New Zealand and the US, have been criticised by the coalition as having "serious flaws", claiming Pacific island nations were concerned the scheme would worsen skills shortages in their own countries.

Mr Conroy said the new visa was central to building people-to-people links with the Pacific, and enhanced Australia's relationships with the region.

He said the lottery was a method to avoid a brain drain, as people were selected at random and not based on skills.

"You guarantee that a high school graduate has as much chance of winning a visa as a cardiac surgeon," the minister told parliament.

"If you eliminate the ballot, you eliminate that randomness ... you in fact deliver a brain drain and you undermine our standing in the Pacific."

Mr Conroy said by opposing the visa, the coalition were "still not listening to Pacific priorities, and disrespecting the Pacific family".

During a debate on the legislation earlier this week, opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan said permanent residency and citizenship was too important to be decided by ballot and should be treated as nation building.