Debate over value of investor visa schemes

Australia's influx of foreign millionaires in recent years has been boosted by its "golden visa", which allows people investing A$5 million (S$5.4 million) or more to claim residency.

Since the visas were introduced in November 2012, 1,690 have been granted, equating to A$8.45 billion of investment, according to Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The bulk of recipients - about 88 per cent - have been from mainland China, with 3 per cent from Hong Kong, 2 per cent from Malaysia, 1 per cent each from South Africa and Vietnam, and the remainder from around the globe.

As part of the effort to attract foreign wealth, the government last year started rolling out an additional scheme, called the Premium Investor Visa.

"Highly talented and entrepreneurial individuals" can apply for the visa at the invitation of the federal government, with no unsolicited applications entertained.

Recipients are required to invest A$15 million for at least a year.

The premium visas are being overseen by Austrade, a federal agency which promotes trade and investment.

Austrade said last September it was "engaging with offshore offices and international networks to identify talented individuals who would be able to make an enduring economic contribution to Australia".

But these investor visa schemes have been controversial, with critics saying they have fuelled the property market and potentially allowed corrupt Chinese millionaires to launder money.

The federal government's Productivity Commission in November 2015 recommended ending the scheme, saying it did little to boost the economy.

It said the lack of English-language requirements and upper-age limits meant these visa-holders "will generate less favourable impacts than other immigrants".

But the federal government last year defended the visas, saying they allowed "families of high net worth individuals to anchor themselves in Australia, and to pass on generational wealth and expertise".

Jonathan Pearlman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Debate over value of investor visa schemes'. Print Edition | Subscribe