Chinese snap up Australia 'significant investor' visas
90pc of applicants to Australian residency scheme for 'significant investors' launched just over a year ago are wealthy mainland nationals
Nine out of 10 applicants for an Australian immigration scheme aimed at wealthy investors are from the mainland and they have pumped a total of A$325 million (HK$2.2 billion) into their new country of residence in the first year since the launch of the plan.
Sixty-five "significant investor" visas have been granted to mainlanders and 91 per cent of the 545 applicants for the permits were Chinese nationals since the scheme began just over a year ago, according to figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
Paul Bernadou, a Hong Kong-based migration lawyer, said 90 per cent of his clients were mainlanders and Australia was their second choice after Hong Kong.
The requirements for an Australian significant investor visa are a A$5 million investment and clean criminal record, but there is a "momentous amount of paperwork", which was partly the reason for a slow start to the scheme, with three visas granted in the first six months, said Bernadou.
"Chinese people don't really worry about paperwork. They just want to do business and if in a few years they'd like to migrate, you often find the paperwork is missing," he said.
The Australian government launched the scheme in November 2012, which it expected would bring 700 rich new residents and A$3.5 billion a year in investment into government bonds and compliant funds.
The investment visa, known in Australian bureaucracy as subclass 188, can be converted to the permanent visa, subclass 888, after four years of residency. The codes are a clear indication of who the permits are aimed at. The number eight is associated with wealth and prosperity in Chinese culture.
There are no language requirements or upper age limit and applicants do not have to engage in business in Australia.
"It means that people who have got significant businesses in China don't have to worry about giving up their engagement," said Bill Fuggle, a partner at law firm Baker & McKenzie's Sydney office.
"That means you get a much broader range of people who are able to move to Australia, not just someone who wants to open a restaurant or an import-export business."
The first successful applicant in May last year was a 36-year-old toy manufacturer with a young family, who invested in Victoria state government bonds.
Fuggle said most visa hopefuls were self-made millionaires with interests in manufacturing or property. "My observation is that the applicants are very interested in Australia's strong education system, strong and stable economy, clean air and environment, reliable food chain and multicultural society," he said.
The country's weather, time zone and low crime rate were also attractions, he said.
Bernadou said mainlanders tended to move to Sydney and Melbourne and invest in government bonds until they could find something with higher returns.
John McGrath, the chief executive of the Sydney-based McGrath Estate Agents, said home prices in the city had risen 10 per cent, and by six per cent in Melbourne over the past 12 months, partly due to overseas Chinese buyers.
He said fears that young Australians would be priced out of the housing market were overblown. "Offshore buyers are generally focused on a few very distinct precincts and I don't think they're really pushing up Sydney prices across the board," McGrath said.
Critics have accused the government of offering residency for cash and think it unfair that thousands of poor Asian refugees arriving on boats have been locked up while rich Asians are welcomed with open arms.
One person posted a comment on an article about the visa scheme on an Australian business website saying: "The real crime of the boatpeople is to come without lots of money."