Overseas investors will effectively be able to buy permanent residency under the investor immigration programme approved by the Executive Council yesterday. Starting in July, applications will be accepted from people willing to spend $6.5 million on real estate or financial assets such as stocks or bonds. In return, they and their families will be granted right of abode status if they live in Hong Kong for seven years. Those who do not remain for the required length of time will still be granted unconditional stay if they are willing to keep their investments in Hong Kong. The long-foreshadowed scheme is part of the government's attempt to give the slumping economy a boost. 'When people in these economic classes are in Hong Kong they will promote local spending,' Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said at a briefing. Under the programme, foreigners and people from Macau and Taiwan will be eligible as will stateless people and Chinese with permanent residency in another country. But mainland residents will not be allowed to apply because of controls the mainland has on the movement of currency and its people. Applicants must spend at least $6.5 million on property or financial assets. The property can be commercial, industrial or residential, and can be in the form of land or an unfinished development. Financial investments can take the form of stocks, bonds, unit trusts, mutual funds or deposit certificates. There are several strings attached though. Applicants will be able to switch their money between eligible investments so long as they report it to the Immigration Department. They cannot take out any of their $6.5 million investment before the seven years is up. Investors will also not be allowed to take away any capital gains over that time. The flipside, though, is they will not be required to 'top up' the amount if their investment performs poorly and its value falls below $6.5 million. Investors can keep recurring income such as rent or interest. Mrs Ip said Taiwanese, Americans, Britons, Indians and Japanese, including some who were already in Hong Kong managing businesses, would be prime candidates for the programme. 'We believe people from these countries would be attracted to the scheme,' she said. In addition, 'I'm sure we could attract people from South Asia and Southeast Asia'. In addition to people from the mainland, Mrs Ip said people from countries that posed a security threat would also be ineligible, although she did not give any specific examples. The government would also try to ensure the programme was not used by criminals to move money. 'If we view the investment capital as a source of money laundering, we will not permit it,' she said. Mrs Ip sought to calm fears that people involved with controversial groups such as the Falun Gong would be prevented from applying. 'We will not target any person's religion,' she said. The secretary for security said she did not want to predict how much money would be raised. 'I think it will depend on market forces and the world economic situation,' she said.