Australia said that so far it has attracted 170 applicants to a new program to develop foreign investment by offering overseas millionaires the right of residency in return for a portion of their wealth, in a bid to help the country compete better against other nations for money and expertise from abroad.
The so-called significant investor visa was launched in November. If all those made so far are accepted, the applications, believed to be mostly from China, would translate into inbound investment of at least 850 million Australian dollars (US$877 million).
The program lets foreigners settle in Australia for up to four years, then seek permanent residency, in exchange for a minimum A$5 million invested during their stay. The money can be placed in federal or state bonds, managed funds, Australian companies, or in a combination of those assets.
The push by Australia to start attracting foreign investors by offering them residency comes as the country faces what Finance Minister Penny Wong terms a new reality, as a decade long mining boom evaporates amid a slowing global economy.
The country is also playing catch-up with others offering visas to the wealthy investors. Its neighbors New Zealand, offers visas to those willing to invest as little as 1.5 million New Zealand dollars (US$1.3 million. And the U.S., a magnet for Chinese investors, grants green cards to qualifying foreign nationals for investing as little as $500,000 in a qualified U.S. business that creates a minimum number of jobs, in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, more than $1.8 billion was raised by the U.S. this way and 7,641 foreign national were issued visas, 80% of them Chinese.
David Fuller's view Immigration is inevitably a controversial subject in any country, even those largely developed by immigrant populations from all over the world. Whatever the extent to which a country may stand to benefit from wealthy immigrants, their arrival can create understandable feelings of envy and resentment concerning the cost of living, not least in terms of property prices.
Australians and Americans will remember the concern in the late 1980s, when an influx of wealthy Japanese investors were buying up fashionable properties. Fortunately, wise observers pointed out that Japanese immigrants could not take the properties back to Japan. Similarly, Canadians will recall the fuss when wealthy Chinese from Hong Kong, concerned about their safety as Britain's lease on the small Asian Colony was expiring, moved temporarily into the Vancouver region. There are plenty of other examples, not least in London, where wealthy immigrants, particularly from Europe, have driven up property prices.
Personally, I would be far more worried about the quality of life in cities which were not only unable to attract wealthy immigrants, but were also experiencing an exodus of foreigners.