‘It’s a mess’: migration agents cry foul after Australia clarifies ‘golden visa’ scheme remains active
- Canberra says the business visa programme remains open despite widespread reports in the past weeks saying it had been ‘axed’
- Agents said the reports sparked ‘widespread panic’ among applicants, and called out the government over its lack of transparency and communication
Two weeks ago, local media reports said the visa – referring to the formally known Significant Investor Visa (SIV) that confers the right of abode to foreign nationals who can invest A$5 million (US$3.3 million) in the country over a period, had been closed.
According to the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA), the country’s main association for migration professionals, this effectively spread misinformation, causing “widespread panic” among visa holders, applicants and agents.
They said there was little direct information from the government, and the usual allocation of visa slots for the programme had been changed without warning.
While agents in Australia acknowledged that the SIV could be improved, they criticised the way local reports had insinuated that applicants could gain instant residency simply by having enough money.
In fact, applicants need to invest their money into stipulated investments for at least four years and fulfil conditions before being given residency, the MIA said.
“It is extremely concerning that the media would publish an article like this without checking the facts,” MIA chief executive Helen Duncan said last week, adding that it was an example of media sensationalism.
A representative from Australia’s home affairs department told This Week in Asia the Business Innovation and Investment Programme (BIIP), which included the SIV, had not been closed.
But as the government was considering the design of a new Talent and Innovation visa to replace the BIIP, in line with the administration’s new migration strategy, the department had not provided allocations for new visa applications.
“The department continues to process all valid BIIP visa applications currently on-hand, in line with annual allocations made under the Migration Programme planning levels and in line with processing priorities,” she said.
The SIV was subject to ministerial directions, which currently prioritise skilled visa programmes that address workforce shortages.
This is also in line with Australia’s changing migration strategy. The new strategy plan, unveiled last December, would prioritise skilled workers and redraft the BIPP, which was “delivering poor economic outcomes for Australia”.
The new strategy acknowledged that the goal of finding “innovative investments and entrepreneurship in sectors of national importance” under the current BIIP had been “poorly realised under existing settings”.
The current confusion has forced some applicants, including those with innovative start-ups or research plans, to look to other countries, according to investment and migration lawyer Bruce Chen, founder of blackCAPstone Lawyers.
“Those preparing to apply, and those already in the application process, face psychological stress and uncertainty due to policy changes. This situation can significantly affect their long-term plans and aspirations,” Chen said.
Jeff, a Sydney agent who only wanted to be identified by his first name, said it was “impossible” to advise clients given the lack of information or clarity around policies.
“It’s a mess,” he said. “It’s been awkward for two financial years now.
“Some people want to commercialise their innovative ideas and these days, you know, things change very quickly. An innovative idea now is no longer innovative after two years … so I have to advise some clients to go to Canada or somewhere else.”
Jeff said it was likely politics had affected the programme, and it had been the target of lobbying.
The Australian Productivity Commission had advised the government to abolish golden visas because the money from those migrants would only benefit fund managers and the visas were prone to fraud.
Think tanks like the Grattan Institute said many significant visa holders were rich migrants who tend to be older, speak little English, and earn lower incomes.
Chen said the significant investor visa and the wider BIIP programme were misunderstood by the public and even policymakers.
The SIV is one of four options under Australia’s current business visa programme. It makes up about 1 per cent of total migration visa numbers, according to the MIA.
The rest of the BIIP seeks to attract innovators and those who want to start new ventures in Australia.
“We should not focus solely on the SIV while overlooking the impact of the BIIP … which has established numerous small businesses in Australia. These small businesses are essential for Australia,” Chen said.
But he agreed that many applicants and migrants had targeted loopholes in the visa programme and said the government should step up in addressing these rather than “blocking immigration pathways”.
One of the loopholes within the wider BIIP is the exploitation of the requirement that holders set up or run a business for at least two years to qualify for its business innovation visa, according to advisory firm Precision Migration’s business migration specialist Jessica Meng.
“To meet the requirements for permanent residency, the applicant needs to demonstrate that the business is successful and ongoing, however some applicants will fund a poorly performing business to obtain permanent residency and close the business down,” she said.
“The programme fails as it has not generated the number of successful small businesses as it intended over the long term.”