Mainland Chinese line up for Australia's 'millionaire visa'

Chinese immigration into Australia now represents the third largest group after migrants from the UK and New Zealand.

Story highlights

  • Chinese are the biggest group to apply for Australia's 'millionaire visa'
  • High wealth individuals must invest $A5 million in Australia to get a visa
  • Those investing for more than four years are eligible for permanent residency
  • Chinese are the third largest immigrant group in Australia after the UK and NZ

There's little doubt which country Australia is targeting under its immigration scheme for the super-wealthy; the investment visa is called sub-class 188 and its permanent visa is called sub-class 888.

In China, the number eight is culturally associated with wealth, prosperity and good fortune and rich Chinese nationals have been queuing up for the opportunity to live in Australia under the millionaire visa program.

Since the scheme was launched in November 2012, 91% of the 545 applicants for the visas have been Chinese nationals, according to figures from the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

So far, Australia has granted 65 'significant investor' visas to mainland Chinese.

The requirements for getting one of the highly prized visas are simple: all you need is a clean criminal record and $A5 million ($US4.37 million) to invest. There is no language requirement, upper age limit and applicants do not even have to set up a business in Australia.

Those able to park their A$5 million investment in Australia -- complying investments include government bonds, managed funds and Australian proprietary companies - for more than four years can apply for a permanent visa.

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Under the scheme, visa holders can keep their operations running in China if they wish. It's hoped that the move will attract a greater range of immigrants to Australia.

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Deloitte partner and global immigration leader Mark Wright told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the days of Chinese investors coming to Australia simply to start a corner store or a small business were over.

"Australia is now looking to attract a larger scale of investment to feed a greater level of infrastructure development," Wright said.

According to a report by professional services company KPMG, the patterns of Chinese investment are beginning to change, with more private Chinese investors expanding their interests in the country.

The report said that while Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) accounted for 64% by value of the amount invested in Australian agriculture between 2006-2012, Chinese private investment accounted for 70% of the deal volume.

"Chinese companies are playing a more active role compared to other sectors such as mining and gas, where SOEs have dominated," the report said.

According to immigration specialists in Hong Kong, Sydney and Melbourne -- where property prices have risen 10% and 6% respectively over the past 12 months -- are the preferred destinations for mainland Chinese immigrants.

The chief executive officer of McGrath Estate Agents, John McGrath, said that Chinese buyers had boosted prices in certain sectors of the Australian property market.

"In some suburbs 90 per cent of new product will sell to Chinese buyers," he told the ABC. "I think it is quite centralised in certain pockets, so I don't think it is doing great damage or harming local buyers' opportunities to buy here still."

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of Australian immigrants born in Asia increased from 24% in 2001 to 33% in 2011.

Around 6% of immigrants born overseas came from China -- the third largest group in Australia. While this group, along with Indians, represented one of the fastest growing groups, it was still a long way behind immigration from the United Kingdom, at 20%, and New Zealand at 9.1%.

Immigration has been a politically charged and emotive subject in Australia, where the conservative Liberal Party won election last year partly on a platform of promising tougher policing of the country's immigration laws. Australia turns away thousands of refugees and asylum seekers but at the same time is suffering a skills and manpower shortage for manual jobs.