Skilled Immigrants and Investors Welcome in Australia

October 14, 2014

The Australian government has decided to relax the visa restrictions it currently imposes for skilled immigrants. In an effort to make the country more competitive on the world stage, the decision has been made to attract more skilled migrants, especially those with highly specialised skills, as well as some separate measures for investors. In a reverse of some of the immigration policies put forward by the current Australian administration, the country has been put on a footing of welcoming overseas migrants, so long as the individuals concerned fulfil certain criteria.

The move came in a joint statement made in October made by the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, along with two other ministers - Andrew Robb, who is responsible for Trade, and Scott Morrison, who covers Immigration and Border Protection. The three men announced several measures that are designed to make it easier for businesses in the country to employ skilled migrants. A temporary work visa for skilled workers, known as the 457 visa, will allow migrants to come to Australia under more relaxed criteria and work for up to four years. “The 457 programme can be only utilised to fill genuine skills gaps in the local labour market,” the statement read, “while not placing unnecessary paperwork burdens on companies.”

Announced on the same day, the Australian authorities also said that they were taking steps with another visa programme for investors. These measures are widely seen in the country as an attempt to lure investment from wealthy people within Asia, principally China. Under the scheme, there will be a certain amount of fast-tracking approvals for visas as well as the expansion of investment avenues. This follows some complaints that the disclosure requirements demanded of visa applicants under the current regime were too strict. As well as streamlining the current investment-based visa system, the government intends to promote the programme much more widely across the globe whilst strengthening what it referred to as, “integrity measures”.

Under the current Significant Investor Visa (SIV) scheme, which has been running for about two years, residency is offered to individuals from overseas who invest more than about the equivalent of £2.75 million in Australia. When launched, the government hoped that the programme would eventually rise in excess of the equivalent of £3 billion in foreign exchange earnings per year. It may come as no surprise, therefore, to note that the government would like to make the SIV scheme more attractive to Chinese applicants, who are sometimes put off by the disclosure requirements. This is especially so, considering that over 90 per cent of applicants since 2012 - when the scheme was introduced - originated in China.

According to official figures, by the end of September 2014, only 436 SIV scheme visas had been approved since it began. This compares with nearly 2,000 so-called “expressions of interest”, according to statistics published by the Immigration Department. This means that the dropout rate among those who might view Australia as a potential place to move and invest is high. “We are competing with the rest of the globe for migrant capital,” said Berrick Wilson, a partner with Korda-Mentha, a company that offers advice and complying funds for potential SIV investors. Wilson welcomed the government’s attempt to ease the bureaucracy that is putting off so many wealthy would-be migrants. “It is a positive sign to see the government noting its intention in this area to both streamline and speed up SIV processes,” he added.

Along with the alterations to the SIV programme, an entirely new visa system will be delivered in the next financial year. The Australian government will introduce the Premium Investor Visa, or PIV, which will afford an even a faster 12-month pathway to permanent residency in the country. Under PIV, residency could be granted for individuals after just one year if they make eligible investments to the equivalent value of about £8.25 million in the country. According to the Prime Minister’s office, the changes to the SIV system and the introduction of the PIV programme are aimed to encourage the flow of “high net worth individuals to make Australia their home.”

The Prime Minister went on to highlight the benefits for the Australian economy of improving the 457 visa programme for skilled workers. Stating that the application process for the temporary visa scheme would not just be streamlined, he said that the existing English language test would also be relaxed. “We would like it to be less burdensome for the firms that are using the visa system,” Mr Abbot told the press in Canberra. “We want these measures to be a way of assisting with business growth,” he added.

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