Pathways to Australia for the world's wealthy

June 2017

The Significant Investor visa is only one way for the wealthy to obtain residency, writes Ben Hurley

It’s been four years since the Australian government introduced its Significant Investor visa program, and while rule changes have affected its popularity, wealthy migrants continue to show strong interest, across a number of pathways, in their desire to move to Australia.

Global market research group New World Wealth estimates 11,000 high-net-worth migrants settled in Australia in 2016 and business investor visa statistics were a major part of its research. This was up from 8000 in 2015.

The Significant Investor visa enables an applicant and his or her family to obtain permanent residency if they invest $5 million dollars into a complying investment framework “that benefits the nation”. And now the first tranche of migrants who took up the visa will soon qualify to apply for their permanent residency.

Though fewer people have applied for this visa since the government introduced a more rigid investment framework to the program in 2015, interest in Australia from wealthy migrants hasn’t changed.

What does appear to have changed is the mix of nationalities expressing interest in the visa, says ANZ Private head of international segment Grace Bacon. More recently, she has seen more interest from residents of non-Asian regions, including North America, Africa and Europe.

“What we recognised is that high-net-worth clients are coming to Australia under other visa classes as well, particularly when capital-flow restrictions from other countries may make it difficult for them to contribute the $5 million required for the Significant Investor visa,” Bacon says.

Beyond the Significant Investor visa

These visa classes consist of five streams – Business Innovation, Investor, Significant Investor, Premium Investor and Entrepreneur – which are all classed under the Australian government’s Business Innovation and Investment Program.

Each of the streams demand particular requirements from applicants, such as a certain value of net assets, business ownership or a certain amount of capital to invest. You can read more on the Department of Immigration’s website.

The purpose of the program, according to the government, is to increase entrepreneurial talent and diversify business expertise in the country.

The Significant Investor and Premium Investor visas require larger amounts of capital than other categories. But they offer the advantage that applicants only need to spend 40 days in Australia during each year of their four-year provisional visa in order to qualify for permanent residency. The other streams require two out of four years to be spent in Australia.

Significant Investor visa applicants can submit expressions of interest and need to be nominated by a state or territory government before they can proceed with their application.

There is still appetite

All up, 1778 preliminary Significant Investor visas have been granted since the program began in 2012. The lion’s share were granted before July 1, 2015, with only 155 issued after that date when new regulations barred investments in property and stipulated $2 million be invested in higher risk asset classes such as venture capital, small-cap and emerging companies.

In reviewing the visa settings, Australia’s policymakers argued investment requirements were too weak, drawing passive investments in government bonds and residential real-estate schemes that already attracted large capital flows. The visa’s revised investment requirements directed funds to areas more beneficial to Australia’s future, such as the commercialisation of Australian ideas, research and development.

Most Australian banks, and some financial institutions, have investment solutions that meet all of the Australian government’s requirements for Significant Investor applicants, and ANZ Private is no exception. Bacon says there is still appetite for the visa and expressions of interest continue to flow in despite the rule changes.

“There has been a slowdown from countries like China because people are still concerned that under the new scheme they have to invest in quite a rigid, complying investment program,” Bacon says. “In particular, the exposure to venture capital is what people are concerned about."

Under the spotlight

Applying for a Significant Investor visa can take up to nine months and applicants must be willing to disclose their business and personal backgrounds and provide detailed evidence supporting their application. The money applicants are required to invest cannot be borrowed, and applications are often rejected when authorities are not convinced the funds come from legitimate sources.

Australian authorities will request a range of personal information such as family structures and their asset base and applicants’ business dealings. And with the Common Reporting Standard operating from July 2017 as part of Australia’s participation in Automatic Exchange of Information regimes, it is expected that applicants will have to provide more information regarding their tax status from their country of origin. Given the complexity, many applicants find a licensed immigration agent to help them through the process.

Major Australian cities consistently rated among the most liveable cities around the world, and so the country and Australia’s Business Innovation Investment Program as a whole is showing no sign of waning in popularity among would-be immigrants.