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Chinese Millionaires Stuck in Limbo Amid Australian Visas Rejig

The ‘Golden Visa’ scheme has been a disappointment for wealthy Chinese who hoped to find a new life Down Under, as the well as the Australian government, which is set to change it

Chinese migrants protest in Sydney on Friday against Australia's policy shift on an investment visa scheme, which they say has left their lives in limbo (Reuters).


Chinese migrants protested in Sydney on Friday over long delays in a visa investment scheme that drew them to Australia.

The ‘Golden Visa’ scheme has been a disappointment for some Chinese citizens who invested money and participated in the scheme that was first set up in 2012.

Paul Wang left his home in Beijing in 2018 to start a new life Down Under, after investing A$1 million ($680,000) in a food processing business in the hopes of qualifying for permanent residency under the investment visa scheme.

Five years on, his hopes for his family of three remain on hold as the government has put the controversial “Golden Visa” programme on the back burner, causing processing times to blow out, leaving wealthy migrants like Wang in limbo.

“We were not expecting it would take this long,” Wang, 44, said. “And our life is a mess because of that. We simply cannot plan ahead with all of the uncertainty.”


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Similar schemes scrapped in other countries

When Australia introduced the Business Innovation and Investment Programme (BIIP) in 2012, the hope was that wealthy business owners, investors and entrepreneurs would boost the economy by bringing in capital and driving innovation.

The results, though, have been underwhelming.

A government review published in March found BIIP migrants contributed less to the economy than the average Australian, as the cohort, despite their wealth, tended to be older and earned lower incomes through capital returns on passive investments.

The review estimated the lifetime economic contribution of BIIP holders at A$600,000, less than half the $1.6 million of Australians.

After coming to power 13 months ago, Australia’s Labor government shifted priority to easing shortages of critical skilled workers. Partly as a result, most BIIP permanent visas are taking nearly three years to process, up from a previous average around 12 months, and in addition to an investment cycle of four to five years.

Wang has been waiting 21 months.

Similar investment visa schemes have been scrapped in Canada, Britain and Singapore as governments conclude they do not create jobs and could be a means to park speculative money.


Visa backlog from Covid pandemic

Every category of Australian visas experienced a backlog during Covid-19. As the pandemic has eased, the government has cut processing times overall, but the wait for more than 3,000 BIIP holders and their families – many Chinese – has only lengthened.

About 50 more BIIP holders, mostly Chinese, held a rally on Friday outside of Australian Broadcasting Corp office in Sydney, a rarity as Chinese migrants largely avoid public dissent. They demanded the government speed up their permanent residency applications.

Asked about the visa delays, the Department of Home Affairs said in an emailed statement the government would process all visas in line with priority and planning levels, declining to comment on the complaints from BIIP holders.


Scheme to be downsized

It said a new migration strategy would be released later this year, which would include “radically reshaping” the BIIP programme.

The delays have raised concern that the government might scrap the BIIP programme, said Tony Le Nevez, managing director at residence and citizenship planners Henley & Partners Australia, whose clients have invested at least A$5 million each in the country.

“I just don’t think the investor programme is on their radar at the moment – they might overhaul it down the track. In the meantime, I think they might just keep a small window open.”

The government plans to shrink its BIIP allocation from 5,000 visas last financial year to 1,900 this year – less than 20% of the level of earlier years.

BIIP holders say they are curtailing business investment given the uncertainty, postponing life decisions and in some cases selling properties in Australia.

Some say they must hold on to loss-making businesses to keep their visa prospects alive, missing out on investments with greater returns.

“The forever wait means that even if I’m running my business at a loss, I cannot just close shop and move on,” said Tan, a Chinese investor who owns a furniture shop in Melbourne and asked to be identified only by his surname due to privacy concerns. He has been waiting for 33 months.

Wang, who gave up on plans last year to buy more land for his factory because of the uncertainty of his visa status, said he was prepared to offload his assets in Australia and move to the United States for his daughter’s education next year.

“I know a lot of people won’t sympathise with us – we’re a small group of people,” Wang said. “But we’re not being treated fairly.”


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard


NOTE: A link on the Golden Visa scheme was added to this report on November 2, 2023.




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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