While Australia tries to steer boats crammed with immigrants away from its shores, it is beckoning wealthy foreigners with a new visa that smooths the path to Australian residency — for a price. Under a new visa program that goes into effect Sunday, skilled migrants don’t have to pass the usual tests that rate their skills, experience and English ability. The age limit is out the window. But there’s something extra that would-be Australians need to do to be eligible: Invest more than $5.2 million in Australia.
Migration agents are reportedly calling it “the golden visa.” Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has plugged the program as a way to boost the Australian economy and compete for “high net-worth individuals.” Investors can plunk their money into government bonds, managed funds that invest in Australian assets, or Australian companies that meet specific standards and aren’t listed on the stock exchange. It was no coincidence that the visa category number is 888 — an especially lucky number for the Chinese, immigration attorney Michael Sing told the Sydney Morning Herald. Wealthy Chinese have flocked to other countries to enjoy a better quality of life, from cleaner air to less corruption. "We think this visa is aimed squarely at the emerging wealth in China," Sing told the paper.
The idea has received some blowback from critics who say Australia has put residency up for sale. It stands in stark contrast to Australia trying to push other immigrants away. People who arrive on rickety boats are detained on the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea while their cases are processed. Bleak and cramped conditions on Nauru, where detained immigrants could wait as long as five years, amount to “a human rights catastrophe,” Amnesty International said Friday. Australians “like the idea of well-dressed refugees arriving on a plane,” RMIT University lecturer Binoy Kampmark told The Times this year as the Nauru plan was debated. “They do not like the idea of being besieged by the sea." Though the hefty financial investment needed for the new Australian visa is striking, other countries, including the United States and Britain, have similar programs to lure wealthy emigres from abroad. Applications for the U.S. program have skyrocketed, The Times reported last year.