Just five years ago, the Government relaxed the immigration conditions placed on wealthy investors. Already, however, it is being lobbied to ease the rules even further. A group called the Construction Development Alliance wants to see a new business migrant category to rectify what it sees as flaws in the two present classes, particularly the English language requirement. It claims to have received strong expressions of support from the Prime Minister, although a spokeswoman for John Key says this is a matter of interpretation. Either way, there is good reason for the Government to be wary about a further loosening of the rules.
Currently, New Zealand has an Investor Plus policy that allows migrants who invest $10 million in this country to get residency in three years. They do not require any English skills or business experience. Secondly, there is an Investor category that stipulates just a $1.5 million investment for four years but demands competence in English.
This means, says the alliance, that New Zealand is missing out on a large pool of investors - those who have access to between $1.5 million and $10 million but do not speak English. Its proposed third category would be similar to a scheme introduced in Australia in 2012 that requires the investment of just A$5 million without any language requirement.
Those who argue against the need for proficiency in English say it is an outdated concept. It disregards a modern world in which wealthy businessmen and women are global citizens running global enterprises. For the same reason, they say it is wrong to insist that a business migrant spends a set amount of time in New Zealand, even though in the case of the Investor Plus category, this amounts to just 44 days in each of the last two years of the three-year investment period.
There is something to be said for this view, especially given that in China and South Korea, the most prospective areas for investor migrants, most people do not speak English. Countering this, however, is the fact that an understanding of English is often cited as a major factor in successful settlement. Extended periods in this country can only aid that process.
In essence, New Zealand must decide how far it is prepared to sacrifice those ideals in pursuit of what the Construction Development Alliance reckons would be a $500 million-plus benefit to the economy annually. The answer to that involves, in part, how much New Zealand is losing if it adheres to its present policy. There is little to suggest it is a major deterrent.
This country continues to rank highly in China as a destination for those wealthy or skilled enough to be able to emigrate. The quality of life here and the education system are substantial drawcards. Any change would also have to ensure that the investments contribute to the New Zealand economy and are not, for example, concentrated on residential property.
It hardly helps the case of those seeking further relaxation that a key figure in their lobbying has been businessman Donghua Liu, who was granted citizenship against official advice. Subsequently, his ambitious $70 million project to rejuvenate a derelict site in Newmarket has stalled after the completion of the first stage. No longer is he the pin-up figure for the pluses that can be delivered by investor migrants.
Further, it should be remembered that he and other business migrants were the recipient of exemptions denied run-of-the-mill applicants. Enlarging that gap by creating even more exemptions is not something that should be done lightly. At the moment, there is little to suggest it is necessary.