Prime Minister John Key showed "strong expressions of support" for relaxing business immigration rules for wealthy investors, says a construction lobby group which includes a wealthy businessman granted citizenship after support from a Government minister.
Mr Key said he had met Donghua Liu at Auckland functions, and he recalled the property developer saying he could invest more in New Zealand if immigration criteria were relaxed.
"The Prime Minister made no commitments and no policy has been adjusted as a result of these representations," said a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister.
But the Immigration Minister was considering a possible policy change.
Mr Key also opened the $3.5 million refurbishment of the Boulevard Hotel with Mr Liu and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson in time for the Rugby World Cup as the first stage of an ambitious $70 million project to rejuvenate the derelict site in Newmarket.
But three years later, the project has made no progress.
The Weekend Herald revealed Liu — who was granted New Zealand citizenship against official advice after support from Mr Williamson — hired professional consultants to lobby the Government to lower the $10 million threshold that non-English speaking migrants needed to invest to qualify as business migrants.
A letter from the Construction Development Alliance to the Prime Minister dated February 2012 said the group looked "forward to building on the engagement that one of our members, Mr Donghua Liu of the Alpers Ave Redevelopment Group, had with the Prime Minister on this issue last year, in order to achieve a successful outcome in the near future".
A letter in April from the lobby group to Nathan Guy, the Immigration Minister at the time, outlined the problems it saw with the business migrant scheme, in particular the English language requirement.
"The language requirement makes New Zealand an outlier among developed countries and means that a large pool of investors — those that have access to between $1.5 million and $10 million, but that do not speak English — is excluded," wrote Leigh Hopper, chief executive of Hopper Developments.
"We were therefore heartened by your suggestion of a possible third category within the business migrant scheme, where the investment threshold would be set at a suitable mid-way point between the current Investor and Investor Plus categories and where the English language requirement would be revised."
Mr Hopper told Mr Guy: "We have received strong expressions of support for this approach from the Prime Minister."
Mr Key's spokeswoman said interest groups could "interpret the Prime Minister's interest in a conversation as having shown support for an idea, but that is a matter of interpretation".