A money transfer system that has raised fears of money-laundering overseas is being considered by Immigration New Zealand as an acceptable means for wealthy Chinese applicants to bring cash to New Zealand.
The agency is assessing whether to accept funds that have been transferred via the China UnionPay debit card by investor migrant applicants, says Immigration NZ area manager Michael Carley.
A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the minister was watching developments of the process "with interest".
An internal research report in 2008 by the People's Bank of China identified UnionPay cards as one of the main tools that corrupt individuals used to facilitate cross-border transfer of funds.
A separate report that year also estimated that 16,000 to 18,000 Communist Party officials and other individuals had "disappeared" from China taking about 800 billion yuan ($173 billion) with them.
Taiwanese authorities last year reportedly found abnormal UnionPay transactions and proposed a cross-strait information exchange to prevent illegal money-laundering,according to CNA news agency.
Under current New Zealand immigration rules, applicants under the Investor and Investor Plus categories must transfer funds using the banking system.
However, Chinese applicants say strict foreign exchange rules in China prevent them from using banks as a means for money transfer.
"Immigration NZ is still assessing whether it would be acceptable for funds to be transferred via a UnionPay debit card, but [we] recognise that China UnionPay is the major electronic payment card used by Chinese nationals," said Mr Carley.
"Immigration NZ has already signed an agreement with the company to make the visa process easier for temporary migrants."
From next month, holders of Platinum and Diamond UnionPay credit cards would be able to provide evidence of their premium card status in lieu of employment and funds documentation.
"Any decision to endorse UnionPay debit cards ... would not open the floodgates as there is a cap of 300 applications to be approved annually under the Investor category," Mr Carley said.
June Ranson, chairwoman of the NZ Association of Migration and Investment, said the association opposed the proposal as the system had the potential for use in money-laundering.
"The important part of transferring funds is that it needs to have an audit trail as to how the funds had been earned legally," Ms Ranson said.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said making it easier for Chinese to move substantial amounts of money to New Zealand was a risky move.