Wealthy Chinese visitors are being told they cannot travel here with their bodyguards, who have become the latest status symbol for China's rich.

A Beijing property developer cancelled a family holiday after Immigration told him that he needed to apply for work visas for the three bodyguards he wanted to accompany him.

"This is going to affect the number of Chinese big-spenders coming to New Zealand, because many wouldn't leave home without their bodyguards," said the developer, who wanted to be known only as Mr Zhang.

There are now more than 3.5 million people employed as bodyguards, and 3000 security companies on the Chinese mainland, according to Chinese Security Association statistics.


Many former police and army officials become bodyguards because top staff can command an annual salary of about 800,000 yuan (NZ$152,730).

"New Zealand's immigration department must understand that many Chinese families now have maids, but to those who can afford it, we employ bodyguards, who also doubles up as my personal assistant and our family helper," said Mr Zhang. Immigration's request that he provided a job offer in New Zealand and showed proof of qualification and experience of his bodyguards for a two-week trip was "downright ridiculous".

Head of Immigration Nigel Bickle said even personal bodyguards would need a work visa.

"They would come under the immigration instructions for specific purpose or event, and the applicant would have to meet all immigration requirements, including health and character," he said. "A bodyguard would be considered to be employed in New Zealand, hence the need for a work visa."

Mr Bickle said under visa entry rules, any activity undertaken for gain or reward was deemed to be a form of employment. The only exceptions would be bodyguards for diplomatic missions or for guests of the Government.

Ming Tiang, an immigration adviser specialising in the China market, said New Zealand was a popular destination for wealthy Chinese looking for investment opportunities in real estate and dairy farms.

"Travelling with a security guard for them is more for status than out of necessity," Mr Tiang said. "We need to remind them that New Zealand is a safe country ... and make them understand that getting a visa to come here is a privilege and not a right."