Immigration daze: 888 slow lane

James Riley
Editorial Director

New numbers released by the Department of Immigration show continued strong interest in the Significant Investor Visa program, which has now attracted more than 504 expressions of interest from potential recipients who have a minimum $5 million to invest in Australia.

But the figures also highlight lengthy processing times for the visas. Of 234 formal applications for visas lodged with the department between the start of the program in November last year and the end of May, just two visas have been granted.

And no new visas were granted in the two months between the end of March and the end of May – a period in which 64 additional formal applications for the so-called subclass 188 and subclass 888 visas were lodged with the department.

The Coalition has complained that the slow pace of approvals by the department is getting in the way of an important potential new source of capital and entrepreneurial know-how.

A spokesman for Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the Coalition had been a supportive of the Significant Investor Visa program through the Parliament – but had become increasingly concerned about processing times and flagged a possible review of processing procedures if the Coalition wins the federal election.

“In principle this is a good idea and in principle its a good program, but we’re getting a little concerned about the slow take-up of (the visas),” the spokesman said.

“If the Coalition gets into government, we would want to have a close look at why the processing is so slow, and why the approval rate seems so low.”

“That’s the issue we see. It is still at an early stage (since the SIV program was launched), but the months are moving along now and we would like to have seen more (progress).”

The SIV program enables pre-qualified investors who have a minimum of $5 million to invest in Australia access to working visas that have reduced English-language and residency requirements. After four years they could become permanent residents.

More than 90 per cent of applications for the visas are from China.

Although there are a range of rules around the kinds of investments that can be made under the scheme, the SIV program is considered an important potential new source of capital for Australian innovators.

The 335 visas currently in the pipeline – that is where a formal invitation has been sent to the potential investor, and a formal application received in reply, are worth more than $1.6 billion if they are all granted.

At the end of May, the Immigration Department said it has received 504 expressions of interest from potential investors who may apply for a visa. Of this number, 335 had been sent official letters of invitations to apply for the visa (compared to 276 at the end of March), and 234 formal applications had been lodged (compared to 170 at the end of March.)

Still just two visas have been granted, with none granted in the two months between the end of March and the end of May.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said the SIV program was new, and of course it would take time to streamline the operation processes that underpin it.

The lion’s share of invitations sent to potential investors still come from NSW and Victoria. Since the SIV scheme started, 144 invitations have been sent from NSW, 140 from Victoria, 32 from Queensland, 15 from Western Australia and four from South Australia.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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