Immigration changes could deter investors - lawyer

10:33 am on 5 January 2017

An immigration lawyer says investors could be deterred from settling in New Zealand because of rule changes about how much cash they need and what they can do with it.

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The investor visa, which allows people to settle in New Zealand if they have invested a certain amount, will have the required investment amount doubled from $1.5 million over four years to $3 million, under changes being introduced in May.

Other requirements include having spent at least 146 days of each year over three of the investment years in New Zealand, three years business experience, being under 65 years old and the whole family being fluent in English.

Higher levels of business experience and English language skills would attract more points for these 'Investor 2' migrants, who would also no longer have to hold $1 million in settlement funds.

The Investor Plus, or 'Investor 1 Category', migrants would still need $10m invested over three years.

Announcing the changes last month, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said they were aimed at encouraging investors to invest in growth and deliver greater economic benefits for New Zealand.

Bonus points, priority processing and a financial discount would be available for those focusing on growth-oriented investments.

Migrant Investor categories had brought in $2.9 billion since they were launched in July 2009 and a further $2.1 billion in funds committed, Mr Woodhouse said.

"However, around two thirds of investment is currently placed in bonds and the government believes there is an opportunity to rebalance this towards growth-oriented investments.

Michael Woodhouse at the Bridge run.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"That is why we are making changes to increase the amount and performance of investment while better recognising the non-financial contribution of migrant investors."

The government also increased the cap on the number of investor visas from 300 to 400 a year.

However, Aaron Martin from New Zealand Immigration Law said he was not sure they would get the uptake from investors.

He said the doubling of the investment funds was largely offset by the removal of settlement funds, but the new focus on growth could put off the more conservative business people who were looking to retire.

"People who are trying to come through are usually at a stage when they want to wind down from being entrepreneurs," said Mr Martin.

"They've built up a nest egg which they are probably going to use for retirement purposes in New Zealand.

"They are wanting to protect that asset. That is why they have usually chosen conservative investments such as government bonds because they want to preserve their asset base."

He said many foreign investors were unfamiliar with the New Zealand market and were risk averse.

There were other problems with other changes to immigration, he said, including a higher points threshold for skilled migrants.

"There's also a group of people who were able to apply when they were offshore, and a good example would be IT specialists, who now may not be in a position to meet that 160-point score threshold so their capacity to come to New Zealand and address the skill shortage we have in that area is compromised."

About 20,000 immigrants could have had their plans 'scuttled' by the changes, he said, and Auckland businesses were also being disadvantaged because bonus points were being offered for working elsewhere.

"For example, I've had a case where he's an engineer, has a job offer from an Auckland employer, has been working in New Zealand from the UK and in his late 40s but now does not get enough points unless he is able to get a transfer of his job to their Christchurch division.

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