Asia-PacificOpinion

Schrödinger’s Immigration Paradox: Why Media Reports the Australian Investor Visas as Alive and Dead at The Same Time

James Alan Hall
Singapore


For everyone following the saga – or, more precisely, the absence – of the Australian Business Innovation and Investor Program (BIIP), we have another confounding media report this week, this time from the South China Morning Post titled “‘It’s a mess’: migration agents cry foul after Australia clarifies ‘golden visa’ scheme remains active”.

The story presented a better assessment of the situation overall compared to the article from The Australian on 22 January – “‘Golden visas’ axed” – that kicked off the recent media blitz.

The two articles claim opposing realities, and we feel like we’re facing a quantum flux associated with Schrödinger’s famous cat. In our reality, however, the program is either open or closed; we can’t balance two opposing realities in this situation.

With all this misinformation, how can you trust this article? Aside from my industry experience and credentials, I’m not politically aligned and have a track record of reporting correctly, so let me help clear up some of the confusion:

The Australian article of last month was rife with errors and likely had a politically colored interpretation, given the paper’s historical alignment with the federal opposition party. Despite this, the South China Morning Post’s article, while certainly more accurate and superior in quality, has also left readers confused and suggested a situation that doesn’t reflect reality.

The current government has been vocal in its ideological disdain for the program

To clear this up, we’ll start with a quick history tour:

The current Labor government introduced the BIIP in 2012, just before they lost the 2013 election to the Liberal Party, who maintained the program until 2022 when Labor returned to power. Despite this, the current Labor government has made no secret of its disdain for the program, frequently criticizing it in the media.

We saw one example of this in September 2022, when Immigration Minister Clare O’Neil, referring to the Significant Investor visa, stated, “I can’t see a lot of reasons to maintain it as a part of our program,” and “I think most Australians would be pretty offended by the idea that we’ve got a visa category here where effectively you can buy your way into the country”.

Further comments at the time indicated the minister did not believe the program was useful and resulted in a negative economic impact on Australia. While these statements hint at confusion between the various streams – studies have indicated the SIV is economically beneficial while the Business Innovation (business owner) stream is not – the minister has lumped these together and criticized the overall program.

In a September 2022 article here in IMI, I predicted that the government would take steps to remove the prioritization of the Significant Investor Visa (SIV) substream of the BIIP. Just over a month later, on October 28th, 2022, the government made this change, in the exact manner I predicted, under Ministerial Direction No. 100, removing the priority of the stream.

The program is highly politicized

Back to the article in The Australian on January 22nd, 2024, which was the first to report that the BIIP had been “axed”:

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This piece of reporting was likely politically motivated. The Labor government, currently in power, is traditionally the workers’ (and union) party, so any visa category that appears to benefit the rich wouldn’t appeal to their voting base and would make an easy target. Hence the quote from the minister suggesting Australians would be offended by a way to “buy your way into the country.” 

Note that the previous Liberal government was partial to this program; they increased the places to 13,500 during the COVID period (from 6,862 places in 2019). Criticisms of the program are, therefore, easily conflated with criticism of the previous Liberal government.

To throw a potential spanner in the works, the next federal election must occur before September 2025. If the Liberal government returns to power, it is quite possible the BIIP will be reinstated once again.

Is the program open or closed?

History now leads us to the present situation. Is the program closed or open?

The program is unquestionably closed to new applications, so the program could not, in any practical sense, be considered open. No places are awarded to the states and territories for new applications, which is the entry point for new applications.

Even before the current program year, when the Labor government took power in 2022, they reduced the available places by about 70% in the 2022/2023 fiscal year. Now, they have closed it to new applications altogether for the 2023/2024 year.

The government has described the current system as “broken,” and it makes no sense at all to continue to grow the existing broken system in size by introducing new applications. While it is closed to new applications, the program is active. The visa pathways are still part of legislation, and processing is ongoing (though at a slower pace), and grants are still being issued (occasionally).

There is no definitive statement that says the program is closed to new applications, but all of the evidence points to this. To say otherwise would be preposterous.

Another indication of the lack of interest in the program is that the planning level is now 1,900 places a year. This means only 1,900 visa grants can be made each year. The current queue size is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 applications, and, at this approval rate, it would take 7-10 years to finalize applications at the end of the queue.

These are very general estimations, but the point is there clearly isn’t interest in processing these applications, let alone bringing in new ones, when the government has already stated the majority of these have a net negative economic impact on Australia.

The media and industry don’t seem to have understood this processing impact, or perhaps they are dreaming that the government will have a change of heart and expedite these for some reason.

For now, we continue to support clients with applications in the process queue while waiting for both the media and the immigration department to improve their communications. 

James Hall is a Registered Migration Agent with registration number 0428740 (Australia)

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Christian Henrik Nesheim AdministratorKeymaster

Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.

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