Australia expands visa programme aimed at rich Chinese

Chinese tourists pose for a photo at Sydney harbour Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia's 'significant investor' visa programme has attracted many immigrants from China

The Australian government is introducing new immigration rules aimed at attracting wealthy immigrants.

Applicants who invest at least A$15m ($13m; £8.09m) will now be eligible for permanent residency after one year.

Since 2012 a fast-track to permanent residency has been open to those who commit at least A$5m ($4.6m; £2.8m) over four years - 90% of successful applicants have been Chinese.

Australia is looking for new sources of growth as its mining boom winds down.

"The government will reform the programme to encourage more high net-worth individuals to make Australia home," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a joint statement with the immigration and trade ministers.

According to Reuters, they said the new "premium investor visa" would "leverage and better direct additional foreign investment, while maintaining safeguards to ensure the migration programme is not misused".

Immigration department figures show that 436 "significant investor visas" were granted between November 24, 2012 - when the existing programme was launched - to the end of last month.

That figure compares with 1,746 "expressions of interest".

A total of A$2.18bn ($1.91bn: £1.36bn) was invested in Australia through the programme, with 88% of visa holders coming from China.

The new visa to be introduced on 1 July next year coincides with a crackdown on corruption in China that has targeted officials who transfer funds offshore.

Lawyers and agents have demanded the government clarify rules on source of the funding - a moot point for investors and one that has hurt the progress of visa approvals.

Tuesday's announcement makes no mention of that.

"There's a problem showing who the actual owner of the bank account is. It's very difficult to show for secrecy reasons or tax reasons," Rossana Gonzalez, immigration agent at Immigration Experts Australia, told Reuters.

Chinese investors have also recently been blamed for driving up Australian properly prices, forcing the government to set up an inquiry on affordable housing in the country.

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