So what’s so special about Australia? The white sandy beaches, the blue skies and warm days, the vast stretches of untouched land ... the clichés go on. What you don’t hear much about is the steady growth figures, the favourable investment and business environment, the stability of the economy, and ... here also the list really does go on. Australia is prosperous.
Australia, like most developed nations, is looking for investment dollars and its immigration offering for high-net-worth individuals seeking to settle with their families and business interests away from home is reflective of this.
Australia first launched a ‘Significant Investor Visa’ (SIV) program in 2012. This is a visa category that allows immigrants to settle in Australia if they invest $A5m in Complying Significant Investments, held continuously over a four-year period. At the end of that four-year period, assuming the $A5m remained invested in Complying Significant Investments for that entire period, the visa holder and family are eligible for permanent residence in Australia. Permanent residency in Australia under the SIV program entitles you and your family to remain in Australia indefinitely, work and study in Australia without any restrictions, travel to and from Australia as often as you wish, and once eligible apply for Australian citizenship.
Prior to 2015, the mix of Complying Significant investments was heavily geared towards government bonds offered by State and Territory governments – a safe reliable investment, but one with very little return. From 2015 government policy altered the mix with a focus on emerging companies and a move away from bonds.
The reality of this change is greater opportunity for would-be visa holders. Returns may be greater, with some very good options available involving a mix of private equity in late-stage startups, emerging companies and balanced investments including real estate.
In considering investor visas, whether for Australia or elsewhere, here are some things to watch for:
- Longevity and timing of SIV immigration programsImmigration laws are subject to change at the whim of politicians. Be aware upfront what the visa processing period is and how long the visa program has been in effect. How supported is it by the nation’s government or is it likely to disappear and threaten your chance at permanent residency? Recent experiences in the United States are indicative of this, with applicants being forced to wait years for processing due to the hardening nature of immigration political winds. Australia’s SIV program is now reaching an age of maturity. Despite there having been changes to the rules in 2015, the use of sensible grandfathering provisions means early provisional SIV holders who were subject to the change mid-way through the life of their visa are nevertheless being granted permanent residency.
- Tax residencyVisa conditions will require the visa holder to spend a minimum number of days in that country each year for the life of the provisional visa. Generally speaking, the greater the residency requirements, the more likely you will be subject to that country’s tax laws. When compared to other nations, the Australian SIV program has a very low residency requirement (40 days per year for the primary visa holder).
- Investment flexibilitySIV programs contain a fine-grain level of rules and regulations which fund managers must comply with strictly (for example, market capitalisation ceilings). Be sure that the investments you make are responsive to changes in these rules and that fund managers do not place you in breach of your visa conditions and threaten your pathway to permanent residency.
- Make an investment choice, not just a visa choiceThere is no reason why your $A5m investment should not yield a return comparable to any other investment you would make without an intended visa outcome.
- Beware of SIV bespoke productsThis is not a blanket rule. No doubt some bespoke financial products created for SIV programs are suitable and ethical. However, many are not and contain terms around fees that will reduce the value of your investment over time, and such products may not be flexible enough to ensure you are in a position to be granted permanent residency at the end of the provisional visa period.