The business of immigration

New Zealand’s immigration system is currently undergoing a significant overhaul, which is sure to impact many local businesses. Following the changes to Investor Category visas announced in December 2016, further changes are also proposed to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) visa, for implementation in August. The proposed amendments are set to ensure better outcomes for both New Zealand citizens and those who are seeking to immigrate here.

Investor visas were first introduced in 2009, resulting in over $2.9 billion invested into NZ. Generally, investors may be granted resident status if they make qualifying investments in NZ for three or four years. There are two categories – Investor 1 applicants must invest at least $10m and Investor 2 applicants must invest at least $1.5m (plus have other funds available to live on).

Currently, around two thirds of these investments are in bonds. The proposed changes, effective from May 2017, seek to change this by encouraging investment in ‘growth-oriented’ industries. The ‘growth-oriented’ list includes industries associated with equities, commercial property, new residential builds or managed funds, with the potential for others to be added in the future, decided by Government need.

If Investor 1 applicants invest upwards of 25 percent in New Zealand growth-oriented investments, they will have more flexibility on how they can meet the minimum ‘days in NZ’ requirement for this visa type. Furthermore, Investor 2 applicants will receive a reduction in the total amount they need to invest if they are willing to invest in growth investments – a $0.5m discount to be exact.

To attain this discount, investors will be required to allocate more than 50 percent of their total investment to growth-oriented business. They will also enjoy less restriction on how they spend their required days in NZ over the four-year period of application, much like the Investor 1 category. The additional funding is expected to provide a boost to the economy, providing an alternative funding option for businesses that may have been restricted by lack of investment into growth-oriented ventures.

Alongside this, changes to the SMC visas are also making a splash in the business environment. Residence can be granted for skilled workers under a ‘points’ system, with points granted for various criteria including qualifications and job offers. From August, the points system is supplemented by the introduction of remuneration thresholds: jobs will need a minimum salary of $41,538 to be considered ‘mid-skilled’ – being 85 percent of NZ’s medium income.

More points will also be available for skilled work experience and for some post-graduate qualifications. It is hoped that this will help limit the net inflow of immigrants, while targeting this visa type to individuals that are skilled in their industries, allowing businesses to bring in the people and skills that are beneficial to NZ as a whole.

The Government is seeking to balance the economic growth that immigration brings against the additional strain it places on public services and current infrastructure. Getting the right balance is a challenge, but solace can be taken from the fact that it is a sign of a strong economy. It is important that the Government continually reviews immigration policies to ensure they are attaining the correct outcomes for a prosperous New Zealand.

Published spring 2017

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