Morrison government allowing rich foreigners in ahead of 28,000 stranded Australians

Labor has criticised a government decision allowing potentially hundreds of “privileged” foreign citizens paying for business investment visas to enter Australia, arguing they are taking hotel quarantine places away from 28,000 Australians stranded overseas.

The comments from Penny Wong, the opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman, follow the Morrison government’s decision to allow holders of business innovation and investment visas to enter Australia from 31 August without having to apply for a Covid-19 entry exemption.

The change meant that holders of the controversial visas – who are required to have a minimum of $800,000 in liquid assets to their name to invest in Australia – are granted entry conditions on par with Australian citizens and permanent residents.

While wealthy investors entering Australia on business visas still count towards the strict arrival caps limiting most flights into the country to 30 passengers, airlines frustrated at the caps have admitted to cancelling economy class tickets so they can prioritise higher-paying customers and remain profitable under the caps.

The Australian Border Force – which processes travel exemptions – revealed to a parliamentary inquiry that prior to allowing holders of the visas to bypass Australia’s travel ban exemption process, it approved 31 foreign citizens with business investment visas to enter Australia in August alone.

The Department of Home Affairs – which processes visa applications – told the inquiry that between 20 March and 14 September it had granted 485 business innovation and investment visas.

“The business innovation and investment program targets migrants who have a demonstrated history of success or talent in innovation, investment and business, and are able to make a significant contribution to the national innovation system and the Australian economy,” the ABF said, explaining the reasons behind the program.

However, Wong said Scott Morrison “must explain to stranded Australian citizens why they are not his priority”.

“There may be very legitimate reasons for some of these people to enter the country, but these numbers show one person is being given the green light every day ahead of a stranded Australian who wants to come home,” she said.


“Once again with Scott Morrison we see it’s one rule for a privileged few, while stranded Australians are left behind,” Wong said.

There are several streams of the business innovation and investment visa – which allows foreign residents to move to Australia to become permanent residents – including the significant investor visa, which requires a holder to invest at least $5m over four years in Australian investments.

Other streams of the visa include the investor visa, requiring an investment of at least $1.5m in Australian investments, and the business innovation stream, allowing a foreign citizen with at least $800,000 in liquid assets to start a business in Australia.

The premier investor stream, which requires $15m to be invested in Australian investments or philanthropic causes, is also part of the business innovation and investment visa program. The visas cost between $4,045 and $9,455.

During a Senate select committee on Covid-19 hearing last Thursday, the ABF commissioner, Michael Outram, acknowledged it is “possible” that foreign investors holding the visa were contributing to the backlog of Australians stranded overseas who have been bumped off flights home because of the cap on arrivals into Australia.

Last week, the committee on examined how Australians became stranded overseas during the pandemic, primarily as a result of Australia’s cap on international arrivals aimed at easing pressure on states’ hotel quarantine systems.

On Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Guardian Australia there were 28,000 Australians overseas who had registered with the government their wish to return home but were unable to do so.

The number of stranded Australians has slightly increased in the almost two weeks since national cabinet agreed to raise the weekly arrival caps from 4,000 to 6,000.

The business innovation and investment visa program has come under criticism in recent years, with a Productivity Commission report in 2016 raising concerns the visas were a “pathway for investing ‘dirty money’ in Australia”.

There have also been fears migration agents are concocting “non-genuine” applications for wealthy Chinese investors, with reports that billboards in China are advertising the visas.

The visa program is currently under review.


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