National criticises Government's investor visa announcement during worker shortage

National's Erica Stanford says the Government should "read the room" over its recent investor visa announcement, criticising ministers for discussing how to bring billionaires into New Zealand when there are major workforce shortages.

But the Immigration Minister says the Government's changes to the investor settings are focused on ensuring the policy is creating benefit for New Zealand.

Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash and Immigration Minister Michael Wood on Wednesday announced the Government is doing away with previous investment categories and creating a new Active Investor Plus visa. 

Its main intention is to encourage active investment "which generates more high-skilled jobs and economic growth" rather than passive investment into the likes of shares and bonds. 

"Applicants who make acceptable direct investments, among other requirements, will be eligible for the new visa with a $5 million minimum investment and receive the highest rating which is a lower minimum amount than those who choose more indirect investments," Wood said. "The minimum amount required for indirect investments will be $15 million."

An English language requirement has concerned some commentators, including former Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere, who said it may put off wealthy investors from non-English speaking parts of the world.

Stanford, National's immigration spokesperson, told AM that could knock a large number of Chinese investors out of qualifying. However, she also has wider issues with the priorities of the Government in the immigration space. 

"We've got a brand new Minister of Immigration who I thought would come out of the blocks and actually set himself apart from the previous minister and fix some of the issues that we've got in the system," Stanford said.

That includes getting nurses on the fast-track to residency, she said. Under new settings that came into force earlier this month, migrant nurses must work in their roles for two years before gaining residency. The Government has said this ensures they stick to their professions, but others have complained it may put nurses off coming to New Zealand when there are shortages.

Wood has previously said he is open to making changes if the Government doesn't get the outcomes it wants. 

Stanford said making that change would allow Wood, who became Immigration Minister last month, to "really make his mark in this portfolio".

"And what is the very first policy that he announces? How do we bring billionaires into New Zealand? I mean, for goodness sake, read the room."

She went on to say the English language requirements is just one issue with the new investor visa, accusing the Government of not doing due diligence on its changes.

Stanford and Wood were on AM.
Stanford and Wood were on AM. Photo credit: AM.

But Wood said the policy was being geared up to be of benefit to New Zealand. 

"Now, if you're an international investor, it's very attractive for you to be able to come into New Zealand, park your money in stocks and bonds, be able to dip in and out of New Zealand over a period of a few years, that doesn't necessarily benefit us.

"We are explicitly gearing up this policy to benefit this country and to create jobs in this country, and that's what we'll base it on, unapologetically."

He said previous investor visa settings also had some English language requirements, but these have been "lifted a little bit". There needs to be a "basic ability for these people to be able to engage with the system".

"The nature of this category is it's about attracting people into New Zealand who are prepared to put a relatively large amount of money into our economy and we've changed the settings there so it could be more focused on generating jobs for New Zealanders," Wood said.

"We want these to be people who can come into New Zealand, who can work with new start-up companies and other organisations to benefit from their investment."

The Green Party on Thursday expressed concern over the policy, also asking why essential workers have "to jump through hoops" to get residency, while "we are allowing the super wealthy to just purchase residency". 

"Our care workers, our midwives and nurses are crucial and there is a shortage," said co-leader Marama Davidson.

"We've got those industries screaming out for support and having certainty and pathways to residency and being on the sped-up process would be a bit of a sign to say, 'We care about your work and we want you to put down roots here'."

It was reported on Wednesday that fewer than 200 wealthy foreigners gained residency in New Zealand last year under a previous investor visa category, despite 400 places being open. The previous investor 1 resident visa required $10 million to be invested over three years, while the investor 2 resident visa required $3 million to be invested over four years.

Nash said on Wednesday that the previous categories attracted more than $12 billion into New Zealand, but often into passive investment. He described this as "a missed opportunity to attract more active investors who can deliver real benefits to our economy over a long period of time".