Rich Chinese buy visas in US and Australia
Give us your tired, your super-rich, your huddled millionaires.
This is the new clarion call among countries that are lifting their beacons to the mass numbers of wealthy Chinese fleeing their country.
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More than half of all Chinese multimillionaires have either left or plan to emigrate, according to surveys. Countries around the world are lining up to attract them, creating a growing business and economy around selling them residency.
Australia said Tuesday that a new visa program aimed at the wealthy—the "significant investor" initiative—has received overwhelming response, with Chinese nationals accounting for over 90 percent of the 545 applications.
The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it has already granted 65 of the visas to mainland Chinese, who have pumped A$325 million (US$289 million) into its economy.
Australia launched the program a little over a year ago with the goal of attracting 700 immigrants and investments of A$3.5 billion a year.
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Australia is just the latest country to announce a windfall from wealthy Chinese. The U.S., U.K., Spain, Portugal, the Caymans and Gambia have all gotten into pay-for-visa programs for wealthy Chinese.
Though such efforts have been championed by economic development officials, critics say they don't create jobs and amount to a golden immigration ticket that allows the rich to quickly purchase documentation that would otherwise be impossible or too time consuming to secure.
They also point out that countries such as Australia are cracking down on poorer immigrants as they open their arms to wealthy ones.
More than 80 percent of the applicants In the U.S. program, known as the EB-5, are from China. Even though EB-5 has been dogged by scandal, fraud and questions about job creation, demand continues to surge. Under the program, a foreigner who invests at least $500,000 in a qualified U.S. business is entitled to a green card, provided the investment puts at least 10 Americans to work.
In Europe, many of the programs require an investment in property, which has set off a real estate shopping spree by wealthy Chinese. Portugal is offering residency rights—and potential for European Union citizenship—to investors who buy at least 500,000 euros in property.
In Australia, wealthy Chinese don't even need to prove their investment creates jobs. Immigration attorneys said most of the applicants are investing in financial markets or bonds. The first successful applicant last year was a 36-year-old toy manufacturer with a young family who bought state government bonds.
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Attorneys said those leaving China are looking for a better quality of life: good schools, luxury housing, clean air, a strong legal system and public security, and a stable political situation.
—By CNBC's Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank.