Potential migrants are waiting to invest at least $3 billion in New Zealand according to figures released by immigration minister Michael Wood on Thursday.
Responding to written questions from the ACT Party, Wood told Parliament there were 91 Investor 1 resident visa applications currently with case officers as at June 7, with a minimum possible investment value of $910 million.
A further 100 Investor 1 applications worth at least $1 billion were waiting to be allocated to case officers.
For the Investor 2 residence category, there were 43 applications worth at least $129m being processed, and a further 366 applications worth more than $1b waiting to be allocated.
Investor 1 applicants are required to invest $10m for three years while Investor 2 must invest $3m for four years but have additional requirements such as business experience and proficiency in English.
Wood said that between March 1 and May 31, 50% of Investor 1 applications were completed within 20 months, with 90% completed within 31 months.
For Investor 2 applications, 50% were completed within 29 months, with 90% completed within 40 months.
Those figures include a period of up to 12 months after residence is approved “in principle”, during which the applicants make the required investments before the visas are finally issued.
Chinese nationals are the biggest source of applicants, followed by the US, Hong Kong and Germany.
David Cooper from immigration advisers Malcolm Pacific told BusinessDesk they have a lot of frustrated clients who are stuck in the investors’ queue and called on the government to make investor visas a higher priority.
There was a period in 2020 when Immigration NZ stopped processing investor applications at a time when there was increasing interest in New Zealand, particularly from the US.
“We were in the media, we had a great global reputation, so a lot of people were applying for investor visas at a time Immigration NZ were not processing them, so there was a backlog,” Cooper said.
"You've now got countries like Australia who are more aggressive, who didn't stop processing visas, who are approving people faster than NZ for less amount of money because Australia only requires $5 million in the top tier."
Cooper said these are highly talented people who made their decisions two years ago to invest and are now wondering if NZ really wants them anymore.
He estimated that 73% of people in the queue were either founders of companies or working at the CEO, CFO and CTO level, and said the government should be moving faster to secure their interest.
“I can't name names but some of them have been mentioned in the press before. Some of these are on Forbes’ lists and the like: the sort of people we need right now to help us regenerate our economy.”
“These are people who are used to moving fast – New Zealand is not moving fast.”
Cooper said it wasn’t a huge group of people compared to the thousands being processed in other visa categories, but they have a massive economic impact.
Based on past government research, he estimated investor migrants had invested $30b-to-$40b in the economy since the programme was introduced in 2009.
“Isn't that the sort of number we should be paying attention to?”
ACT Party spokesperson James McDowall said not only is the actual dollar value of the backlog likely to be much higher than $3b but officials had refused $572m worth of applications since January last year.
“These people are high-net-worth individuals, they won’t be a burden on our health system, and they won’t be a burden on our welfare system, they will be creating wealth and making the lives of New Zealanders better.
“Michael Wood needs to get his department to stop mucking around and get on with its job.”
The government is currently working on a “refresh” of its investment attraction strategy and is also reviewing the investor visa programme.
Wood told BusinessDesk that INZ was not able to process investor visas for people who were offshore while border restrictions were in place but it has now resumed making decisions on all types of investor category applications.
He said between 31 March 2021- 31 March 2022, INZ received 371 applications across both investor categories of which 176 (or 47%) have been approved.
Wood accused the ACT Party of advocating for investor settings to be made similar to those in Myanmar and Saudi Arabia.
“Our government has a higher standard for our country. We want to attract good quality investment to stimulate our economy but also to ensure that people of good character invest in New Zealand.”
This story has been updated with a response from immigration minister Michael Wood.