By James Alan Hall
What would your ideal place to live in be like? Clean and beautiful, open spaces with low population density to give you personal space and your family room to grow? A metropolitan city with a climate that’s mild in both winter and summer? Universal health care? English speakers with a Western-style economy and business environment? An education system that is ranked top in the world for effectiveness of education and preparing students for the future? Maybe being at the top of major country indices for quality of life, health care, safety, low cost of living and least corruption?
This is New Zealand, a country that for many was only thought of as a scenic movie background or a destination for adventure holidays. Now the country is continuing to grow in popularity as a preferred migration destination that’s seen as safe haven politically and financially while offering a high quality of life.
New Zealand benefits from a well-planned and managed migration program. For investors, it offers one of the most flexible programs available, with direct residency through flexible and attractive investment options.
Compared to Australia, its nearest rival in terms of location and similar quality of life, New Zealand’s investment migration program excels in nearly every aspect. Australia requires a longer stay period, no choice of investment types and is initially limited to a provisional visa with no residency benefits, such as overseas university fees. It generally prohibits resident real estate investment and has ongoing requirements to “maintain” permanent residency. The ongoing obligations to keep permanent residency for Australia has proven to be a headache for many investors who want to be able to remain overseas but retain residency rights in another country.
While a higher investment outlay is required, New Zealand offers a program that is more attractive overall. In addition to a direct resident visa with residency benefits such as local education fees, New Zealand provides a permanent resident visa that has no expiration and, unlike Australia and many other countries, no ongoing requirements. For many, this is thought of as de-facto citizenship, as it gives a lifelong access right to another country.
Types of investor visas
The investor program is divided into two visas: investor 1 and investor 2. A visa application is made by a principal applicant, including a spouse and children. Adult children can be included up to age 24, subject to dependency requirements, and the age is measured at the time of the visa application. Again, New Zealand is more applicant-friendly compared to most other countries. For example, Australia limits a dependent child to a maximum age of 22 and the age is assessed at both the time of application and the time of the visa decision.
Investors are allowed up to 24 months to move investment funds into New Zealand and are only required to do so once other eligibility requirements have been assessed and approved. This compares favorably to programs like the U.S. EB-5, which requires the investment be made before the visa requirements are assessed, and Australia, where applicants are typically requested to move investment funds within 70 days. That can necessitate urgent liquidation of overseas investments without sufficient time for financial and tax planning and to consider market opportunities.
The investor 1 visa requires an investment of $10 million New Zealand dollars for a period of three years, with only 88 days of stay required in New Zealand. There are no age, English language or experience requirements for this visa.
The investor 2 visa requires an investment of at least $3 million for a period of four years, during which time the principal applicant must spend at least 438 days in New Zealand (approximately 30 percent of the time). Other requirements for the principal applicant include being 65 or younger, demonstrating a very basic level of English, and having at least three years of business or management experience. The investment amount can be reduced to $2.5 million by choosing to invest at least 50 percent of the investment funds in “growth investments.” These include, but are not limited to, residential real estate and managed funds.
Unlike Australia and many other countries, New Zealand allows the applicant to choose his or her own investment options with only a few limitations. Any investments should have the potential for commercial return and not be for personal use; be invested in New Zealand in New Zealand dollars; be compliant with relevant laws; have the potential to contribute to the New Zealand economy; and be in one or more of the defined “acceptable investments.”
The acceptable investments include residential real estate development, commercial real estate, bonds, company equity (private and public), managed funds, venture capital funds, philanthropic investments, and “angel fund and network” investments. Due care should be taken if investing in managed funds with international components, as only the portion of the fund invested in New Zealand companies can be considered an acceptable investment.
The option to invest in residential real estate is an attractive option for many applicants. Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, is facing a housing shortage, with a current shortfall of more than 44,000 residences. Developers are struggling to meet this demand. The largest apartment developer in Auckland is Conrad Properties Group, and while they have completed more than 4,000 apartments, with more than 800 apartments currently under construction, they are nowhere near addressing the level of demand that currently exists.
Acceptable investments in residential real estate must meet specific conditions. These conditions require that the real estate is a new development, is purchased for commercial return purposes (rental return and capital growth), and is not for personal use during the investment period.
When a residential property is completed and no longer a new development, it may still be retained as an acceptable investment, provided that the residential property is rented. If not, it will need to be sold and the proceeds further invested in other acceptable investments that could include additional residential property development. Such changes in investments are permitted, provided that the sales proceeds from any liquidated investments are fully reinvested into additional acceptable investments within a reasonable time frame.
The investor program basics
The investor program has three key stages.
The first stage is the visa application process. For the investor 2 program, that includes an additional preliminary step of submitting an “expression of interest” that precedes the resident visa application. The visa processing time will vary depending upon the circumstances and processing office workload; a time-frame of five to 10 months is typical. Upon completion of the visa processing, a letter indicating an “approval in principle” is issued.
The second stage starts with the “approval in principle” advice. The applicant can now proceed with transferring funds to New Zealand and moving the funds into acceptable investments. The applicant can proceed with confidence knowing that his or her eligibility for the resident visa has been confirmed, subject to the compliant transfer and investment of funds in New Zealand. It is expected that the funds will be transferred and invested in New Zealand within 12 months, with extensions to that possible for a maximum of 24 months for the investor 1 visa and 18 months for the investor 2 visa.
The third stage is the resident visa. It is granted following the acceptable investments being made in New Zealand. This is a period of three years for investor 1 or four years for investor 2. As the holder of a resident visa, the applicant and included family members are eligible for benefits in New Zealand. The principal applicant is obligated to stay in New Zealand for the required time over the investment period: 88 days for investor 1 and 438 days for investor 2. Measured time periods are accumulative and do not need to be consecutive stays.
Following the completion of the investment period, with the required stay requirements met and investments held in acceptable investments throughout the period, the applicant and included family will be able to apply for permanent residency. Citizenship is an option after five years of residency, including qualifying stay periods in New Zealand, although it is less of a necessity when considering that the permanent residency is for life without any ongoing obligations. No limitations are placed upon holding dual citizenship.
Upon reaching 65 years of age, subject to qualifying requirements, which generally include at least 10 years of living in New Zealand, residents are eligible for a pension. For a single person, this is currently $801 per fortnight. A pension is made available to all eligible residents with no assessment of income or assets required.
With a minimum stay required in New Zealand of under three months, attractive and flexible investment options, and no further ongoing commitments after the issuance of the permanent resident visa, New Zealand should be high on any list of countries for investors, whether they’re seeking to move now or just to have the option to relocate at any time in the future.
Welcome to New Zealand: Kia ora!
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