NZ's allure grows as US visas hit limit

New Zealand could see more Chinese investors looking to move here after a United States visa scheme hit its limit, an immigration specialist says.

The US has frozen applications for the popular EB-5 visa, which grants visas to those who invest US$500,000 (NZ$610,000) or US$1 million into the American economy, depending on where they invest.

The hold on US approvals follows an unprecedented demand from predominantly Chinese people, maxing out the 10,667 allowable visas for this financial year.

Demand for the US EB-5 visa has doubled almost every year since 2009, thanks to mainly Chinese buyer demand, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is the first time approvals for the visa have hit the limit since it was launched in 1990.

Although another batch of 10,667 visas will be available from October, demand is expected to vastly exceed supply, forcing many Chinese wishing to migrate to look elsewhere.

Immigration specialist Aaron Martin, of law firm Turner Hopkins, said New Zealand was likely to be one of the preferred alternatives for Chinese investor migrants.

While he was not aware of the specific visa situation in the US, Martin said when potential migrants were blocked from one destination they looked to other countries as options.

"The issue isn't really ‘I want to go to New Zealand', it's ‘I want to get out of China'. You're going to choose the one you're able to enter."

New Zealand has two categories for investor migrants, one requiring an investment of $1.5m and the other requiring at least $10m be invested in the New Zealand economy.

Martin said it was impossible to tell how much impact the US restrictions would have on the number of investor residency applications in New Zealand.

Immigration NZ data shows 658 Chinese investor category residence applications were approved in the past five years, as well as 342 in the entrepreneur category, which requires applicants to have set up a business here.

It is also difficult to predict what effect an increase in immigration from Chinese investors could have on the housing market.

New Zealand is already a popular spot for Chinese house hunters, with real estate portal Juwai rating it the fifth most popular country for house buying.

Martin said there was a "misconception" that wealthy overseas investors could get New Zealand residency by buying expensive property.

"Your investment can be in a residential property development but it must be greenfields, meaning new houses, and it can't include accommodation for you and your family." Fairfax NZ