Amidst the global pandemic of recent years, Australia’s 188 Visa Program emerged as a significant avenue for foreign investors, with nearly 15,000 investment-based visas issued since the onset of international border closures. This initiative, as maintained by the Australian government, plays a crucial role in attracting investments into the country.
Data from the Australian Department of Home Affairs reveals that between March 21, 2020, and June 30, 2021, 10,210 provisional 188 visas and 4,396 permanent 888 visas were granted. This marks a significant increase from the 485 business innovation and investment visas issued between March and September 2020. Over this period, more than 3,500 individuals holding these visas entered Australia, comprising both provisional and permanent visa holders.
The 188 visa program caters to various investor categories. As per the University of Sydney’s research on immigration policies:
Recent reforms effective from July 1, 2021, have streamlined the program, focusing on high-value investors, business owners, and entrepreneurs. The Department of Home Affairs has emphasized the program’s economic impact, citing over $15.9 billion contributed to the Australian economy since 2012.
In 2016, the Productivity Commission raised concerns about the potential for “illicit funds” entry through the 188 visas. However, the Department of Home Affairs countered these claims, highlighting stringent integrity measures against money laundering and financial exploitation.
The Grattan Institute has critiqued the program, arguing for its inefficacy in fostering innovation. Henry Sherrell, a Grattan fellow, noted that business stream participants reported lower annual incomes compared to skilled visa workers and often ventured into sectors like retail or hospitality rather than innovative industries.
Former Department of Immigration deputy secretary Abul Rizvi and Labor spokesman Andrew Giles have voiced criticisms about the program’s focus on wealthy businesspersons and foreign investors. However, these viewpoints, particularly Giles’, may be influenced by political biases.
The Australian government’s strategy aims to attract high-value investments and entrepreneurs. The recent adjustments to the program underscore this objective, seeking to enhance the calibre of investments and applicants.
Since its inception in 2012, the 188 visa program has injected substantial capital into the Australian economy. Despite initial increases in the annual migration program’s capacity, recent years have seen a reduction, aligning with the tightened criteria.
In response to the Productivity Commission’s concerns, the Department of Home Affairs has reiterated its commitment to maintaining the program’s integrity. Measures are in place to prevent financial misconduct and ensure the lawful nature of investments.
The 188 visa program has proven to be a pivotal tool for attracting foreign investment into Australia, especially during the pandemic. With the latest reforms, the focus is now on attracting high-calibre investors and entrepreneurs. This shift aligns with the government’s broader economic goals, ensuring that the program continues to contribute significantly to Australia’s financial landscape.
Each year, the Australian federal and state governments review the 188 visa programme to ensure it delivers the best possible outcomes for Australia. Where deemed necessary changes are introduced without advanced notice. State governments open and close the investor visa stream within their respective jurisdictions as deem necessary to meet the local economic objectives.
That said, once an investor secures an invitation to emigrate (State Nomination), any future changes to the emigration policy will not affect their case.