Visa delays stall foreign investment

More than $1.7 billion in foreign investment, including funding for crucial government infrastructure projects, remains in limbo due to a slow visa approval process by federal authorities.

More than $1.7 billion in foreign investment, including funding for crucial government infrastructure projects, remains in limbo due to a slow visa approval process by federal authorities.

Figures obtained by Fairfax Media reveal just one "significant investor" visa has been approved, and the delays have cost the Victorian and NSW governments hundreds of millions in potential funds.

The significant investor visa gives residence to cashed-up applicants with $5 million or more to invest in Australia - without the usual age, language or residency requirements - and matches similar schemes in Britain, the United States, Singapore, Canada and New Zealand. After four years that residency becomes permanent.

More than 350 investors, each pledging at least $5 million, have been nominated by the Victorian, NSW, Queensland and Western Australian governments since the program began in November.

An Immigration Department spokeswoman said processing times for applications under the significant investor visa program would be up to nine months as "the department develops organisational expertise for this new visa".

A range of background checks including potential issues about health, character and national security, also affect processing times, the spokeswoman said.

The majority of significant investor visa applicants - both the expressions of interest and the invitations sent out - are from China.

The Victorian government nominated the first successful significant investor granted a visa under the scheme last month.

Applicants must invest at least $5 million over four years.

"They need to be able to show that their investment will provide a boost to GDP," said the spokeswoman for the Immigration Department.

Investments can include government bonds, an ASIC-regulated managed fund or a direct investment into Australian companies. So-called sponsorship of the visa applicant becomes the responsibility of the state or territory governments.

NSW has nominated 163 significant investor visas so far and if all are approved, 30 per cent of the final contribution or $244 million will go towards the state's Waratah bonds. These funds are then used to help fund critical infrastructure projects, including roads and new rail links.

Victoria has nominated 141 significant investors, Queensland 34 and WA 17.

Victorian Minister for Employment Louise Asher told Fairfax Media that the Victorian government also provided investment facilitation assistance to all significant investors interested in additional business activity.

"All applicants who meet the minimum Commonwealth government requirements for this visa and who can show that they are interested in living, investing or doing business in Victoria will be considered for nomination by the Victorian government," Ms Asher said.