THE cautious attitude of Australian immigration authorities is thwarting potentially large trade and business immigration markets from China, according to agents and organisations.
Australian Visa and Migration Services principal Allan Hodder said recent changes in China, such as the relaxing of government regulations to allow for greater commercial activity, and membership of the World Trade Organisation, had promoted a greater interest among many Chinese to look outside their nation.
Many wanted their children to be educated in an English-speaking country and to get an understanding of Western culture so as to be better able to do business.
But those wanting visitor visas to check out business opportunities were often frustrated in their applications by an entrenched suspicion by Australian authorities, Mr Hodder said.
This was largely because, historically, China was classified as high risk in terms of the percentage of those who were likely to overstay their visas.
Mr Hodder said he knew of instances where Chinese had given up trying to visit Australia.
“The risk is that they will develop business relationships with other countries at the expense of Australia,” he said.
Australian immigration authority attitudes had become very defensive and getting a visa was a lottery, even when the required detailed itineraries and comprehensive documentation were produced, he said.
Even those with invitation letters from companies in Australia were finding it difficult to obtain visas.
Australian authorities are concerned that, due to what is perceived as endemic corruption in China, and the absence of watchdog organisations with similar roles to, for example, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, applicants’ claims are difficult to certify.
Hence applicants from China must have an accountant from an approved international firm confirm company holdings and sources of finance.
However, there are a limited number of approved firms with employees who can read and write Chinese languages and who also understand the Chinese system.
Applicants from all countries are required to secure sponsorship from a State or Territory government and to put froward a business proposal, even though there is no obligation to go into business for at least two years after entry to Australia.
But this is quite difficult for those coming from an entirely different business culture, Mr Hodder said.
These types of hurdles reduce Australia’s competitiveness to attract business migrants, he said.
“We’re in a global market to attract high quality business migrants, and we’ll suffer if we can’t compete successfully,” Mr Hodder told WA Business News.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA concedes the difficulties faced by Australian authorities in proving documentation supplied by applicants from China, a nation where commercial and regulatory systems were not openly accountable as in Australia.
The CCI WA accepts that those applying for a business visitor visa are required to secure sponsorship from a member of parliament or mayor, or to lodge a $10,000 bond.
The chamber is frustrated that for those who follow this process, and for whom detailed itineraries are provided, by, for example the CCI, a visa is not guaranteed.
CCI WA manager, International Trade Centre, Ian Whitaker, said the same applied to other Asian countries considered high risk, such as Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Earlier this year CCI WA was to host a trade delegation from Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the Regional Austrade Senior Trade Commissioner in Bangkok.
However, three days before the tour was to commence, the Phnom Penh chamber informed CCI WA that their visa applications had been refused.
Although this, like other groups, had appeared a bonafide group wanting to build trade between Australia and Cambodia, CCI WA was not surprised, Mr Whitaker said.
“This has happened many times,” he said. “But people are most upset, highly embarrassed and offended.”
The problem was mainly in overseas posts, Mr Whitaker said, with officers more focused on reducing overstay rates than assisting trade development.
The CCI WA had been in discussion with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs over this, Mr Whitaker said, and the “top echelon” was recognising the problem.
“But this has been an ongoing issue for us,” he said.
“Bonafide people from reputable organisations have been knocked back over many years, and it has been very frustrating for a lot of people.
“Australia has been making it very tough.”
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