In a move welcomed by New Zealand’s tourism industry, Immigration New Zealand has decided to exempt Chinese holders of Platinum and Diamond UnionPay credit cards from providing information related to employment and source of funds in their visa application. Instead, mere proof of their Premium or Diamond status will be treated as sufficient proof of the applicant’s financial solvency.
The move is expected to facilitate easier entry of wealthy Chinese citizens visiting the country for tourism and business. The chief executive of the Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand emphasized that the TIA has always been lobbying with the government for easier and faster processing of high-value visitors from China and stated that the facility provided to credit card holders is a welcome step in this direction.
Currently, inflow of visitors from China is second only to Australia and inflow from China is considered a key growth opportunity for New Zealand’s tourism industry. The country’s Tourism 2025 framework targets doubling of revenue from tourism from the existing $20.5 billion and such agreements are considered vital for achieving the goal. .
The agreement with UnionPay, which is China’s only domestic bankcard organization, was warmly praised by Chinese authorities for creating more favorable conditions for exchange of visitors traveling to both countries. The agreement covers financial solvency only and does not offer any exemption with respect to character or health standards. .
Another key change introduced by the Government was the relaxation of its China Working Holiday scheme that allows Chinese tourists and vacationers to work for a New Zealand employer in the country. Earlier, such vacationers were permitted to work for three months during a 12-month stay. Now, this duration has been increased to up to six months.
An annual ballot held by Immigration New Zealand selects a thousand Chinese visitors who are then permitted to take a break in China for a period of one year. The change is expected to make it easier for tourism employers to hire workers with good Chinese language skills without having to comply with onerous procedures and regulations.
However, the move to use credit card holder status as adequate proof of financial stability for the purposes of issuance of visa has been sharply criticized by opposition parties in the country. Critics opine that such a move will increase risk of corruption and may lead to a repeat of embarrassing and financially-expensive cases like the Kim Dotcom case.
Opposition leaders have pointed out that the country has effectively abandoned its immigration program and is completely dependent on a foreign institution to rigorously vet the entry of Chinese tourists and business visitors into the country.
Further, they pointed out that even the Chinese government has highlighted corruption as a very major problem in the country and indicated that such a move was fraught with unnecessary risks with potential negative consequences.
This is not the first time New Zealand authorities have made changes to their immigration rules for Chinese visitors. Two year ago, papers released in the Parliament showed that wealthy Chinese visitors with gold and silver frequent-flier credit cards were being exempted from border checks under a secret deal with the New Zealand government.
The deal had been made after the Government was told that most fliers sought to avoid answering financial and employment-history related queries or provide evidence related to the same. Opposition leaders have censured the government for reviving the secret deal by offering the credit card exemption.