Vanuatu Government Defends Permanent Resident Program

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Hong Kong visas reportedly net $2.2 million

By Royson Willie

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Oct. 29, 2012) – Concerns raised that the Vanuatu Permanent Resident (PR) Visa Program in Hong Kong was operating outside of the laws of Vanuatu have been brushed aside by the Ministry of Internal Affairs who said the program is operating within the confinements of national legislations.

Since the Permanent Residence Visa Program began last year in Hong Kong, 683 individuals of mainly Asian origin have been approved and given a ‘Vanuatu Non Citizen Identity Card’, raking into Government coffers an amount of Vt204.9 million [US$2.2 million] as of yesterday.

This is calculated at a cost of Vt300,000 [US$3236] per "residence visa" issued as provided under Immigration Visa Regulation Order No. 180 of 2011.

This was confirmed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through the office of the Director General, Mr George Bogiri and Mr Henry Tamashiro from the Immigration Department.

Both Mr Bogiri and Mr Tamashiro assured that the program was not a scam, when asked by Daily Post, as it is done through a legislation that spells out its implementation.

And out of these 683, Mr Tamashiro confirmed that none of them has arrived in Vanuatu, amid concerns raised recently in media that the program would encourage an influx of Chinese immigrants to Vanuatu.

"The PR program’s main objective is to assist the holders with their application to reside or migrate to Hong Kong.

"The legal requirement is that the applicants have to have a second residence prior to applying for the Hong Kong investment residence.

"Vanuatu Government has decided to seize this opportunity to initiate a PR program in order to complement the legal procedure for Hong Kong capital investment visa’s rules and conditions.

"Vanuatu offers to those clients a second residence if they wish to come at a service cost of Vt300,000 per case .

"Over 600 cases have been approved but to date, not a single applicant has landed in Vanuatu. This shows that the cases are only interested to enter Hong Kong," the office of the DG stated.

The Vt300,000 is the amount obtained by the Vanuatu Government as provided under the Immigration Order No. 180 but the government does not know how much the exclusive agent in Hong Kong, PRG Consulting Limited, is charging overall with allegations that clients were being charged at Vt1 million [US$10,785] and above with Vanuatu missing out on around Vt300-400 million .

Internal Affairs confirmed that the Hong Kong agent would charge top up to cover their expenses and their consultancy services to provide immigration services to Hong Kong but could not confirm if the allegations of Vt1 million cost was true, saying the government was only carrying this program as provided for under Vanuatu’s immigration law.

Another concern about the program was that the Vanuatu Non Citizen Identity Card issued to applicants had not legal basis as the Immigration Visa Regulation Order No. 180 of 2011 did not specifically mention issuance of such a card.

But despite no specific reference of the card, the ministry responsible is adamant the Permanent Residence Visa Program is based on Section 12 (6) of the Immigration Visa Regulation Order No. 180 of 2011.

In terms of how money was being transferred from Hong Kong to Vanuatu, the ministry said the money was send weekly to a Trust Account of the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission (VFSC) in one of the local commercial banks before it is transferred to the Ministry of Finance.

Daily Post investigations has found that the funds from this program are transferred via the Western Union from Hong Kong, mainly because the cost of transfer is cheaper, and the funds are then taken and deposited at the VFSC Trust Account in a local bank.

So far according to Daily Post investigations, as of this month (October 18, 2012) the Department of Finance has recorded Vt154.5 million [US$1,666,310} deposited into government coffers, Vt50.4 million [US$543,572] short of the Vt204.9 million [US$2,209,880] mentioned by Internal Affairs, although it could not be verified whether VFSC receives a commission from the proceeds of this program.

Meanwhile, the ministry of internal affairs has stated, "one major aspect for consideration is that those cases are important and serious business people with a Vanuatu company registered and with a big capital investment deposited in an Hong Kong bank and with highly monthly and regular revenue generation from their existing business.

"Should be worry about them entering Vanuatu? The answer is yes and no.

"We would say yes if we are too worried about our small businesses and would like to keep things moving slowly as it is today and also if we don’t want to invite other business people to enter Vanuatu.

"We would say no if we look at it in depth. These people have factories and big businesses, if only few of them landed and decided to invest in the country, we would increase the employment and raise the business activities in the country.

"However, imagine if the 600 cases land in Vanuatu, what will happen?

"We will change the status of Vanuatu to the business centre for the Pacific region."

Daily Post has seen a copy of a list of applicants for Vanuatu’s Permanent Resident Visa Program with applicants mostly from mainland China provinces such as Sichuan, Guangdong, Hubei, Zeijiang, Yunnan, Shanghai, Henan, Anhui, Jiangxi, Heilongjiang, and Jilin.

Vanuatu is not the only one engaging in this activity as Mr Henry Tamashiro from Immigration Department says countries in Africa and Caribbean are involved in the same program that has brought in extra revenue for the country.

The program is monitored by two Vanuatu representatives in Beijing and Hong Kong and they are the Consular attaché who has extensive experience on Immigration matters and a legal compliance officer from Vanuatu Financial Services Commission.

The checks on applications are done by these two officers before approval and weekly with month reports are submitted to Vanuatu’s Beijing Embassy, Immigration and VFSC before official receipts are issued by VFSC.

With the former Vanuatu Ambassador to China, Willie Jimmy, contesting in next week’s general election after his term ended, the Vanuatu Embassy in Beijing is now under Singaporean, Dennis Nai, owner of 9 Shopping in Port Vila who received the endorsement of the government recently to be Vanuatu’s Ambassador to China.

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