Buy a restaurant, get PR?

WHEN Jun Ma was 21-years-old, the Chinese national dropped out of university to start up a restaurant, in the hopes it would lead to permanent residency in Australia. But as Cassie Shi reports, that plan – and his investment – soon went down the drain.

Jun Ma is looking forward to today. It’s the day he won’t need to get up at 4am to drive all the way to North Melbourne from the Southeast – just to set up his restaurant. It’s his first day back at Monash University since quitting his course to start up a business.

“To some extent, I felt relieved,” he says, “It is exhausting to run a business.”

In October 2011, Chinese-national Ma borrowed $200,000 from his parents to buy a pie and coffee restaurant in North Melbourne. The plan was to apply for an Established Business in Australia visa(subclass 845) –  a visa he would qualify for after running the business for 18 months. Then after 1.5 years, he would be able to get  permanent residence in Australia. At least, that’s what his migration lawyers told him.

“If I followed their instructions, the successful rate would be 100 per cent,” he recalls.

But in July 2012 – eight months after he had set up the restaurant – the 845 visa was called off, with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship saying it was “underused”.

He’s since closed down his restaurant.

“Of course I was disappointed because I had been running the business for over half a year,” he says.

For Ma, applying for the visa had been a last resort. His mother had planned to keep their family in Australia under a State/Territory Sponsored Business Owner visa (subclass 163) – the most popular visa type for people considering investing in Australia. But she was forced to give up the business she had set up and go back to China due to personal reasons.

Ma took matters into his own hands. As a beneficiary of his mother’s 163 visa, he discontinued his Bachelor of Commerce degree to fully devote himself to his first business. But to no avail.

An ‘unjust’ policy?

Ma has not been the only one affected by Australian government immigration policy overhauls.

Migrant Law Specialist Kin Wee Chua has 10 clients who had invested in businesses, only to have that option taken away. He calls the decision unjust.

“The change was made without any notice, without any warning for those students to start off the business,” he says.

“It’s just unfair.”

Chua says 845 visas have existed since the early 90s. They were initially popular among people who held Temporary Business (Long Stay) visas (subclass 457). But in 2003, the 457 visas were replaced by State/Territory Sponsored Business Owner visas – and from then on applicants for 845 visas declined.

But in the last four years,  Chua says students have found it hard to apply for skilled migration visas due to increased, and more difficult criteria. So they turned to 845 visas instead.

An immigration researcher at Monash University, Dr Bob Birrell, supports the decision to remove 845 visas.

“There were only 45 845 business visas issued to principal applicants in 2010 to 2011 and 117 in 2011 to 2012,” he says.

“So tiny.”

He disagrees with the premise of the visas as well.

“We should not be granting a PR visa just because someone had enough money to buy a small business,” he says.

The Australian government has introduced Business Talent visa (subclass 132), Business Innovation and Investment visa (Provisional) (subclass 188) and Business Innovation and Investment visa (Permanent) (subclass 888) to replace the scrapped visas.

But Chua and other migrant lawyers want the 845 visa back. They are encouraging victims of the policy change to approach members of parliament and persuade the government to reconsider the decision.

Back to school

For now, Ma is just eager to go back to school. He says he is putting aside the thought of immigrating to Australia.

Many immigrants he knows live a tiring and repetitive life. It wasn’t something he expected.

He also notes the big gap between the life of immigrants and locals.

“I want to be a student for another a year or two,” he says.

“If I have a degree, have knowledge, it doesn’t matter whether I am in Australia or in China.”

There are 5 comments

  1. Damien

    Australia isn’t as attractive to foreign nationals as it used to be. Ma’s example indicates that Australia is already falling behind. China’s standard of living is improving at such a rate that makes Australia look abysmal and backwater. In a few years time, I’m sure many Chinese will not hesitate to choose to remain in China. World class universities such New York University are already setting up campuses in China – rather than importing students, they are exporting their services.

    The language that planet is embarking to learn right now is Mandarin. Sooner or later, Mandarin will become the international lingua franca, the language of trade. Why would international students want to study in Australia? What value does an Australian degree hold now? How about in 5 or 10 years time?

    Currently, an university degree is just an excuse for parents to send their kids over. Like Australians, their dream is to get ‘land, lots of land’.

    Australian universities are in a very fortunate circumstance. They should be begging the Chinese to study in Australia, because at the rate things are going, in 5 or 10 years, they won’t want to come anymore.

    Yes, that’s right, Australia should beg the Chinese to come to Australia. But hold that thought…

    The predicament is assimilation. Australian’s are inherently xenophobic (fear of change) and tropophobic (fear of making change). We don’t want to sell out our land even though we use that money pays off debts and funds our retirement. We don’t want foreign cultures overpowering our ‘Australian Culture’.

    Just like the way Aboriginals have been pushed away from our cities, so too will be the Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Africans and other foreigners. Australia is still making sense of why Britain colonised and then stranded us here, grappling with whether or not we need the Monarchy and learning how to fend for ourselves on an enormous island.

    From a global point of view, Australians need to plan well beyond the coming election beyond China. The Australian people need to utilise their position as a the Great Southern Land. We need to open our minds and take this opportunity to embrace strangers and embrace change and making changes. We need to assimilate our Australian culture with foreign cultures. Not the other way around. We need to attract as many foreign nationals as we can manage and give them incentives to stay. We need to regulate our media to support these messages, rather than send mixed messages that become blurred and misleading.

    Ma is the perfect business investor and a silent partner. Investors like Ma can potentially become the backbone of the Australian local-business economy. Australia needs to attract the enormous economic potential of the Chinese and their growing population of high net worth individuals – Investing locally, providing jobs, stimulating the demand for domestic goods, and contributing culturally. Australian businesses are struggling to compete on the world stage in a global economy. It’s time we channeled our own slice of the global economy into our own national economy. This whole issue is beyond students like Ma. This is a change from within that will spur the economy and propel Australia to become a leader in the Asia Pacific and the world stage, rather than latch on by default as we are.

  2. Neil

    Bravo Damien.

    Now instead of people coming to Australia and learning our culture as would be expected if we went to their country, you are now saying that we need to assilmate to their culture. Good work in trying to set Australian culture back.

    Australia is a little bit over 200 years since the British arrival. Our culture is only just beginning. Take your mindset about us having to assilmate and shove it. The problem is other cultures love to build enclaves of there own cultures and not assilmate.

  3. Herth Ariehle

    Good suggestions – I am thankful for the details ! Does anyone know where my assistant could possibly acquire a template AU Form 888 form to fill in ?

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