By Swati Pandey
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Tuesday took steps to boost a visa scheme aimed at luring investment from wealthy Chinese, including speeding up approvals and expanding investment avenues, after complaints that disclosure requirements were too strict.
The two-year old Significant Investor Visa scheme offers residency to overseas individuals who invest more than A$5 million ($4.6 million) in Australia under a program the government hopes will eventually raise A$6 billion a year.
More than 90 percent of applicants since the scheme was introduced in 2012 have come from China.
It announced another visa scheme on Tuesday offering residency to those who invest A$15 million for one year.
While the move ensures billions of dollars in investment for a country that is staring at a fading mining boom that powered its economy for more than a decade, immigration experts say the move is unlikely to attract large numbers of investors.
Chinese investors have been blamed recently for driving up property prices in Australia forcing the government to set up an inquiry on affordable housing in the country.
It did not divulge detail on the reforms.
Australia will maintain safeguards to ensure that the migration program is not misused, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement on Tuesday, at a time when China has launched a crackdown on corruption that has among other things targeted officials who transfer ill-gotten gains offshore.
Lawyers and agents have demanded the government clarify rules on source of the funding -- a moot point for investors and one that has hurt the progress of visa approvals. Tuesday's announcement makes no mention of that.
"There's a problem showing who the actual owner of the bank account is. It's very difficult to show for secrecy reasons or tax reasons," said Rossana Gonzalez, immigration agent at Immigration Experts Australia.
By the end of September, just 436 visas had been approved compared with 1,746 "expressions of interest", according to data from the Immigration Department.
"We’re competing with the rest of the world for migrant capital and it’s a positive sign to see the government noting an intention to streamline and speed up SIV visa processing," Berrick Wilson, partner at investment firm KordaMentha Pty that offers advice and complying funds for SIV investors.
The changes to the SIV will take effect during 2014/15 while the Premium Investor Visa will be introduced from July 1.
(Editing by Michael Perry)