Monday, September 20, 2021

One law for the rich? Google founder buys residency in NZ ‘closed’ by pandemic

The billionaire arrived in New Zealand with his son while the country was closed off to poorer people due to Covid-19 restrictions.

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New Zealand is not an easy country in which to acquire permanent residency.

So when it was confirmed on Friday that Google co-founder Larry Page has gained New Zealand residency, it triggered debate over whether extremely wealthy people can simply buy the right to live in the South Pacific country, reports the AP.

Immigration New Zealand said Page first applied for residency in November 2020 under a special visa open to people with at least NZ$10 million (US$7 million) to invest.

“As he was offshore at the time, his application was not able to be processed because of Covid-19 restrictions,” the agency said in a statement. “Once Page entered New Zealand, his application was able to be processed and it was approved on Feb 4, 2021.”

New Zealand lawmakers confirmed that Page and his son first arrived in New Zealand in January after the family filed an urgent application for the son to be evacuated from Fiji due to a medical emergency.

“The day after the application was received, a New Zealand air ambulance staffed by a New Zealand ICU nurse-escort medevacked the child and an adult family member from Fiji to New Zealand,” Health Minister Andrew Little told Parliament.

Little was responding to questions about how Page had managed to enter New Zealand at a time when its borders were closed to non-residents in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Little told lawmakers the family had abided by applicable virus protocols when they arrived.

Immigration New Zealand reminded lawmakers that while the billionaire is now a resident, he does not have permanent residency status and remains subject to certain restrictions.

Still, the agency on its website promotes the “Investor Plus” visa as offering a “New Zealand lifestyle,” adding that “you may be able to bring your car, boat and household items to New Zealand, free of customs charges”.

Opposition lawmakers said the Page episode raises questions about why he was approved so quickly at a time when thousands of skilled workers and separated family members who were desperate to enter New Zealand were being refused entry.

“The government is sending a message that money is more important than doctors, fruit pickers and families who are separated from their children,” ACT deputy leader Brooke van Velden said in a statement.

Some local news organisations have reported that Page has since left New Zealand.

Forbes on Friday ranked Page as the world’s sixth-wealthiest person, with an estimated fortune of US$117 billion. The American business magazine noted that Page stepped down as chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet in 2019 but remains a board member and controlling shareholder.

In 2017, it emerged that another Silicon Valley billionaire, Peter Thiel, had been able to gain New Zealand citizenship six years earlier, despite never having lived in the country.

The co-founder of PayPal was approved after a top lawmaker decided his entrepreneurial skills and philanthropy were valuable to the nation.

Thiel didn’t even have to leave California for the ceremony. He was granted citizenship during a private ceremony held at the New Zealand Consulate in Santa Monica, California.

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