Setting up shop in Australia

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Two years ago, Michael Ducar swapped the island paradise of Hawaii for the crescent beaches of Australia's Gold Coast. Today, American-born Ducar and his Australian partner head up Media Five Architects, one of the fastest growing resort- and commercial-design firms in the country. They now employ 120 Australians. Business comes from Australia, Japan, and the United States. And annual billings are pushing the $7 million mark.

Mr. Ducar is one of the Business Migration Program's success stories. The BMP is a government effort to lure well-heeled entrepreneurs from around the globe to the Land of Oz. With a large trade deficit, Australia dearly wants the economic kick start and export links these big fish can deliver.

The BMP competes directly with similar programs in the United States and Canada. And it's doing quite well.

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The program started slowly in 1981. But since 1986, as red tape was cut and promotional budgets expanded, the BMP has boomed. Last year, the number in the program doubled to 3,600, equal to the number entering Canada in a similar program. While the United States limits its program to 4,800, Australia puts no quota on this kind of migrant.

At the current pace, BMP officials expect to pull in some 7,000 business migrants and their families over the next year. Most are coming from Asia; nearly half from Hong Kong as the British lease expiration date nears. Interest is germinating in South Korea, Japan, and the US.

Under Australia's BMP, entrepreneurs must bring in $500,000 in cash and assets (which includes ``soft'' assets such as patents) plus a minimum of $150,000 in ``resettlement'' money. A track record - not a full-fledged business plan - and statement of intent are also required.

In exchange, migrants get a permanent resident visa. In some countries, business migrants may have to have a business running within a year or forfeit their visa.

The Australian program also provides relocation and business counseling. And perhaps most important to an entrepreneur - a minimum of red tape. To speed the process the government is enlisting the private sector. Accredited agents - often accountants, lawyers, bank officers, and consultants - are now assessing applicants and providing counseling services.

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