Wagga residents may fear foreign investment, with overseas business owners “stealing Australian jobs”, according to a commercial and migration lawyer.
But the RSG Law firm partner, Farhan Rehman, said investment from overseas could boost the economy of Wagga and other regional areas, if it was targeted the right way.
His words follow a push to create a new incentive for migrants to seek business opportunities outside metropolitan areas.
Mr Rehman said the current foreign-investor visa allowed them to setup businesses in major cities, but RSG lawyer Farhan Rehman said there was little incentive to support regions like the Riverina.
It is the reason behind his firm’s decision to submit a proposal to the national Immigration Minister Peter Dutton this week.
“I am from Wagga,” Mr Rehman said. “And it’s clear in smaller towns, the economic activity is not great.”
He said an ageing population and lack of incentive for young residents to stay in rural areas was contributing to a clear decline in economic growth, with business closures and job losses.
“People are packing up and moving elsewhere,” Mr Rehman said.
“Even in cities like Wagga, growth has not been as strong as it could be.”
He said the significance of what would be a sub-class visa, was to give investors a reason to set up in rural towns and regional cities, under the provision they employ Australian residents first.
“Places like Wagga aren’t benefiting from foreign investment overall,” he said. “The city has not reached it’s potential.”
He said foreign investment was often demonised, but it didn’t have to be.
“The good thing about our submission is investment would be lower as an incentive, but business owners would have to employ Australians,” Mr Rehman said. “If there was a proper, planned incentive to set up on regions with less than 100,000 people, Wagga would benefit.”
The submission read: “There is no visa subclass that focuses only on regional-rural investment … Such investment would in turn combat unemployment in our regional areas by creation of jobs and opportunities”.
Wagga Business Chamber manager Anabel Williams said as long as the main perimeters of the proposed visa were to employ Australian’s first, it would be a win-win for the city.
“When investors see empty shops on the main street, it doesn’t look good,” Ms Williams said. "(The visa) would certainly increase consumer confidence.”
She said unemployment in Wagga was not high, but the city would profit from further growth.