Google founder resides in New Zealand and raises questions


WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The authorities’ confirmation Friday that Google co-founder Larry Page has been granted a residence permit in New Zealand has sparked debate over whether ultra-rich people can essentially buy access to the South Pacific country.

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

“As he was offshore at the time, his application could not be processed due to COVID-19 restrictions,” the agency said in a statement. “After Mr. Page entered New Zealand, his application was able to be processed and approved on February 4, 2021.”

Obtaining a New Zealand residence permit does not necessarily affect Page’s residence status in the US or other countries.

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

“The day after the application was received, a New Zealand air ambulance, commissioned by a New Zealand intensive care nurse and attendant, took the child and an adult family member from Fiji to New Zealand,” Health Minister Andrew Little told MPs in Parliament.

Little answered questions about how Page managed to enter the country at a time when New Zealand was closing its borders to non-residents to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Little told lawmakers that the family adhered to current virus protocols when they arrived.

Page’s residency application was approved about three weeks later.

Immigration New Zealand noted that while Page was a resident, he did not hold permanent residency status and was subject to certain restrictions.

Still, the agency touts the “Investor Plus” visa on its website as a “New Zealand lifestyle,” adding that “you can bring your car, boat and household goods into New Zealand without paying customs fees.”

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

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Friday, Forbes named Page the sixth-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $117 billion. Forbes noted that Page left the CEO position of Google’s parent company Alphabet in 2019, but remained a board member and controlling shareholder.

Opposition lawmakers said the episode raised questions about why Page was approved so quickly at a time when many skilled workers or separated family members yearning to enter New Zealand were turned away.

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

In 2017, it was revealed that Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel was able to acquire New Zealand citizenship six years ago, despite never having lived in the country. Thiel was approved after a top lawmaker decided that 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 in a private ceremony at the New Zealand Consulate in Santa Monica.

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