September 07, 2018
Greece to expand golden visa business
Apologies for the late briefing. We had a server breakdown just before our deadline. Our main story is about the ease with which it is possible to get an EU residency permit. Get access to Schengen with a property in Greece, reads one of the advertisements for the golden-visa scheme in Greece. The golden-visa business is been growing as a lucrative way to raise funds, not only in Greece. Over the last five years about 8000 applications were granted in Greece, 3000 alone this year, according to Spiegel Online. Among them are rich Chinese and Russians, but also increasingly Turks, Syrians and Iraqis. Given the take up in demand the Greek government is now working on extending the scope for golden-visa applications.
Under the current scheme, in place since 2013, residence permits are granted in return for purchasing a property worth €250,000 for five years, with the option of an extension.
The minimum investment of €250,000 is much less compared to other EU countries which grant residence under similar schemes like Portugal, Malta, Cyprus, Austria and Belgium. Also the Greek government does not require a minimum stay in Greece, so that in principle the investor can remain in his country and still get the residence permit. For Turkish people with money an investment in a Greek property has become an insurance scheme in case things turn nasty at home under the autocratic regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And wealthy Syrians pay their way to a visa instead of ending up in refugee camps. There are firms that specialise in offering clever investment schemes, already up and running for some years now for Russians and Chinese clients. It is not hard to see why the scheme raises moral, legal and security concerns.
Recently legal provisions were put in place to allow those residents to apply for Greek citizenship after seven years, and thus receive an EU passport. Once they have a passport they can travel freely in the Schengen area. The obstacles for getting a Greek passport are still high compared to other golden-visa countries like Cyprus, where there are no minimum requirements other than to bring in €2m in investment.
The Greek government is also preparing to widen the scope of investments under this scheme. Prospective buyers then would have an option not only to buy a property but also bank deposits, shares on the Greek stock exchange, Greek government bonds, or investments in companies based in Greece. For these investments, however, the minimum amount is higher than for property, requiring at least €400,000. The expansion is designed to meet demand and ensure the programme remains the most competitive in Europe, explains Vasso Kyrkou, director of communications at Enterprise Greece, an organisation with the objective to attract foreign investors.
The European Commission is deeply concerned about the growing number of EU passports granted in exchange for money, and called on the countries that offer them to quickly adopt new EU anti-money laundering laws, according to Politico.
The European Commission is also preparing for the end of the year a directive on Visa regulations in member countries, in particular addressing these golden-visa schemes. Athens reassures that it will implement whatever comes out of this. But since citizenship is a matter for the nation state, the EU's hands are tied to limit the golden-visa business.