Greece Extends Golden Visas for Rich Foreign Investors

FILE - Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Spata, near Athens. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS – Already offering five-year residency permits that offer so-called “Golden Visas” allowing travel within the European Union, the Greek government will let rich foreigners buy them through means other than acquiring properties of at least 250,000 euros ($283,3300.)

A 400,000-euro ($454,210) or more capital investment in a company based in or with facilities in Greece will meet the criterion, while excluding investment funds and real estate management firms, according to draft legislation seen by the business newspaper Naftemporiki.

Similarly, a guaranteed 400,000-euro outlay in a Greece-based holding company, purchase of Greek state bonds from a credit institution in Greece of at least 400,000 euros in value and for at least a three-year period, as well as a one-year time deposit in a Greek bank of at least 400,000 euros (with an automatic renewal clause) are other ways to buy the visas.

The scheme is an open bid to bring in money and gives priorities to wealthy non-Greeks while Greek-Americans and those in the Diaspora with family ties to the country have to wait two years or more to get dual citizenship and have long waits fore residency permits that are closely scrutinized if bribes aren’t paid in some cases, critics have said.

Purchases of company shares, corporate bonds and Greek state bonds through public offerings or ones traded in markets and by brokers in Greece and regulated by Greek authorities, with a minimum of investment of 800,000 euros ($908,420) is also included, the paper said.

THE CHINA SYNDROME

With investigators looking into a scheme to avoid capital controls in selling Greek properties to wealthy Chinese buyers, the investors are flocking to scoop up properties on the cheap in a market depressed by an economic crisis, entitling them to get the visas.

Chinese realtors, construction firms and tourism agencies have set up shop in Greece and joined forces with local legal firms and real estate companies to help the investors, often also making it easier for them to bypass capital controls in China, the paper said.

That has helped bump up the Greek real estate market, with sales rising on an annual basis by 60 percent in the first eight months of the year and the inflow of capital directed to property purchases shooting up 161 percent, according to Bank of Greece data.

Chinese investments are a big part of this increase, market sources say, and can be attributed in part to the low cost of the Golden Visa scheme with many of the properties then used for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, ironically driving up the rents in nearby buildings and pricing many Greeks out.

Greece has issued more than 3,000 residence permits to non-European Union nationals since the Golden Visa scheme was introduced in 2013. Of these, 661 were issued this year up to August 31, though this figure is expected to rise rapidly as hundreds of real estate purchase licenses are still pending, the paper said.

Greek authorities issued 443 such licenses in 2014, another 507 in 2015 and 557 in 2016, with the number swelling to 931 last year, accelerating the process in a country known for a notoriously slow bureaucracy.

Figures from the Migration Ministry show that some 1 billion euros ($1.14 billion) have been invested in the real estate market by non-EU nationals since 2013, meaning that the average cost of transactions is above the 250,000-euro limit, at 315,000 euros ($358,690).

Chinese businesspeople are the leaders among these investors, with 1,521 licenses, followed by Russians with 438 and Turks with 337.

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