Greek Passport World’s Seventh-Strongest, in Demand

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 7, 2018 photo, a passenger shows his Greek passport at Frankfurt airport, Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Greek passports providing visa-free travel to 183 countries were rated the world’s seventh-strongest by Henley Global, along with Malta and Australia, being sought by wealthy foreign investors who put at least 250,000 euros ($288,156) into the country.

They have to qualify for a five-year residency permit that leads to a passport through the so-called Golden Visa program offering benefits to the rich, but as even residents of the Diaspora, and Greek-Americans can find it difficult and lengthy to get a permit to live in the country.

Among the Golden Visa countries, only Spain and Portugal are rated better than Greek passports, which have security measures as well, in terms of how many countries are accessible, including through the much sought-after European Union, perhaps the strongest lure, along with the lower 250,000 euro threshold in Greece.

The visa program has led to criticism that criminals could be getting them as part of money laundering schemes or other misuse, including in Greece where

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, Kathimerini had 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.