SYRIZA Moves to Sell More Golden Visa Residency Permits, EU Passports

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

ATHENS – With the sale of Golden Visa residency permits to rich foreigners bringing a bonanza despite fears it’s being used by criminals and money launderers and seeing investors scoop up whole neighborhoods, Greece wants to expand the categories for the well-heeled to get them, which also bring European Union passports.

An Economy Ministry bill would broaden the criteria for citizens outside the EU to get the treasured permits even while it takes members of the Diaspora, such as Greek-Americans, up to two years unless they pay bribes, as sometimes happens.

The Golden Visas grant a five-year residence permit for an investment of 250,000 euros ($280,987) in real estate purchases but the new law would allow for investors and family members who put at least 400,000 euros ($449,580)in Greek securities and companies, with the aim of increasing foreign direct investment, media reports said.

That means a time deposit at a Greek bank of at least that amount for at least 12 months with a fixed order for renewal will suffice for a Golden Visa as will buying real estate in the same amount which has seen Chinese and Russia investors buying up and converting property for short-term rentals such as Airbnb, driving out residents from apartments and seeing rents soar even in depressed areas tourists find attractive.

The new criteria also include the investment of a minimum of 400,000 euros in state bonds of at least three years’ duration through a Greece-based bank, or the investment of a minimum of 400,000 euros in a mutual fund set up in Greece or abroad to invest exclusively in shares and bonds trading in Greece and with total assets of least 3 million euros ($3.37 million).

Foreigners may also obtain the permit with an investment of 800,000 euros ($899,159) in stocks or corporate bonds in the Greek capital markets. The provision mandates an investment in companies based in Greece and listed on the Athens Stock Exchange which has seen a long series of roller-coaster rides and occasional big losses.

Also included is the investment of capital in a real estate holdings company exclusively active in Greece and for the purchase of shares or stakes in Greece-based investment funds.

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 in 2018 up to Aug. 31, though this figure is expected to rise rapidly as hundreds of real estate purchase licenses are still pending, the business paper Naftemporiki 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 also showed 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.