Coronavirus Puts Crimp in Greece’s Golden Visa Program

A general view of the city of Athens with the ancient Acropolis hill on the background, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – A big source of revenue by selling residency permits and European Union passports to wealthy foreign investors, Greece’s Golden Visa program is taking a big hit because of the coronavirus as rich Chinese are the biggest source.

The virus, now known as COVID-19, broke out in Wuhan, China and Greece had already temporarily closed its visa office in China, cutting off a big stream of potential tourists with fears the disease will put the brakes on a record run of tourism seasons this year.

There’s been a drop in interest in buying the Golden Visas, which critics have said has been a conduit for money laundering and letting criminals hide cash, but also allowing foreign investors to qualify to meet the minimum 250,000-euro ($282,163) benchmark by scooping up properties at prices depressed during a long economic crisis that’s ending.

Many of those have been converted into short-term rentals through portals such as Airbnb, and emptied whole neighborhoods of long-term residents, changing the character of areas that lured tourists in the first place.
As many as 80 percent of the investors are from China but while Chinese tourists can’t get visas to visit, rich Chinese are still being allowed because they bring so much money to the country. 

Alexandros Risvas, head of the Risvas & Partners law firm, told Kathimerini that, ‘There certainly is a slowdown in applications for residence permits, due to difficulties in transport mainly for investors from China, as well as from the Middle East now.”

He cautioned the effect could become more severe if the virus isn’t contained and continues through the year with investors less interested for now in buying into the country despite the advantages of the visa.

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