ATHENS – With the sale of Golden Visas that come with European Union passports for wealthy foreign investors bringing in big revenues, Greece's labryinthine bureaucracy is holding back the processing at the same time critics said the applicants aren't being vetted for money laundering.
Greece gives rich foreigners residency permits if they put at least 250,000 euros into buying property – much of it said being immediately converged into short-term rentals for sites like Airbnb, driving up rent prices and pushing out Greeks in favor of tourists.
Much of the interest is coming from China, whose major port company COSCO run Piraeus and where other businessses are showing interest in scooping up Greek enterprises and putting more money into the country.
But the processing of the visa applications is so slow, said Kathimerini, that the government has been forced to decentralize the Decentralized Authorities because it's too centralized and creating a logjam and big backup.
Law firms and estate agents are contacting Decentralized Authorities – regional state agencies one level above the Regional Authorities – trying to find the earliest available dates to submit Golden Visa applications and have interviews conducted with their clients.
“A few weeks ago we had to travel with the buyer of a Vouliagmeni property to Patra (more than 200 kilometers away,) where we finally managed to submit the documents and receive the residence permit,” Alexandros Risvas, head of the Risvas & Associates law firm which specializes in residence permits, told the paper..
The visa applications have been piling up for 18 months at the three central authorities in Attica (in Athens, Piraeus and Pallini), with one potential buyer and investor told the waiting list would push back applications two years.
The Migration Policy Ministry issued a decision in early April allowing for applications to be tabled with any Decentralized Authority in Greece – not just in the area where the property is located, trying to speed the process.
“The recent ministerial decision has indeed offered us some breathing space, as some investors had already started turning to other EU countries to invest their funds and obtain a residence permit. However, even that solution can only be temporary, as it is obvious that this system will also be overloaded soon,” Risvas said.
He added that lawyers and agents headed to Corinth – the nearest alternative to Attica – were observed as soon as the decision was issued, while Golden Visa applications quickly expanded also to Patra, Hania, Lamia, Larissa and even Thessaloniki.
“An integrated review of the supply of services to investors is required, focusing on resolving simple, practical problems that have emerged since the start of the Golden Visa program,” he added.
Since beginning the sale of coveted “Golden Visas” that come with residency permits and European Union passports, Greece had peddled off 4,154 through March to wealthy foreigners while even members of the Diaspora often have to wait a year or longer for papers allowing them to live in the country.
Visas can also be bought outright, with criticism there’s no vetting of applicants, by investing in Greek securities, such as shares of ATHEX-listed companies, Greek state bonds or with money deposited in Greek banks.
In 2018 alone, 1,399 such long-term residence permits were granted, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said in a report. Including dependents, the program numbers 11,445 people with Chinese nationals receiving 2,416 since the program began, followed by Russians and Turks after that.