ATHENS - Despite criticism it could be used for money laundering and has seen wealthy foreigners scoop up properties on the cheap, using them for short-term rentals driving out long-time residents, Greece is forging ahead with the so-called Golden Visa program offering five-year residency permits and a European Union passport.
A comparative study by Portuguese property service company Imovirtual showed that Greece’s program is the second cheapest in the European Union and the fifth cheapest globally, said Kathimerini in a report.
Citizens outside the EU who want the visa for themselves and their families must buy properties for at least 250,000 euros ($275,902.50) with plenty of stock in that range because of the country’s 9 ½-year-long economic crisis that saw the values drop.
The Imovirtual survey showed that, in Greece, an investor could purchase a 178-square meter property for the minimum amount, among the largest sizes across the EU for that purchase price.
The latest data from the Migration Policy Ministry showed that a total of 3,892 Golden Visas had been issued by end-2018, and that almost 1,400 such permits were issued over the course of last year, the paper said.
The latest available data for this year, concerning the period from January to June 4, showed that another 645 Golden Visas have been issued to non-EU citizens, on track to reach about 1,550 by the year’s end, a jump of 10 percent over 2018.
Some 4,537 have been issued since the start of the program which gives non-Greeks an advantage over those in the Diaspora who can’t afford to buy properties at that rate and who have to wait a year or longer to get residency permits, if they can obtain them without paying bribes as critics have alleged is sometimes required.
Most of the properties bought, 80 percent were in Attica, seeing whole neighborhoods in the capital emptied of residents in favor of renters using sites like Airbnb and driving up rents in other areas also being targeted by investors for resale or short-term rentals.
The Chinese, eager to invest in Greece, got 60 percent of the permits issued (2,757) and are stepping up purchases, followed by Russians and Turks, but there also are a few investors from Iraq and Iran.
The Golden Visa property purchasers don’t have to live in the units they buy and the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OEC) said the schemes, that run in many European Union countries, are also being used by criminals to launder money and get passports allowing them to move freely around the bloc.
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 as options.