ATHENS – Ahead of a doubling of the the benchmark to 500,000 euros ($535,825) on May 1, wealthy foreigners who want to buy a Greek residency permit that comes with a valuable European Union passport are knocking down the doors to get them.
The Ministry of Migration and Asylum said that 2,767 so-called Golden Viass were issued in 2022 as the COVID-19 pandemic waned, a big jump over the 1,525 the year before, said Balkan Insight.
The European Union warned that the programs could be used by criminals and money launders, which is what happened on Cyprus, where its residency permit was ended in disgrace.
The visas are also offered in only four other of the EU’s 27 member states: Malta, a known haven for hiding cash, as well as Portugal, Spain and Italy but Greece has become especially aggressive in courting rich foreigners.
Portugal announced on Feb. 17 the end of its Golden Visa program as well as a ban on new licenses for Airbnbs and other short-term holiday rentals as it faces a housing crisis.
The Greek program began in 2014 and offered visas for individuals buying at least 250,000 euros ($267,912,) in property, such a low threshold that thousands jumped in, scooping up so many units it nearly emptied some big-city neighborhoods of residents as apartments became short-term rentals.
It also drove up rents around Athens especially and led Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to say the bar would be raised to 500,000 euros ($535,825) to lessen multiple purchases.
A residence permit is also granted to third-country nationals – a citizen of a state not in the EU nor of Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway or Switzerland – who make qualified investments, the news site noted.
They could also live in Greece if they make an intangible investment in specific forms of securities or a bank deposit exceeding 400,000 ($428,660) by themselves or also through legal entities.
Ministry data from 2014 until the end of 2022 showed that 62.8 percent of the residence permits, a total of 6,159, were granted to Chinese nationals, followed by Turks with 631 at 6.4 percent; Lebanese with 4.5 percent, Egyptians with 29 percent and only 200 for British nationals.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) said Mitsotakis’ move, ahead of spring elections, came as Greeks were grumbling about the soaring prices of housing, leading many to share homes or return to their parents residence.
In 2022, the European Commission called on EU governments to stop selling citizenship to investors but that’s different from Golden Visas, which offer permanent residency rather than citizenship to people with no ties to the country in which they can then buy citizenship.