ATHENS – The sale of so-called Golden Visas that give rich foreigners residency permits and European Union passports has been big business for Greece with 2,008 more sold in 2019 through Dec. 1, data from Enterprise Greece showed.
The visas are given to the wealthy who invest at least 250,000 euros ($277,714) in properties while those in the Diaspora with Greek heritage who don’t have that kind of money have to wait two years or more for residency permits or dual citizenship.
Greece has sold off 4,059 Golden Visas since the program began in 2013 with the numbers soaring recently, especially to rich Chinese and Russians who are scooping up properties on the cheap in a market depressed by a near decade-long economic crisis, turning many of them into short-term rentals on platforms such as Airbnb.
That has emptied whole Athens neighborhoods of permanent residents and driven up rents while changing the character of areas into more transient-like, said critics, while there’s also been criticism applicants aren’t closely vetted for possible money laundering.
Golden Visas were given to 4,129 Chinese investors as links between the country have gotten closer, drawing a warning from US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt that China is trying to buy undue influence in Greece and using the country as an entry to the European Union.
From early September to early December, Greece issued 742 new five-year residence permits to non-EU investors and their families, with 90 percent (665 permits) going to Chinese buyers.
Bank of Greece data showed a 94 percent annual rise in inflows of money for buying property in January-June 2019 to 736 million euros ($817.59 million) as the New Democracy government is also wooing more of the rich by offering a flat 100,000-euro ($111,085.50) if they make Greece their residence at least six months a year and place to declare their annual taxes.