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Greece Reopening Lagging Golden Visa Scheme Selling Residency

Αssociated Press

A Dutch couple wearing face mask to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, arrives from Amsterdam to the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, Monday, June 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS – After the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on, Greece is restarting its lucrative Golden Visa program offering residency permits and European Union passports to rich foreigners.

While those the Diaspora who can't afford it have to wait two years or more to get their dual citizenship or residency permits even though they can show their family links, the  wealthy from other countries with no ties to Greece get preference.

The program in the first quarter showed its first decline as a lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of the virus began March 23 and didn't begin being gradually lifted until May 4 after non-essential businesses were closed, the economy on hold too.

“In the first three months of the year we had practically no new transactions and this is unlikely to change in the rest of the year, with a possible exception in the final quarter when there may be an increase in market activity,” Alexandros Risvas, head of the Risvas & Associates law firm, told Kathimerini.

While the pandemic has led to more government processes going online, he said technology didn't keep up with the visa scheme that could have further expedited applications although critics have warned it's open to money laundering and crime.

“We could have allowed the electronic forwarding of fingerprints, through embassy cooperation, so that at least some of the applications pending in previous months would proceed,” he said in May.

With the early lockdown credited with holding down the number of cases and deaths and bringing plaudits, the New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is eager to reboot an economy that was recovering faster after a near decade-long crisis made more difficult by austerity measures.

The government is seeking the best way to relaunch the Golden Visa program, with the changes that have been made before the Coronavirus hit, said SchengenVisaInfo.com which covers the European Union countries that allow visa-free travel.

Deputy Finance Minister Theodoros Skylakakis earlier stressed Greece wanted to especially crank up the real estate market and would be “immediately relaunching the golden visa program.” 

“To accelerate the course of growth in the coming months, we will seek to lift the bureaucratic obstacles that currently exist in the property market,” he pointed out at the time.

Golden Visas offered by some of the European Union Member States have often been criticized by the EU Commission for being a “doorway” for corruption and money laundering, the site noted.

In March last year, a recommendation adopted by the European Parliament members urged the European Union countries running golden visa and passport schemes to put them to an end.

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 the economic crisis.

Many of those have been converted into short-term rentals through portals such as Airbnb, emptying 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 who bring in critical cash.

Risvas told Kathimerini in March 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.”

For more EU travel information visit: https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/