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Economy

Greece’s Golden Visa Applications Grow Even During Pandemic

November 14, 2021

ATHENS – Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened, rich foreigners who want Greek residency permits and valued European Union passports are returning, the number of applications picking up fast.

The Migration Policy Ministry said there were 193 requests in October while there were only 554 in the first nine months of 2021, the acceleration curiously coming as cases hit record numbers but the New Democracy government rejecting lockdowns.

During the raging pandemic year of 2020, Greece issued 938 residence permits through the so-called Golden Visa scheme, said Kathimerini, which requires investors to buy property worth at least 250,000 euros ($286,284) to be eligible.

Most of the permits have been scooped up by wealthy Chinese and Russians and foreigners with no connection to Greece as the European Union said it plans to add a tax on Golden Visas and said some programs are open to criminal activity and money laundering.

With a near-halt in international air travel in 2020 and only a gradual return this year, picking up in the summer when Greece welcomed tourists, it was difficult for people to get to Greece for holidays or buy property.

There was a 73.4 percent drop in applications in Greece in 2020 compared to the record-busting year of 2019 as the government opened the country to anyone with cash willing to plunk it down for property to be able to get a visa.

There were 3,535 permits in 2019, the paper said, bringing in more than 1.45 billion euros ($1.66 billion) and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been courting investors and businesses to accelerate an economic recovery. That fell to 875 million euros ($1.002 billion) in 2020.

Since the start of the incentives scheme Greece has given 9,322 residence permits to investors and a total of 27,944 permits when their family members are included too.

The overall investment in the Greek property market through this program is estimated at 2.33 billion ($2.67 billion, although the total amount invested in the purchase of Greek property assets by foreigners is seen as far higher, possibly more than 3 billion euros ($3.44 billion) the report added.

That takes into account that many investors spend far more than the minimum needed to be eligible as Greece has become a hot spot not just for tourists but for acquiring properties and second or vacation homes.

A similar program on Cyprus was scuttled after investigations and media reports showed it was being used by criminals for money laundering and to hide their assets, which the government denied before admitting it happened.

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