European Commission could get tougher on golden visas

by Ray Clancy on November 22, 2017

The European Commission is to look into claims that residency visa schemes for investors could be attracting the wrong kind of people and even some linked to fraud.

The so called golden visa schemes where non-European Union investors are granted residency visas in EU countries have been growing in number and popularity, particularly in Portugal, Spain, Cyprus and Malta.

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They offer the chance to have residency and ultimately citizenship in return for investment in real estate or business, with a minimum amount set. Family members can also be granted residency status and they have proved popular with investors from South America, the Middle East and China.

Now there are suggestions that business people linked to development scandals in South America have been investing via these schemes. The Guardian newspaper reported that several Brazilian business people has been granted permanent resident in Portugal despite being linked to scandals in their home country.

The EC has now said it will investigate how the visas are granted in all member states and tighten the rules if necessary. ‘The conditions to get and grant citizenship are regulated by national law in each member state, but always in line with EU legislation,’ said an EC spokesperson.

The EC will compile a report next year on the policies in individual countries for awarding citizenship and residence permits to investors and more guidance to member states is likely.

In Portugal and Spain investors buying property can be granted residency status which allows them to travel visa free in Europe and also move on to be granted citizenship. The top nation being granted golden visas are Chinese nationals, followed by Brazilians, South Africans, Russians, Lebanese, Turks and Egyptians.

European Parliament member Werner Langen, who is chairman of the European Parliament Inquiry Committee on the Panama Papers which revealed the details of rich people and companies investing offshore, has said that he believes that in some cases it is amounting to a case of passports being ‘for sale’.

Last year Portuguese member And Gomes tabled an amendment requiring countries to carry out thorough security checks on golden visa applicants, which is currently being reviewed by EU member states.

The most up to date published figures show that in Spain where the minimum investment is €500,000 in property, €2 million in treasury bonds or €1 million in shares, some 2,236 investors have been accepted with three quarters investing in property.

In Portugal some 4,000 golden visas have been granted for investments totalling €1.5 billion in property while in Malta 1,000 visas were issued in 2016. In Cyprus, where a minimum investment of €500,000 in property is requires, numbers from China soared by 350% last year.

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