By Uglobal Staff
While the American EB-5 visa program entices international investors to the Unites States, the European golden visas are gaining attention over the last few years as they have been introduced across multiple countries in the European Union and Schengen Visa zones. These golden investor visas result in residency and potential citizenship, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ scheme. Each country has substantial differences in its golden visa program, often offering two paths – one for residency and one for citizenship.
“The golden visa programs are the next big trend,” says Alexander C. Varnavas, Partner at Varnavas Law Firm 1978, a 40-year-old law firm with expertise in real estate and investment migration law in Athens, Greece. “Since more countries are planning to offer similar programs, there are positive amendments in order to stay competitive in the market.”
The purpose behind introducing the golden visa programs was to infuse much needed funds into the national economy of the country offering the program while affording foreign investors immediate residency either through investment in real estate, business or government bonds. Usually there is no requirement to live permanently in the country after making the investment and the investors may eventually qualify for citizenship. There are also a few countries that offer citizenship-by-investment programs and almost direct citizenship to investors in return for a larger investment.
So, what’s the big attraction for investors? For one, freedom to work and travel within the Schengen Visa area that includes 26 European countries that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. For another, security to families and dependents, with the right to live in a stable environment, and the benefit of the European Union's education and healthcare systems.
While every country has its own set of pre-requisites for what that golden visa will cost in terms of minimum investment, renewing residency, right for dependents, language fluency among other things. Latvia currently requires a minimal business investment of 80,000 € for permanent residency in two months but citizenship would be nine years in the making and investment in property comes at a higher asking price of 250,000 €.
Other countries offering such golden visa programs are Belgium, United Kingdom, Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Croatia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary and Georgia but some of these are not in the Schengen visa zone so free movement within Europe might not be possible if desired.
Marina Andrade, Private Immigration Lawyer in Lisbon, Portugal points out, “The benefits to investors in such programs are that they can request citizenship after a number of years, they have a residence permit without the obligation of living in that country, and they may freely travel around the Schengen space without having to get any other type of visa.”
Launched in 2012, the Portuguese Golden Visa grants residency with a real estate investment of 500,000 €. There is temporary residence status for the investor and their family, provided that investment is maintained and renewed every two years. After five years, applicants qualify for permanent residency, and after six years, citizenship and a passport. The best part - there is no requirement to reside in the investment property during that time.
Andrade shares, “Since the beginning of the program, I have dealt with a lot of golden visa clients. Initially Portuguese authorities managed the program but nowadays the process is simple and pain free. After submitting all the necessary documents, the approvals are issued within 3-4 months, which is very good.”
Portugal and Spain are the most popular golden visa programs according to Andrade, as the investment amounts are reasonable and after six years, investors can request citizenship. Spain is one of the larger economies in Europe offering such a program, and has a flexible residency option. Permanent residency and citizenship can be applied for at a later stage. An investment of 500,000 € in real estate will gain a family residency, with visa renewal every two years. After five years, they can gain permanent residency, and after ten years - citizenship.
Greece’s Golden Visa program offers a residency visa through property investment from 250,000 € with no minimum stay requirement. Launched in July 2013, this grants a five-year residency visa, which is renewed every five years if the property investment is retained but it is not necessary to live in the country in order to do so. However, citizenship can only be granted after seven years of residency.
Varnavas states Greece, Portugal, Malta and Spain as the more popular golden visa programs, adding that the programs have brought positive impact to the economies concerned.
“The Greek Golden Visa program has already brought in almost one billion euros to the cash-strapped economy of Greece,” he shares. “All countries reported boost in economic growth, employment and demand in real estate since the inception of such programs. Golden visas are estimated to be a $5 billion market yearly around the globe.”