By Moustafa Daly
Despite Greece’s golden visa program attracting over $1.3 billion in foreign investment throughout 2023, according to Migration and Asylum Ministry figures, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) plans to end the lucrative program.
Party leader Nikos Androulakis vowed last week to launch a campaign against the program, arguing it was negatively impacting the Greek economy, making housing unaffordable, and turning Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s office into a “real estate agency,” according to local media reports.
"The golden visa was a policy implemented in many European countries due to the ten-year economic crisis,” Androulakis said in a televised speech. “The measure has reached its limits, and that is why it is being abolished or suspended. Mr Mitsotakis is continuing a growth that is ‘dehellenising’ the Greek economy,’ the leader of the leftist opposition party added.
However, given the positive impact the program has had on the Greek economy, some industry professionals were quick to denounce Androulakis’s concerns.
“I consider these statements about anti-Hellenism to be excessive and more of a political confrontation than a responsible stance of an opposition party,” says Mary Tsiganou, immigration consultant and vice president of Synergia SA.
However, Penny Konitsioti Rizou, attorney and founder at Penny Konitsioti Legal Services Boutique, sees Androulakis’s concerns as justified. “The argument provided by Mr. Androulakis is based on the effects on real estate prices of the Golden Visa program that are devastating,” she argues.
“More specifically in the last few years, many of the properties obtained with this program remain uninhabited by their owners and are not used or are converted into small hotels with short-term rental Airbnb, effectively withdrawing from the housing market thousands of properties and a steep increase in rents and house prices,” adds Konitsioti Rizou.
Is Greece’s golden visa going to follow in the footsteps of Portugal?
Golden visas in Europe and elsewhere have often caught up in accusations of hiking property prices and making them unaffordable to locals. This idea pushed Portugal, a prominent golden visa destination, to majorly reform its program in 2023, scrapping the real estate route, which the government deemed problematic.
In its attempt to address the common concern, Greece decided in 2023 to double the real estate investment threshold of the golden visa to €500,000 in popular tourist areas, including Athens – aiming to lessen housing demand in these areas and instead redirect investments to activate less popular real estate markets.
Androulakis, however, doesn’t see the measure as sufficient. Using Portugal and Ireland as examples, he called on the Greek government to scrap the program altogether. It’s noted that Portugal recently scrapped its real estate option yet kept other options open; Ireland shut its program altogether in 2023, citing security concerns unrelated to the housing market.
According to Konitsioti Rizou, the hike in property prices in popular regions has been steep and pronounced, possibly legitimizing Androulakis’s concerns. “The jump in prices in the Attica region is such that it’s at a historical high for the second quarter in a row; in the fourth quarter of 2022, the annual price increase had risen to 15.2%, being the highest performance of the last few decades. Accordingly, in Thessaloniki the increase had reached 14.5% in the last three months of 2022.”
Yet, Tsiganou disagrees with Androulakis’s views. “First of all, the Greek Golden Visa Program does not only offer the property option to potential investors as it is represented [by Androulakis],” she says.
“Business activity in any sector of the Greek economy, or alternative options of investment in intangible assets, are some of the provided alternatives.”
Moreover, Greece has a homeownership rate of above 70%, Tsiganou adds. Therefore, most citizens won’t be as heavily affected by the inflow of foreign property buyers as in other countries with less predominant homeownership rates.
Is the Greek golden visa good for the economy?
Also, the program has positively impacted other economic sectors, most notably tourism, and gave the Greek capital a facelift due to the inflow of investments, Tsiganou insists.
“Foreign investments, especially in big cities, had totally changed the picture and upgraded the cities’ image,” she says. “Abandoned buildings, old semi-destroyed houses now adorn the neighbourhoods of the centers and have become a pole of attraction for tourists and nomads, while Greek citizens prefer to stay out of the centers.”
This urban rejuvenation, partly due to the investor visa program, attracted Greek citizens back to city centers, particularly Athens’, which, according to Tsiganou, wasn’t favored by locals as it looked “miserable and derelict.”
On the other hand, Konitsioti Rizou is concerned over long-term reputational damage to Greece due to the program.
“After 10 years of establishing the golden visa program, Greece undertakes the risk of being seen as a state friendly to money laundering and tax avoidance since it is very difficult, if not impossible, to effectively certify the legal origin of the money invested by foreigners who come mainly from Asian and Middle Eastern countries,” she cautions.
Since a new immigration act was only recently voted on to come into effect in April of 2024, Tsiganou doesn’t expect any golden visa changes to happen within 2024.
“Τhey already voted the new Immigration Law in force from Apr. 1, 2024, incorporating the [Golden Visa] price changes for some areas and keeping the real estate option open. The government targeting to replicate the property upgrade to rest areas of the country,” she adds.
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