Portugal to continue golden visa program despite criticism

Portugal rejected the call to end golden visas, which had been proposed by the Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

1. Vetoed

Initially proposed by the left in government — Communist Party (PCP), Left Bloc and the People, Animals and Nature Party (PAN) — the initiative to abolish the country’s golden visa program was squashed by the ruling Socialist Party.
“The government explicitly said that this issue would be assessed. And that assessment and analysis, after the [program’s] last alteration, hasn’t been concluded. The Communist’s Party proposal was, therefore, out of time in relation to the fine analysis still to be done,” an official source pointed out, according to the EU Observer.
Despite Prime Minister Costa having already admitted this possibility, the Socialists voted against the end of gold visas. During the marathon of proposals to amend the 2023 State Budget, the PCP proposed the end of this regime that facilitates the residence of foreign investors who invest in the real estate market in Portugal.

In early November, the Prime Minister admitted that this program could end, but now in plenary he barred the communists’ proposal. The Social Democrats and the extreme-right party Chega joined the Socialists in blocking the end of this controversial program.
“What the government is announcing is that it will continue with privileged regimes for the very rich that will continue to make house prices soar and those who work with a salary in our country continue to not have that basic right to housing. We do not accept an exchange of privilege regimes for other privilege regimes,” warned Catarina Martins, Bloc Left’s leader.

2. Golden visa

The golden visa scheme began in 2012 and it’s quite simple: invest a big amount of money in the country and in return you receive a residence permit. In exchange for investing millions in local businesses, promoting jobs, or acquiring properties, non-European families were given the opportunity of gaining residency permits to a number of European nations. They also enjoy the benefit of free traveling across the EU and within the Schengen countries. After some years they can apply for citizenship in the host country, although this varies from country to country. In Portugal, it’s after 6 years whereas in Italy, it is after 10 years.

In the Portuguese and Spanish case, the minimum investment amount is 500,000 euros in a property or the creation of jobs in the host country. In Greece the purchases must be at least 250,000 euros and 300,000 euros in Cyprus. Earlier in 2022, Portugal changed its golden visa program, limiting the purchase of residential properties in hotspots such as Lisbon, Porto, and the coastal tourist areas of the Algarve. The recent changes to the Portuguese golden visa came into effect in January, more than a year after their announcement.

3. Residence permit for investment activity

Data provided by the Foreigners and Border Service (SEF) revealed that 11,189 internationals benefited from Portugal’s Residency by Investment Program (RIP) in the last 10 years. In addition, the data provided by the SEF also revealed that a total of 6.54 billion euros had been invested in this country, with about 90% being in the real estate market. Of the 11,189 golden visas issued also benefited a total of 18,368 family members, while the main beneficiaries from this program were citizens of Brazil, Turkey, and South Africa.

4. Corruption

Despite the economic opportunities that the scheme may bring to the host country, the golden visa program was in the media spotlight in Portugal many times after it was reported that it had been involved in many unlawful affairs, such as corruption and tax evasion. “Maze Operation” the designed name for the investigation in Portugal, was exactly a maze of relationships inside the government, opening way to bribes in order to issue golden visas.
On top of the plot was the President of the Institute of Registry and Notary (IRN), António Figueiredo and Maria Antónia Enes, Secretary-General of the Justice Minister, who were both sentenced to 4 years in jail in 2019, for negotiating and inflating real estate prices in exchange of golden visas issued in a dodgy quick way, through some real estate agencies.

Portuguese politician and former MEP Ana Gomes condemned the scheme for opening the door to international organised crime. She referred to the golden visa as “the sale of citizenship by instalment.” In 2020, Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria were all instructed by the European Commission to remove their citizenship-through-instalment programmes. Cyprus was eventually forced to withdraw its scheme, while Malta and Bulgaria still continue.

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רח' י.ד. ברקוביץ' 4, תל-אביב

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