The Greek Migration Policy Ministry plans to extend the plan launched in 2014 to revive Greece’s dilapidated real estate, that is the Golden Visa program. The latter, previously reserved for investors of a minimum of 250,000 euros in real estate in Greece, shall be expanded to include those who make a bank deposit or an investment in Greek bonds or shares of at least 400,000 euros. The scheme aims to entice investors to contribute to the country’s economic revival and to respond to the ever-increasing market demand.
1. In a difficult economic juncture and after recognizing that the most interesting opportunities emerge in times of crisis, Greece has tried to act flexibly and, through carefully strategic steps in recent years, to capitalize on its strengths in a broad spectrum of sectors -namely tourism and real estate, food and agriculture, renewable energy sources, technology and ICT, environmental management, export-oriented manufacturing and life sciences. By placing great emphasis on approaching and attracting foreign direct investments through flexible and fast administrative procedures and by promoting the country’s natural resources, well-educated human capital and other unique comparative advantages in the broader South-Eastern European region, the contemporary and cosmopolitan face of the country is highlighted in a creative manner.
II. Former Initiatives
2. Since 2014, Greece has introduced a very favorable Golden Visa program which applies to all non-EU citizens who purchase a property in Greece (Law 4251/2014). The national legislator purported to trigger the investment interest of individuals and legal entities domiciled in third countries by facilitating the issuance of a residence permit. Indeed, the legal provisions of law 4151/2014 facilitate the stay of third-country investors, whose investments are characterized as Strategic Investments (under a decision of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Strategic Investments) or, via the provision of extended stay time limits for the representatives of investment bodies and their partners.
3. Furthermore, third country nationals and members of their families, who purchase or long-term lease real estate property in Greece, the minimum cost of which is set to € 250,000, are offered long-term residence permits. The relevant investment can be made in land, off-plan, new or resale properties provided that the minimum value is met. Further, for those who aspire to make significant profit from their properties, generating thus a yearly average return of 5-10%, the opportunity to apply for a residence permit exists when purchasing not one but several properties with a total cost of 250.000 euros. One of the properties can be used as residence and the remaining ones can be set either for a yearly lease, in case of urban real estate, or for a short-term lease, in case of a resort accommodation.
4. Moreover, according to Article 20 of Law 4251/2014, third country nationals who purchase real estate property the value of which exceeds € 250,000, are granted residence permits which are renewed every five years, so long the property remains in the possession of the owner. Furthermore, periods of absence from Greece shall not hinder the renewal of the residence permit. Nonetheless, the possession of the real estate is paramount, taking into consideration that pursuant to article 20(B)(5), a potential resale of a real estate property during the period of validity of the residence permit to another third-country national shall entitle the buyer to the issue of a residence permit with a simultaneous revocation of the original permit already granted. The residence permits – among others – allow for unlimited travel within the EU and Schengen areas without further conditions.
5. In 2015, the Greek Parliament approved the new immigration law, namely law 4332/2015, which introduced additional benefits to investors of real estate with value more than 250,000 euros. More specifically, investors and their spouses may apply for citizenship after a 7-year stay in Greece. The permanent residence permit is valid not only for the property owner but also for his or her spouse, for the lineal descendants of the spouses or either spouse, who are under 21 years old and for the direct ascendants of the spouses.
III. Imminent legislative developments
6. In the not too distant future (probably in the next few months), the Greek Migration Policy Ministry is planning to set forward an amendment of the existing legal framework reforming the program. With that, new investment types shall become readily available for international investors.
7. While the initiative still remains in the dark side of the moon, the new bill shall probably expand the measure of offering a residence permit to non-European Union investors beyond the property sector, with the Golden Visa program being widened to include people with deposits of at least 400,000 euros in a time deposit at a Greek bank.
8. The amendment shall allow for the entry into and residence in Greece of non-EU residents who have made at least one of the following investments in the country:
a. Investment of at least 400,000 euros in a company based or headquartered in Greece (excluding portfolio investment companies and real estate investment companies).
b. Investment of a minimum of 400,000 euros in a real estate investment company of Law 2778/1999 (A 295) aimed at investing exclusively in Greece, by acquiring shares in a share capital increase.
c. Investment of at least 400,000 euros in a business holdings company of Law 2367/1995 (A 261) or to Investment Equity Funds of Law 2992/2002 (A 54) for acquiring shares exclusively in companies based or headquartered in Greece.
d. Acquisition of Greek government bonds from a local credit institution, spending a minimum of 400,000 euros with a maturity date at least three years ahead.
e. Placing a minimum of 400,000 euros in a time deposit at a Greek credit institution for a fixed term of at least 12 months with a fixed order for renewal.
f. Investing a minimum total of 800,000 euros in shares, corporate bonds or Greek government bonds that trade in regulated markets.
g. Investment in shares costing at least 400,000 euros in an alternative investments corporation set up in Greece or in another EU country aimed at investing exclusively in real estate in Greece, under certain conditions, namely if (i) the assets of the alternative investment corporation amount to at least 3 million euros and (ii) the corporation and its manager are licensed by the authority that oversees the capital market of the country in which it is located.
9. With a new vision for development, Greece has set up a flexible and fast procedure for non- EU/EEA foreign investors who wish to obtain an entry visa and a residence permit for the purpose of investment activity in Greece. Although similar initiatives for the creation of a friendly climate for investments are already implemented in a number of EU member states, the Greek Golden Visa program appears to be one of the most competitive and therefore attractive ones. First, the financial requirement is one of the lowest investment thresholds providing the right to obtain residence permit on the territory of the EU. Second, the lack of a requirement for physical presence of the investor rendering the project even more compelling. Finally, the intention to expand the Golden Visa program to anyone who invests in Greek equities, funds, corporate bonds or government debt securities in addition to real estate buyers, shall constitute a first successful attempt to cope with the dynamics of the monetary system so as to boost the national economy and to stimulate the domestic land market in a novel and original manner.