Greece was first among the major European golden visa countries to close its immigration processing operations as part of a broad early response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has earned the country much international praise.
Before the pandemic, however, the program’s administrators – the decentralized authorities’ immigration bureaus – were struggling to keep up with demand; bureaucratic inefficiencies, said program practitioners in January, was “costing Greece billions in lost revenue”. A small minority of Chinese applicants even threatened to take the government to court, having waited more than two years for adjudication.
Laboring under the recent lockdown, however, immigration bureaus have taken advantage of a dearth in new applications to clear some of the accumulated backlog of already filed ones, says Alexander Risvas, principal of Risvas & Associates, a golden visa specialist based in Athens.
“The temporary closure of the immigration offices gave some vital time to the competent authorities to deal with the backlog,” he explains. “Few applications went through during the lockdown, especially ones for which additional documentation was requested.”
Late last month, Greece introduced several changes to its application procedures this month in an effort to reduce bureaucracy and “jump-start” the program after the pandemic, such as by allowing prospective golden visa holders to apply by proxy.
With only some 160 COVID-19 related deaths, Greece is among Europe’s least affected countries, and, at the end of this month, the Mitsotakis administration will once more open the country’s borders to EU nationals, aiming to salvage some of the tourist season. What golden visa investors want to know, however, is when third-country nationals will be admitted; while Greece has taken great leaps toward remote-enabling the application process, some steps still require the applicant’s physical presence.
The gathering of applicants’ biometric data is one such step.
“It is still possible to apply for a Golden Visa as the country accepts electronic copies of documents, but the procedure cannot be completed until the biometric exams take place,” Risvas points out. “So, now, it is possible to submit documents but getting a Greek Golden Visa will be possible only after the re-opening of the international borders.”
Risvas says it still isn’t clear whether the government will also open for non-EU nationals at the end of May. One way to mitigate that predicament would be to allow applicants to submit also the biometric data outside of Greece.
“That’s something our firm has numerous times suggested to the officials and I believe they are considering an option to give power to the Embassies to take action,” says Risvas.
While biometric exams must still be conducted in person, a rule change in the last week goes a long way in ameliorating the impasse; applicants may now submit the biometrics at a later date, i.e., when borders reopen.
“When we submit the application, we get a temporary residence permit (the blue card), which is valid for one year and allows the applicant to stay in Greece up to the final issuance of the golden visa (during the processing time),” says Alexander Varnavas, Partner in the eponymous firm.
“This document allows the investors to stay in Greece and also to travel between Greece and their home country, although not to other Schengen countries. Typically, the investors can visit Greece within the next six months to give their biometrics and only then receive their final permits.”
On April 16th, Varnavas Law petitioned for the removal of the requirement for applicants to show their original passports upon collection of their approved residence permits.
“From the beginning of the program,” says Alexander Varnavas, “the applicants or their representative lawyers had to bring the original passports with them in order to collect the final residence permits. Most of the investors used to send their passports by courier services or trying to gather the whole family to travel to Greece,” he says, expressing relief that the government has now accepted his firm’s proposal.
Central government going out of its way to get out of the way
Recent weeks have seen the government adopt a flurry of rationalizations upon request from service providers. Authorized representatives, for example, will henceforth be able to submit applications directly to the Ministry, bypassing unhurried bureaucrats at the decentralized immigration bureaus.
The Mitsotakis government has demonstrated remarkable flexibility and willingness to simplify the processing, not only during the outbreak but also in the six months that preceded it. But while the central government is cutting red tape at a record pace, such zeal isn’t always reflected farther down the totem pole.
“We have a serious problem with the land registry authorities lately,” says Panos Rozakis of Prime Synergy, another Greek residency specialist. “Especially in central Athens. Their excuse is ‘workload’ and the change of process from the previous administration [nearly a year ago].”
The Greek golden visa’s annual total investments have grown by double-digit percentages each year since opening. 2020 volumes will certainly be impacted by the pandemic, but to what extent? Could Greece still hope to match – or even surpass – last year’s figures?
“We are expecting a weak third quarter and hoping for more intense activity in the fourth quarter,” comments Risvas. “We believe that the coronavirus crisis will motivate more high-income investors to reassess their investment strategy, mainly as to how they can safeguard their capital and families in case of future health and financial shocks. In that context, countries with successful residence permit or nationality concession programs will be at the focus of interest, with Greece well-positioned to benefit even though it seems impossible to match last year’s results.”
The idea of investors increasingly starting to physically relocate to Greece is also “gaining ground day by day,” he says.
Want to know more about the Greek Golden Visa program? To see recent articles, statistics, official links, and more, please visit its Program Page. To see which firms can assist with applications, visit the Residence & Citizenship by Investment Company Directory.
Properties that can qualify the buyer for residence permits in Greece:
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Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 14 years in the United States, China, and Spain.