EuropeIntel & Data

Greek Golden Visa Was the World’s Most Popular in 2023 – Time to “Abolish” the Program, Says Main Opposition Party

Many market observers had assumed Greece’s long-anticipated increase in the minimum investment requirement for real estate in 36 densely populated municipalities was the driver of the golden visa’s rapidly growing application volumes, as investors rushed to apply ahead of the price hike. But while the price increase took effect in July, application volumes have remained extremely elevated compared to previous years, suggesting other factors are catalyzing demand for the program.

In the four months that have passed since the policy change, a total of 2,866 investors have submitted golden visa applications, an average of 717 a month. This represents a 65% increase compared to the same four months in 2022.

By the end of November this year, Greece had received an all-time record 7,752 applications, already 78% more than in all of 2022 (the previous record year), with a month still to spare. This already makes the program the world's most applied-to golden visa in 2023

Of the 7,752 applications received in 2023, Greece has so far approved only about one in five. It has rejected only 14 (less than one percent of processed files).

Uncharacteristically high application volumes notwithstanding, Greek authorities were finally able to chip away at their massive backlog last month. For the first time since August 2022, the total number of pending applications (including both main applicants and family members, and both initial permits and renewal applications) actually fell slightly in November, from 27,512 to 27,045.

In terms of main applicants filing their initial residence permit application, however, approvals continue to lag applications month by month. That the backlog for main applicant initial applications fell from 7,542 to 7,319 in November, despite applications exceeding approvals each month for the last 15 months, indicates that authorities have been catching up on files from 2021 and early 2022.

Nonetheless, the backlog remains large, obstinate, and representative of vast amounts of as-yet-unaccounted-for FDI: Presuming an average per-applicant investment of EUR 300,000, the 7,319 pending initial applications for main applicants would correspond to investments collectively worth some EUR 2.2 billion.

Similarly, the 7,752 applications filed in 2023 are based on investments worth in excess of EUR 2.3 billion. In other words, the program has helped the Greek economy - which has been on a strong upward trajectory since the business-friendly (some would say economically literate) Mitsotakis administration took over in 2019 - attract FDI of nearly EUR 200 million a month this year.

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The backlog is heavily concentrated in the Greek capital region of Attica, where 86% of the 8,461 pending applications for initial permits and renewals from main applicants are located. This concentration is likely to disperse somewhat over the coming year, as investors choose to apply in the regions that now have lower minimum investment thresholds.

Athens' port-city suburb Piraeus, however, is likely to continue to draw investment toward Attica, since it is not among the 36 municipalities that now have the higher minimum investment requirement despite being part of the Athens metropolitan area.

The fastest-growing investor group this year, in absolute terms, has been the Chinese, who have seen their ranks swell by 2,001 investors in 2023. They are followed by Turks at 457, Lebanese at 192, Iranians at 169, Americans at 92, and Egyptians at 73. The number of currently active golden visas held by Russian nationals declined by 44.

Among the nearly 15,000 main applicant Greek golden visas now in circulation (initials and renewals combined), Chinese account for 58%, Turks 7%, Russians and Lebanese 5%, and Iranians and Egyptians 3%.

PASOK calls for end to golden visa program

Earlier this week, Nikos Androulakis, leader of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) - one of the country's main opposition parties - called for an end to the golden visa program in Greece. Vowing to start a nationwide campaign against the program, which he says is to blame for soaring property prices in Athens, Androulakis said the Mitsotakis administration was "running his office like a real estate agency."

The program, he said, had "reached its limits," he said. He pointed out that the majority of investors were Chinese and levied a nationalist criticism against the government for "insisting on the kind of growth that makes the Greek economy less Greek."

Androulakis also said Portugal and Spain had repealed or suspended their golden visas, an outright lie.

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