Portugal Golden Visa: Madeira “Refuses” to Comply, President Says Govt. is Considering “Alternative Proposals”

In an interview with Diário de Notícias on Saturday, Miguel Albuquerque, President of Portugal’s autonomous Madeira region, lambasted the national government’s controversial “More Housing” bill, which, among other measures, seeks to end the golden visa program.

Albuquerque stated categorically that the regional government of Madeira “refuses to apply the measures of the Mais Habitação program,” which he characterized as “counterproductive”, “statist”, and “almost Venezuelan”. He also maintained that Madeira’s autonomy – which grants it a range of powers – gave it the “capacity and authority to legislate on the subject.”

Commenting on the proposed restrictions on local accommodations and on empty homes – which imply significant encroachment on private property rights, such as forcing owners to rent out empty apartments – Albuquerque remarked that the bill makes Airbnbs a “meaningless scapegoat” for housing problems. The housing reform, he indicated, made a mockery of investor confidence. Harassing investors is a “crazy idea,” he added.

Albuquerque now demands a “specific solution, dimensioned and adequate to the regional reality” because, as currently constituted, the proposed bill would spell economic disaster for Madeira, whose economy depends on tourism and foreign investment in the form of, for example, holiday homes that sit empty for much of the year.

Government entertaining alternative proposals

President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa – who will soon have to decide whether to approve, veto, or refer the Mais Habitação bill to the Constitutional Court – last week visited Madeira to hear first-hand about the local authorities’ misgivings about the draft bill. Calling for calm and negotiation, de Sousa suggested all parties to the discussion take a “wait-and-see” approach because “there are alternative proposals, and the diplomas are being considered.” He explained that several initiatives from the PSD (Social Democrats) were “feasible” and being negotiated with the government.

Albuquerque also warned that, if discussions don’t go the way he hopes, he was prepared to join the Azores, Portugal’s other Autonomous Region, in forming a united front against the central government’s proposal. “The Azores are in the same situation,” said Albuquerque. “They don’t want these measures either. We were not consulted, and that is a shame. This was all decided centrally and without knowledge of the regional reality.”

José Manuel Bolieiro, President of the Azores Autonomous Region, echoed the sentiments of his Madeiran counterpart: “We are not going to abdicate political autonomy within the framework of legality and constitutionality,” he commented earlier in the week.

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While Albuquerque decries the proposed restrictions on local accommodations as “an attack on a regime that not only brought enormous benefits to tourism and real estate rehabilitation in the region but also constitutes an important source of income for many families,” what really makes his blood boil is the proposed closure of the golden visa program:

The government, he said, proposed to end the program to address real estate speculation in Porto and Lisbon and it, therefore, makes no sense to extend the measure also to the Autonomous Regions, where the economic effects could be devastating.

“The program has brought many high-income foreign residents to Madeira, with obvious benefits for the local economy and very significant direct positive effects in sectors such as real estate and construction,” remarked Albuquerque. “In 2022 alone, more than 600 million euros were received this way. You can’t joke about something so serious.”

Attacking foreign investment aimed at urban rehabilitation, said the Madeiran President, would be “counterproductive”, particularly in light of the complete lack of proposals from the government for how to replace this capital.

Questioned as to whether Albuquerque is right in claiming his regional government has the capacity and authority to legislate on the subject”, Pedro Catão Pinheiro of Next Lawyers Gali Macedo & Associados expressed skepticism.

“With regards to regulations for local accommodations, the autonomous regions likely do have the capacity to resist decisions from Lisbon,” Pinheiro explains. “I am much less optimistic about their ability to do so when it comes to the golden visa program, simply because these residence permits are issued directly by the Portuguese Republic. The autonomous governments cannot issue residence permits of their own, and therefore relies on national legislation.”