European Commission targets Golden Visa schemes led by Spain

The European Commission is not happy with European cash-for-residency programmes like Spain’s so-called ‘Golden Visa’ scheme, and is pushing for them to be reined in. One wonders how much longer they will be tolerated by EU authorities.

European residency by investment programmes are a potential threat to security and source of dirty money, warns a new report from the Commission published this week. Background checks on investors and their wealth are not rigorous enough to prevent money launderers and tax evaders taking advantage of them.

“We speak about opening [a] golden gate to Europe for some privileged people who have the money to pay for citizenship or residence,” EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova said at a press conference presenting the report. “We are looking at it with concern.”

Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta have been singled out for criticism for operating cash for residency schemes that require no connection to the country, but Spain is the leader of the pack when it comes to popularity with global Golden Visa investors.

Spain’s Golden Visa scheme, which offers qualified residency and a path to long term citizenship in return for an equity investment of €500,000 or more in property, has been the most popular scheme in the EU with 24,755 Golden Visa issued since 2013, according to a Transparency International report published in 2018. The next most popular destinations for residency by investment punters were Hungary (19,800), Portugal (17,500), Latvia (17,300), and the UK (10,400).

Other countries offering ‘Golden Visas’ include Britain, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia. So well over half of the EU member countries have a scheme of one form or another.

The Spanish scheme is popular with wealthy investors from China, Russia and ex-USSR states, the USA, India, and Venezuela, reports the Spanish press.

Golden Visa schemes in the EU are contentious because, apart from the money laundering and corruption risk, one country alone benefits from the investment whilst the others share the costs and risks of allowing people to buy residency in the EU, as investors enjoy EU-wide benefits such as visa-free travel in the Schengen area. It’s like one country selling the benefits of EU membership whilst keeping all the money. The Commission hates them, Germany is not a fan, and with rising hostility to immigration in the EU, I wouldn’t be surprised if their days are numbered.

About Mark Stücklin

Mark Stücklin is a Barcelona-based Spanish property market analyst, and author of the 'Spanish Property Doctor' column in the Sunday Times (2005 - 2008).

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