Officials Suspend Portugal’s “Golden Visa” Program

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Portuguese officials announced on July 14 that the country’s “golden visa” program has been temporarily suspended, halting any unfinished ongoing applications.

The suspension officially took place July 1 after a new immigration law went into effect. That new law repealed the “golden visa” program but failed to replace it with a similar alternative, leaving in limbo those who already applied.

With the suspension of Portugal’s “golden visa” program, hundreds of incomplete applications could be denied. Luckily, already-completed applications will be allowed to be finalized, and the suspension is only expected to last 90 days, according to a report from the Portugal Resident.

Also good news for those already approved or awaiting approval for their Portuguese “golden visa,” the country’s nonhabitual resident tax-benefit program has not been effected by the changes; the “golden visa” was a separate program.

On Nov. 13, 2014, as part of an investigation into corruption related to the “golden visa” program, police officers conducted dozens of raids across Portugal, detaining 11 people, including the head of Portugal’s border agency, the president of the registration and notary institute, and a senior official from the justice ministry. Allegedly, purchases under the program were being made for less than the required minimum, with the difference being paid to officials.

As a result of the scandal, Interior Minister Miguel Macedo resigned from his position, claiming he had nothing to do with the corruption. Early July, Portuguese prosecutors said they plan to charge the former minister for money laundering involved in the “golden visa” scandal.

The program had previously been regarded by many, especially the Portugese government, as a huge success. As one of the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) that struggled as a result of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, the program was seen as an effective way to encourage foreign investment into the country.

The program allowed a foreigner who bought property for at least 500,000 euros to get a five-year residency permit and gain access to the 26 countries that make up Europe’s open-borders Schengen Area. The visa had generous requirements; holders only needed to be in Portugal seven days per year during the first year and 14 days in the following two-year period.

About 1,700 visas were issued under Portugal’s “golden visa” program since its introduction in 2012. As of late June, 2,420 “golden visas” had been issued and had earned Portugal US$2.28 billion of investment into the country.

Chinese applicants made up more than 80% of the 1,526 permits issued through the program in 2014, according to Portugal’s foreign affairs ministry. The program was also popular with Brazilians and Russians.

The program came under attack from opposition politicians previously. In March, Socialist Party member of the European Parliament Ana Gomes told the BBC that, “There might be all sorts of corrupt and even criminal organizations behind those who are benefiting from these schemes… and it might be another very dangerous avenue to import additional corruption and criminality into the EU.”

Portugal’s next election is expected to take place sometime in late September or early October. Recent polling shows the Socialist Party holding a slight lead over the governing center-right Portugal Ahead alliance.

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