Golden visas for foreign investors cause debate in Greece
Greece: Wealthy foreign investors are reportedly using residency permits and European Union passports to buy up apartment blocks for reduced fees and convert them into short-term rentals after mass evictions take place.
The allegations surfaced in a report by the British newspaper, The Telegraph, in which it claims the phenomenon is down to Greece’s controversial selling of so-called “golden visas”.
Greece provides the visas in exchange for investments of over €250,000 ($282,680), including in property. As a result, foreign investors from countries as far as China are allegedly buying up whole sections of Athens neighbourhoods and evicting local residents to make way for the rentals, which are then listed on popular rental platforms such as Airbnb.
European Union officials are also concerned that the schemes are not being properly vetted, leaving the opportunity for criminals to launder money from illicit businesses that use the visas to get into the EU and hide their money.
The Telegraph reported that the visa programme is leading to “mass evictions, with renters removed from their homes to make way for Airbnb properties”. In the meantime, some popular tourist areas, such as Koukaki near the Acropolis and Exarchia, are now being populated with graffiti-ridden buildings that are converted into new short-term rentals and account for 93 per cent of the properties.
The Telegraph wrote: “Homes are increasingly being bought and converted into Airbnb properties, primarily by Chinese investors, under the golden visa scheme being actively promoted by the Greek government.”
Greek hoteliers have reacted furiously to the growing presence of short-term rentals in Greece, especially as the country is attracting record tourist numbers. Last year, some 33 million visitors, three times the country’s population, visited Greece and many seek out rentals as cheaper alternatives to hotels and apartments.
Airbnb told the paper that the report “was an attempt by a hotel group to protect its profits and smear hosts who spread tourism benefits beyond hotels to local families, business and communities and block competition”.
The paper said that in the past two years, the number of Airbnb properties rose from 9,000 to 129,000 and that, according to unnamed “real estate sources” most of these rentals “come from golden visa portfolios”.
The report added: “Golden visas have in the last five years rejuvenated the real estate market in Greece and the government is now planning to expand the programme.”
It also noted that the Greek visas are the cheapest in the EU, and ten times less what they cost in the UK.
As a result, the paper claimed that Greek “golden visas” are proving popular among Chinese, Russian and Turkish foreign investors, and that many people and businesses were evicted from their rentals by new owners.