Portugal Plans Tighter Golden Visa Controls After Arrests

Portugal plans to tighten controls over residence permits issued to non-European property investors after an investigation into the country’s “golden-visa” program led to the resignation of a minister and several arrests.

The new rules will include audits by a unit of the Ministry of Internal Administration and more people will be involved in the decision-making process, Vice Premier Paulo Portas said today.

“The aim is to improve this program,” Portas said at a press conference in Lisbon. “There are 13 other EU countries with similar investor programs and it doesn’t seem wise to me to give up this program to the benefit of others.”

A probe into allegations of corruption, influence peddling and money laundering linked to the visas led to 11 detentions, the Portuguese Prosecutor General’s Office said Nov. 13. Three days later Internal Administration Minister Miguel Macedo stepped down. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The visa program enables non-EU citizens who invest at least 500,000 euros ($568,000) in real estate to obtain a temporary residency permit that allows them to travel freely within Europe. Chinese investors are the biggest participants in the program, which has attracted 1.27 billion euros of investment over the past two years, Portas said.

“If someone abused the program then the force of the law should come down on them,” said Portas. “Still, one should not mistake the tree for the forest.”

Spain and Greece have similar property-for-visa programs. While the practice has been heralded by governments in southern Europe as a much-needed boost to their economies, the European Parliament has voiced opposition to some of the programs.

Last year, the EU Parliament approved a non-binding resolution stating that citizenship in the block shouldn’t have a “price tag.” Members expressed concern that programs adopted by some member states “directly or indirectly” result in the sale of EU citizenship.

Portas said the government also plans to issue resident permits to individuals who invest 350,000 euros or more in scientific research or the arts in Portugal. Property buyers who spend at least 500,000 euros in property renovation or investors in less populated regions of the country may also be eligible. The proposals would need parliamentary approval.

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