Of that total more than €1.5 billion was in the form of property purchases, according to the main estate agents' association, APEMIP.

Based on figures from the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), released earlier this week, APEMIP said that to the end of last year 2,788 Residence Authorisations for Investment (ARIs) - as the 'visas' are officially known - were issued, of which 2,635 or about 95% were in return for buying property.

The golden visa programme began on 8 October 2012.

Aside from property, 149 ARIs were issued in return for the transfer of capital, and four for the creation of 10 or more jobs.
In December alone, 95 ARIs were issued in total, 23 more than in November.

APEMIP president Luís Lima, hailed the resumption of growth after a period when the issuing of permits had slowed to a crawl, following the launching of a criminal investigation into alleged corruption in the administration of the programme.

"After a period of near stagnation, which brought into question the credibility of the 'Golden Visas' on the international panorama, I believe that we shall finally see an upward trend in the monthly figures," an APEMIP statement quoted Lima as saying. "These numbers show that property continues to be the chosen method for the potential investors that see us out.

"The investment values are impressive and one must not forget that each euro invested in property is multiplied by four or five, through investment that these investors end up making in other sectors of the economy," he added.

Lima noted that the new Socialist government has recognised the importance of changes in the rules of the programme made by its predecessor after the criminal investigation started. The maintenance of the programme is, he argued, "a positive signal" that will boost the confidence of "market agents and potential investors".