Substantial investment in environmentally friendly projects will from now on be another gateway for foreign nationals to gain access to Portugal and the European Union.
The proposal, lodged by PAN – People, Nature, Animals, was voted through with votes in favour by the ruling Socialists and the Social Democrats, which gave the bill around three-quarters of all votes. The Greens voted against.
However, another decree, tabled for voting at the same time to eliminate the Golden Visa, was rejected. This came despite the Left Bloc sponsored proposal being backed by PAN, the Greens and the Communist Party.
André Silva, leader and sole MP for PAN, said after the vote that “the approval of the Green Visa will serve to reinforce Portugal’s role in attracting international ecological investment, while simultaneously ensuring the transition to a circular and carbon-free economy.”
According to PAN, investment in any of the areas stipulated in their proposal of 250,000 over a minimum of five years will result in the attribution of a Green Visa.
But the discussion on the elimination of Golden Visas was much more heated. Government alliance partner the Left Bloc arguing the scheme was merely a way of selling citizenship.
Left Bloc José Manuel Pureza said during the debate that a “country which takes itself seriously does not sell citizen’s rights.”
According to the MP, of the almost 7,000 Golden Visas issued since its introduction in 2012, only 13 were associated with investments resulting in job creation.
Prior to the vote, Transparency International Portugal (TI Portugal) called on the Ministry of Home Affairs to immediately release information on its ‘Golden Visa’ programme.
“The Government has committed to review the Golden Visa programme but has not yet begun to do so. What is more, they have not released the information crucial to assess the risks and merits of the scheme,” said TI Portugal’s President João Paulo Batalha.
The organisation has asked how many visas have been denied or revoked, how many jobs have been created, and what risk analysis and due diligence procedures are followed when screening Golden Visas applicants.
The watchdog has previously warned about the risks of corruption and money laundering associated with Portugal’s Golden Visa scheme. Most notably, TI Portugal has criticised a lack of transparency around the procedures followed by the authorities to ensure the legal origin of the money invested under the programme, the overwhelming majority of which goes to the luxury real estate sector.
Last October, a report by TI on Portugal and a dozen of other EU countries, accused these nations of offering residency schemes that expose the entire Union to multiple corruption risks.
In response to a question during a parliamentary debate on the release of the critical report, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa stated that his government would review the programme.
Around €25 billion in foreign direct investment has flowed into the EU through these schemes over the last ten years. Portugal is among the front runners, with an estimated four billion euros of this total being transferred to the country by third nationals seeking residence and/or Portuguese passports.
The report, compiled in conjunction with Global Witness, says Golden Visa schemes have seen the EU welcome over 100,000 residents, with Portugal, Spain, the UK, Hungary and Latvia topping the list of EU states where resident permits are most easily handed out to foreigners with sufficient cash.
The report, titled European Getaway – Inside the Murky World of Golden Visas, says, while huge volumes of money are involved, checks for money laundering and corruption and illegal origins of the investment are not especially rigorous.
Portugal is specifically identified as an area that poses “high risks”.
Reference is made to a review in which a number of issues that make the residence programme for investment vulnerable to corruption were flagged.
“The lack of clear guidelines and the wide discretion given to public officials working in regional immigration and borders services offices open opportunities for inconsistent application of the rules”, the report reveals in its chapter on Portugal.
Concern was also levelled at the fact that the SEF Immigration and Borders Service does not check whether applicants are subject to ongoing investigations or open criminal complaints outside of Portugal.
“There also seem to be no checks on applicants’ source of wealth and funds used for investment”, says Transparency International, and added that “enhanced checks should be extended to all family members.”