In a surprise move, Greece toughens Golden Visa rules

Greece has made it more difficult for non-EU nationals to qualify for its residency-for-investment program, also referred to as the Golden Visa program, in a bid to help ease the country's severe housing shortage.

In an announcement made by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis over the weekend, investors will have to double the amount of money needed to qualify for the five-year residency visa. The amount has risen to 500,000 euros from 250,000 euros previously.

Government officials say that the decision was taken to help meet demand in a housing market where prices have raced ahead amidst tight supply levels. Greece has also launched a subsidy program aimed at providing low interest rate loans to young people acquiring their first home as soaring housing costs rank among the top problems cited by Greek households.

The move to double the investment threshold, however, caught many in the investment sector off guard. Real estate officials, legal experts and investors complain that the tougher criteria means that Greece's Golden Visa program will now lose its competitive edge against countries like Spain.

Lawyers point out that Spain also has a 500,000 euro limit but the country offers a residency permit after the initial five-year investment period – a benefit that Greece does not offer.

Local press has reported in the last few days several real estate companies dealing with Chinese buyers have decided to close up and pull out of the country as the policy decision means that interest in Greek homes from Asian buyers will just about disappear.