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Spain's 'golden visa' suffers shaky start

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Spain's 'golden visa' suffers shaky start
Photo: Tomás Fano
12:50 CEST+02:00
Just 72 people have signed on to a controversial Spanish 'visa for cash' scheme which grants automatic Spanish residency to people who buy a property worth at least €500,000 ($685,000).

The so-called 'golden visa' scheme has reaped only small rewards, according to Spain's El País newspaper.

Introduced in September 2013, the law gives foreigners who invest large sums in Spanish property, public debt and projects of general interest the right to reside in Spain.

For property investors, the mininum investment before taxes and changes is €500,000. Once the extra costs are factored in, however, the real cost is closer to €600,000.

While the law doesn't give people the right to work in Spain, there is one tasty added extra: it gives non-EU citizens access to the entire Schengen area.

To date, however, only 72 people have managed to take advantage of the visa deal via the property route.

Half of these cashed-up foreigners are Chinese and Russians, according to figures from Spain's Secretary of Immigration. People from strife-hit Ukraine, Lebanon and Egypt have also signed up the figures show.

Seven months into the scheme, it is too early to say whether the scheme has been a success. 

But Jason Ham, Head of Business Development, with Barcelona-based high-end real esate agent Lucas Fox is upbeat about the numbers.

"These figures are very similar to the initial take up in Portugal, where there was only a handful in the first six months, but the first year ended up with over 700 successful applications. We expect the same to happen in Spain, " he told The Local.

"We are well aware that Chinese investors in particular take much longer to research new markets, and that last year there was still residual bad press about the poor state of the Spanish economy," Ham explained 

"From our extensive contacts in China and the Far East, we know that there is huge interest over there, and that this will soon convert itself into business and investors aiming to obtain a Golden Visa."

But Ham also admitted a lack of clarity about the rules was causing some problems.

"There are certain areas of the law that could certainly do with clarifying —  even very minor 'grey' areas can cause uncertainty for potential buyers in a new country," he said.

Ham added Portugal was slightly more attractive to some golden visa applicants because it provide an easier route to citizenship.

"We would not be surprised to see a few official 'tweaks' (to the Spanish scheme) in the near future," the property experty said.

But the early figures are still unlikely to provide much comfort to a government trying to stoke up interest in the country's real estate sector.

The Spanish government first touted the golden visa scheme in November 2012, setting the property investment hurdle at €160,000, a figure many believed made Spain look cheap when compared to the €400,000 sum demanded by Portugal and Ireland for non-European Union residency permits.

This figure was then raised to €500,000 before the law was passed in September 2013.

The controversial law was slammed by refugee and immigrant groups who called it a slap in the face to people who spent years making the country their home.

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