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VISAS

Is Spain’s golden visa scheme at risk of being phased out?

Should non-EU nationals looking to gain residency in Spain through investment be rushing to apply for the golden visa following the European Parliament’s recent vote to phase out golden passports?

Is Spain's golden visa scheme at risk of being phased out?
Spain's golden visa scheme draws around €1 billion in foreign investments in Spain every year. But is the scheme at risk of disappearing now? Photo: Claudia Schmalz/Pixabay

Members of the European Parliament have been calling for the termination of ‘golden passport’ schemes since 2014, but the issue has become more prominent in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given the number of Russian citizens acquiring rights in EU countries through this route in recent years. 

This raises the question of whether Spain’s so-called golden visa has its days numbered, a scheme which started in 2013 and allows non-EU nationals who buy a Spanish property worth €500,000 or make a sizable investment in Spain to gain residency.

Spain’s golden visa

From 2013 to early 2020, Spain approved 24,500 golden visa residency permits for investors and their family members, including first-time applications and renewals.  

Chinese nationals received the most (8,287), followed by Russians (6,185) and then Ukrainians (1,011). 

According to Transparency International, Spain is one of the countries that approves most golden visas. 

READ MORE: What foreigners should be aware of before applying for Spain’s golden visa

Golden visas across Europe

The market of golden passports and visas developed rapidly since the 2008 financial crisis, as countries have sought to incentivise foreign investment.

Three EU countries – Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta – offer citizenship in exchange for a financial investment. Currently, however, Bulgaria is considering a government proposal to end the scheme, Cyprus is only processing applications submitted before November 2020, and Malta has just suspended the processing of applications from Russian citizens.

Spain is among the 12 EU countries (Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal) that grant residence permits on the basis of investments, the so-called ‘golden visas’. 

Each national scheme has different rules regarding minimum investment requirements, which range between €60,000 in Latvia and €1.25 million in the Netherlands. These can be through property ownership or contributions to public projects. 

A European parliament study estimates that, from 2011 to 2019, the total investment associated with these schemes has been €21.4 billion. 42,180 citizenship or residence applications have been approved under such programmes and more than 132,000 people have benefited, including family members of applicants. 

Do golden visas have their days numbered in Spain and Europe?

On March 9th 2022, the European Parliament called for the phasing out of citizenship by investment programmes operated by some EU countries and for EU-wide regulation on so-called ‘golden visas’ offered to wealthy individuals. 

The resolution passed by the parliament with 595 votes to 12 and 74 abstentions says golden passports should be scrapped fully, which evidences the support among EU directives to put a stop to these kinds of schemes. 

Golden visas pose a threat to European security and democracy as they can be used “as a backdoor” to the EU for “dirty money”, MEPs argued during the debate.

In the context of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,  a number of European countries including Greece, Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania , the Czech Republic and Iceland have blocked golden visa or similar residency applications by Russian nationals. 

People stroll in Puerto Banús luxury marina and shopping complex in Marbella. The glitzy town next to Málaga is one of the favourite destinations for Russian tourists and residents in Spain. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The Spanish government is yet to comment or announce any change to the golden visa scheme, either for Russians or applicants from other non-EU/Schengen nations.  

This is despite the fact that the Ministerial Counsellor of the Embassy of Ukraine in Madrid Dmitri Matyushenko has asked Spain to “review the policy of golden visas through which Russian oligarchs and representatives of the Russian government have obtained residence permits in Spain, by buying mansions”.

If Spain were to suspend golden visa applications from Russians, it would lose its second main source of golden visa investors, a scheme which draws an average of €1 billion a year for Spain, more so than any other EU country.  

It may still be willing to play ball with Europe on this front given the impact Russia’ illegal invasion of Ukraine is having on Spain’s economy.

But how about the rest of international golden visa applicants from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Canada and more? 

The European Parliament does make a distinction between golden passports, which it wants completely banned, and golden visas, for which it wants to “harmonise” the rules across the bloc with more stringent background checks, reporting obligations by member states, requirements for minimum physical residence. 

“Passports and golden visa schemes are not about attracting any meaningful legitimate investment in the real economy of Europe. They are designed for shady business, shady money and shady characters,” MEP Sophie in’t Veld said during the recent European Parliament debate.

This does rather controversially paint all golden visa applicants with the same brush and these are not necessarily views that are shared by the Spanish government, their lack of comment on the matter so far suggesting so. 

Spain does not have a golden passport scheme but rather a golden residency scheme which does allow holders to begin their ten-year road to Spanish citizenship.

It therefore seems highly unlikely that Spain’s golden visa scheme is at risk of being banned altogether, at most just for Russian nationals. 

But it could be that some of the more favourable conditions it currently offers – such as not having to actually live in Spain or be a tax resident – will be scrapped in order for Spain to be in line with these new EU regulations.

READ ALSO: How to make the most of Spain’s golden visa scheme

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VISAS

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you’re from a non-EU country you will need a visa in order to stay in Spain for longer than 90 days, but knowing which type of permit is best for you can be tricky. Here's how to find the right one for you based on your circumstances.

Worker, retiree or investor: What type of Spanish visa do I need?

If you are a citizen of a non-EU country then you may benefit from the 90-day rule, allowing you to visit Spain for 90 days out of every 180 without needing a visa. Countries including the UK, USA, Canada and Australia all benefit from this rule.

Citizens of certain countries require a visa even for a short trip – find the full list here.

However, the tricky part comes when you want to move to Spain and spend longer than just those three months. What are your visa options, whether you want to move to Spain to retire, to work or even to set up your own business? 

Retirees:

The best option for retirees is to apply for the non-lucrative visa (NLV). This allows you to live in Spain for one year, but as the name suggests you are not allowed to work.

In order to apply an applicant must show they have €27,792 at their disposal for one year (€34,740 if it’s a couple), as well as comprehensive health insurance.

If you want to stay in Spain beyond this year, you can either renew it for a further two years (again proving you have the financial means) or change your visa for a work permit or a self-employed permit through the residence modification process.

The NLV is also the best option for those who want to live abroad temporarily. Those who want to stay in Spain for more than three months, but are not planning on living here permanently. It’s ideal for those on a sabbatical for example who have savings or investments and who do not need to work in Spain while here, but want to stay here for a year. It’s also the best option for those who have the financial means to do so.

READ ALSO: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s non-lucrative visa?

retiree in Spain

The NLV is the right visa for most non-EU retirees who want to live in Spain. Photo: pasja1000 / Pixabay

Workers:

If you plan on moving to Spain for work or in order to look for a job, then you will need a work permit. Unfortunately getting a work permit can be tricky because in most cases as a non-EU national, the position you apply for must be on Spain’s shortage occupation list.

Your employer will also have to prove that there were no other suitable candidates within the EU to be able to fulfill the vacancy. This means that only highly skilled workers or those that work in industries that need workers are likely to be successful. These mostly include jobs in the maritime or fishing industries or sports coaches.

If you are wanting to become self-employed, then the entrepreneur visa could be a good option, allowing you to live in Spain for one year in order to open up a business. Be aware however your business must be considered as anything of innovative character with special economic interest for Spain.

You will have to prove you have the necessary qualifications to set up your business and will also have to submit your business plan to the authorities for it to be approved. The entrepreneur visa can be extended for a further two years after your initial one has been granted.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Spain’s visa for entrepreneurs

Investors:

If money is no object and you want to invest in a Spanish property then, you’ll want to apply for Spain’s golden visa. To be eligible, you must invest €500,000 before taxes in a property here. It won’t allow you to work, but it will allow you access to the entire Schengen area. This will also allow your spouse and any dependent children to move to Spain with you.

Another option for investors is the entrepreneur visa as described above, if you want to use your investment to set up a business in Spain.

Joining family members:

If you happen to have a family member who is an EU citizen and lives in Spain or a non-EU relative that has residency in Spain, then you have another option. This is called the family reunification visa. However, in order to be eligible, you need to be a spouse or a dependent child and your relative must have the means to financially support you. 

READ ALSO:

Students:

Enrolling on a course and applying for a student visa is one way for non-EU citizens of any age can live in Spain beyond the regular length of a tourist stay. 

You will have to apply for a short-term or long-term student visa, depending on the length of their course. A student advantages can several advantages such as being able to work part-time or bringing over family members. 

READ MORE: What are the pros and cons of Spain’s student visa?

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