The Portuguese government has announced that it will continue to issue residence permits to foreign investors under its ‘Golden Visa’ scheme, despite allegations of corruption, influence peddling and money laundering being levelled at the officials running the program.
Portugal’s Vice Premier Paulo Portas said that ending this program “is a mistake that other countries which compete against us in exactly the same sector would take advantage of”.
“One cannot confuse the tree with the forest,” he added.
An investigation of the issuance of visas under the scheme had led to the arrest of several high-ranking officials in Portugal, including that of the head of immigration and border control service. Under the investigation, searches were conducted at different locations including the interior ministry.
Following the investigation, Portugal’s interior minister Miguel Macedo resigned last week, although he denied any wrongdoing and said that his decision was a move to prevent further damage to the government. Macedo has been under tremendous pressure of late because of reports that claimed that he was a partner in a company under investigation.
Macedo said that this investigation had diminished his authority as a minister even though he was not involved in the visas. “I want to say that I have no administrative involvement whatsoever in the attribution of visas. In other words, I have no personal responsibility of anything that is under investigation … I have resigned to defend the government,” he said.
The golden visa program was launched in 2012 by the Portuguese government following the country’s debt crisis. The program provides residency permits to non-EU nationals who invest more than €500,000 in real estate. So far it has brought more than a billion euros to the Portuguese economy, mostly from wealthy Chinese investors. The residency permit allows a person to travel visa-free within Europe’s 26-nation Schengen zone. So far 1,649 residency permits have been issued by Portugal under the program to people from China, Russia, Brazil, Angola and other countries.
“I don’t think Portugal is in a position to throw away an investment of this size,” said Portas.
Critics of the program have long argued that it may be misused by criminals and fuel corruption. “Those who oppose immigration for poor people looking for work defend the pseudo-immigration of the rich. The immigration policy of the government amounts to the sale of visas,” said communist deputy Antonio Filipe.
Other countries in Europe also offer similar programs, including Spain, Greece, Malta and Cyprus. The European Parliament has opposed some of these programs. Earlier this year, the European Union passed a resolution stating that citizenship in EU should not have a “price tag”.
Portas however maintains that Portugal’s golden visa program can be “improved and refined”, and it should continue running because it is vital in attracting investment and generating growth and jobs.