Portugal’s plan to exclude Lisbon and Porto from golden visa scheme draws disdain from developers

Foreign nationals looking for a chance to secure residency in Portugal through the golden visa scheme might have to start looking for property outside the capital Lisbon and Porto, as the government moves to check the rapid increase in prices in these cities, putting it beyond the reach of many locals.

But the property industry is fighting against the proposed amendments to the scheme, arguing that foreign investors would be discouraged from investing in Portuguese real estate as other cities are widely perceived as less investor-friendly.

The government has been given authorisation until the end of 2020 to amend the state budget, which could pave the way for the exclusion of Lisbon and Porto in the investment scheme.

“I believe there is a huge probability that the golden visa legal framework would suffer some amendments and I would say there would be fine-tuning,” said Hugo Santos Ferreira, executive vice-president of the Portuguese Association of Real Estate Developers and Investors.

This sentiment was echoed by Antonio Mira, who offers advisory services to foreigners seeking golden visas. “I think they will do it,” he said.

The golden visa programme grants successful applicants the right to live, work and study in Portugal, along with visa-free travel in 26 countries in the European Union, and eventually a legal residence. Under the present scheme, an individual is eligible for a golden visa if, among other options, they acquire at least €350,000 (US$379,000) worth of property 

Since its launch in 2012, the programme has attracted about €5 billion in investment, and about 90 per cent was in property. As of August 2019, the Chinese were the largest group that have availed of golden visa in Portugal. In recent months, Hongkongers have become a huge market for Portugal’s investment scheme as the city reeled from unprecedented social unrest that started in June.

Property purchase is not the only way to obtain a golden visa in Portugal. The other options include a €1 million capital investment, a €250,000 donation to artistic productions or rehabilitation of national cultural heritage, and creating a minimum of 10 new jobs.

Investments by overseas buyers are believed to have led to a surge in housing prices. The latest government data showed the housing price index rose 10.3 per cent to 143.12 in the third quarter of 2019, from 129.72 a year ago.

“If this change does occur in legislative terms, the market may experience a price adjustment,” said Rafael Ascenso, general manager at Porta da Frente, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. Property investment for golden visa makes up at least 10 per cent of the agency’s business, Ascenso said.

“What we are trying to do is to explain to the government that the golden visa is not the cause of rising prices or lack of housing,” said Santos Ferreira, noting that in Porto only 1 per cent of property transactions was related to golden visa.

He added that investors would only be persuaded to invest in these interior cities if they could improve property licencing processes and make them shorter than a year, the usual period it takes for a project to be approved in Lisbon.

“If they can do that we believe that maybe the Hong Kong or Chinese investors will try to go to the interior cities but we have to convince the municipalities to create this friendly environment to investors and if they’re able to do that, you can mitigate the risk in investing in the interiors,” Santos Ferreira said.

Growing tourism and the short-term rental market, as well as a tax-friendly regime, are also fuelling growth in property prices, according to Rita Ribeiro of INS Portugal, affiliated with the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.

Other property agents remain upbeat about the prospects of the Portuguese property market, particularly Lisbon and Porto.

“The real estate market remains dynamic in Portugal … Top locations are unlikely to lose value,” said Goncalo Canelas, marketing and technology director of Portugal Sotheby’s International Realty.

Meanwhile, JLL expects the amendment could spur investment in other cities in Portugal.