Greece steps up efforts to attract foreign private capital, boost tourism
Greece is seeking to step up efforts to attract foreign capital, boost tourism and support its economic recovery via a new legislation going into effect as of May which includes the easier issuance of long-term residence visas for major investors.Foreign nationals from non-EU countries who purchase or rent for a decade property of over 250,000 euros ($325,000) in the debt-laden country will be offered five-year renewable residence permits for themselves and their families.\"The aim is to encourage much-needed longer-term investments in Greece which will aid overall efforts to exit the Greek debt crisis and return to growth,\" Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis said during a press briefing in Athens this week, presenting one of the most attractive aspects of the amended investment incentive law which was recently ratified by the Greek parliament.The new law aims to create a more business-friendly environment for strategic and private investments in the country through further reduction of red tape and fast-track licensing of projects, officials of the Greek national promotion agency for \"Invest in Greece\" added.Some progress has been achieved over the past three years, however Greek officials and European Union/International Monetary Fund lenders who keep Greece afloat in exchange of austerity and reform, acknowledge that much remains to be done.Since the outbreak of the Greek debt crisis it is estimated that investments in Greece were slashed by 60 percent. As increased investment flow is regarded as a key motor to reverse deep recession, the amended legal framework aims to facilitate the licensing process of a broad range of investment projects through the establishment of a Central Licensing Authority, providing investors with incentives, such as the long-term visas.Particular attention is given to the tourism sector, a traditionally strong pillar of Greece\'s economy which still accounts for some 18 percent of the Greek GDP, Development Ministry officials told Xinhua.The modified legislation includes various provisions aiming to promote investments in tourism. For example, it sets the framework for the licensing and operating of seaplanes in Greece, which has hundreds of islands. The target is to improve access and consequently tourism revenue.Greek officials expect that with the long-term residence visa incentive private investors from non- EU countries, such as China, Russia or the Arab world, interested in making large investments in Greece will now explore more opportunities in the ailing real estate market, as a tourism investment or a holiday home.According to real estate agents, there has been increased interest over the past few years. \"We have been most fortunate that foreigners from such countries are looking for properties in our country this period. They have become our best clients, when the average Greek due to the crisis can no longer invest much,\" real estate agent Christina Manolakaki told Xinhua.With visa restrictions and bureaucracy eased, we expect greater interest to the benefit of the sector and Greek economy. It would be a significant vote of confidence for Greece\" she added.The severe recession fuelled by salary cuts and tax hikes has had a major impact on Greece\'s real estate market. Property prices have dropped by some 30 percent on average in four years due to poor demand, according to figures from central Bank of Greece.Therefore, foreign investors can find great bargains, as Greeks who cannot afford to pay increased extra property taxes are putting properties on the market.Greek officials hope that the easier and speedier issuance of extended residence permits for major investors will make a difference. Greece will benefit greatly by the investments, while applicants and their families will be able to travel freely -- but with no right to work -- in Greece and within the Schengen area.