Spain continues giving golden permits to Russian citizens
It alleges that it has no “legal basis” to deny permits based on citizenship, unlike visas
Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Foreign Minister José Luis Albares announced that Spain was suspending the granting of a golden visa, which allows Russian citizens to live in the country in exchange for business or real estate investments. However, Spain continued and continues to grant the equivalent permit, that is, the one requested from Spanish soil and processed by the Ministry of Social Security and Migration for the same reason, as ON ECONOMIA explained last February and as it has finally recognized by the Spanish government. He has done so, after giving evasion at the time to this medium, in response to the European Commission after a question from the independent MEP from the Junts lists, Clara Ponsatí.
According to the Commission's response, «Spain has explained that there are no legal bases in the country to reject a request for this type of permit based only on nationality, unless it corresponds to people who are on the sanctions list of the Commission.» European Union". «Spain has clarified that although investor visas for Russian nationals have been suspended, this suspension does not apply to residence permits for investors,» reads the response from the European Commission. Although the Ministry of Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, acknowledged that the Government (the decision involves his Ministry, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) «will study» stopping granting these permits, shortly after he assured that «it is not a priority matter.
The Commission clarifies in its response that its recommendations for withdrawing visas „must comply with the principle of proportionality, fundamental rights and national law“, so without going into specifically evaluating the measure it distances itself from a severe questioning as it did. in relation to the golden visa.
The difference between the golden visa and the investor permit is basically the country from which it is requested and the entity that manages it. The visa was requested at a consulate (in this case the Russian one) and gives permission to enter the country, while the permit is requested already in Spanish territory. The requirement and the residence permit are the same and are granted in exchange for investments of half a million euros in the case of homes or real estate properties or one million euros if it is an investment or shares in Spanish companies or banks. Portugal, Ireland and the United Kingdom stopped granting it in recent years due to the various misgivings it entails and which in fact led the European Commission itself to recommend its elimination because it represented economic discrimination for non-EU citizens.
A visa in withdrawal
Spain does not publicly report, unlike what it does annually, for example with the granting of asylum, of the number of permits and golden visas it grants each year and their nationalities. Nor does it have a unified accessible statistics of the two ministries, so each of them must be asked separately, a lack of transparency that has been denounced by the NGO Transparency International and which makes it difficult to know the data well and understand the difference between permits and visas.
Through the transparency portal, the Ministry of Social Security and Migration recognized that 17,792 non-EU citizens (4,414 of them Russians, the second most represented country after China) received this permit between 2013 and 2022 and contributed 13,000 million euros to the real estate market. while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimated that 5,409 citizens obtained the visa, but did not report investment figures. From Russian citizens alone, Spain received 3.4 billion for golden permits between 2017 and 2022.
In other words, in practice, even if Spain suspended the golden visa program, the majority of golden permits were already granted on Spanish soil, so it is enough to travel to Spain as a tourist or as a student to qualify for the possibility of having a permit. of residence in Spain and the possibility of traveling through the Schengen area in exchange for a good handful of euros, which contrasts with the difficulties that those who do not have economic privileges have in entering the system.
Spain still grants residence permits to Russian citizens who buy a house
The Government canceled the golden visas granted in Russian consulates, but not in Spain
In March of last year, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Ministry of the Interior and Social Security, agreed to suspend for Russian citizens the granting of residence and golden visas for real estate or business investments. It was a sanction measure for the war in Ukraine and to prevent tycoons who support Putin from obtaining European residency. But almost a year later, the reality is very different. „A month ago, we received approval of the last residency application from a Russian citizen for having bought a house,“ acknowledges the lawyer specializing in immigration to Cristina Romero, from the Antonio Segura firm. „What they canceled is the possibility of requesting these visas from the consulates in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, but not the permits that tourists request from here,“ she concludes.
ON ECONOMIA has had access to one of the documents that certifies the residence permit of a family member of a Russian investor dated January 25, with a seal from the Ministry of Social Security, Inclusion and Migration, responsible for granting these permits when requested. from Spain. Sources from this ministry, however, do not respond to repeated questions from ON ECONOMIA about whether they are authorizing investor permits for Russian citizens, nor do they offer data on the permits granted last year. Antonio Segura, member of the Immigration Commission of the Bar Association (ICAB) confirms that it can still be done. «There were Russian citizens afraid that they would not be granted and we thought that they would stop granting them. But finally we have found that there have been no changes in the General Business Unit and that only the Russian consulates have been vetoed,» he explains.
If a Russian citizen wants to process his European residence through a golden visa, as those granted to those who spend half a million euros on a house or other amounts on shares in companies are known, he will not be able to do so. from Russia. This is corroborated by sources from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who confirm that the golden visas for Russian citizens were cancelled. They appreciate, however, that the residence permits requested from Spain are not exactly visas, since they are not used to enter the country. That is to say, if a Russian tourist buys a house and asks for a residence permit for investors, what not a visa, although in practice it is the same, it is no longer up to the Foreign Affairs to grant it and they cannot guarantee whether it is being done or not. These permits are granted by the General Business Unit, an office that grants this type of extraordinary permits and depends on the Ministry of Social Security, Inclusion and Migration.
The European Commission requested shortly after the war broke out that the golden visas for Russian magnates be annulled and, incidentally, this type of permits that are granted to those who can afford to pay half a million euros for a home or invest from of a million euros in bills, public debt or some Spanish company. Reports from the same Commission and Transparency International have warned of the risks of harboring corruption, money laundering and other criminal activities with these visas. In the last month, following the demands of the European Commission, Ireland and Portugal have withdrawn from the golden visa program. Outside the European Union, also the United Kingdom, which has recognized that criminal activities crept into it, and Canada have renounced this visa based on the purchasing power of who wants to live in your country. Spain, on the other hand, has maintained it, and has not made its intentions explicit in this regard.
Right now, only Spain, Greece, Bulgaria and Malta allow, within the European Union, to obtain the golden visa after buying a house or real estate property. Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Italy also have golden visas, but you have to invest in companies and it is not worth doing so in real estate.
With respect to Russian citizens, the Government, like the rest of the European Union countries, applied sanctions to tycoons residing in European countries who supported Vladimir Putin shortly after the war broke out. In August of last year, the member countries of the European Union agreed to suspend the agreement that allowed Russians to have facilities to obtain residence visas in European countries.
4,715 Russian investors until 2018
Now, when it comes to obtaining the residence permit as a foreign investor in Spain granted by Social Security, the facilities return. At an economical cost, yes. Russian or not, any citizen from outside the European Community can obtain this golden visa by proving that he does not have a criminal record in his country of origin in the countries where he has lived in the last five years. He also has to have private health insurance and guarantee that he has the financial means to support himself in the country, beyond investment. Afterwards, he can obtain the visa in just twenty days, one of the fastest in the world according to the website of the office specialized in this type of visa, Henley Global.
In March of last year, when it reported that golden visas were being withdrawn from Russian citizens, the EFE agency also reported, citing sources from the Diplomatic Information Office, that between the beginning of 2020 and the end of last January it granted 492 golden visas. to Russian citizens, of which 160 registered in 2021 and seven in January 2022.
In 2018, Transparency International estimated that 24,755 residences were granted (including investors and family members) for a golden visa in Spain, and it appeared as one of the favorite countries for investors, who had contributed 976 million euros each year to the country. Russia was the second country with the most residence permits for investors, 4,715, behind China (7,118) and ahead of the United States (4,327), India (3,233) and Venezuela (3,116) were the main nationalities participating.
The same organization warned of the risks of corruption, money laundering and criminality associated with this visa.
In Spain, the golden visa began to be applied with law 14/2013 approved that year by Mariano Rajoy in order to attract foreign capital. The current Government, for now, does not report whether it intends to repeal them as it has done to the Portuguese neighbor, nor does it offer figures on the residence permits granted last year.