A growing number of wealthy foreigners are buying their way into Europe as hard-pressed countries trade their passports for cash.
Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus, which have suffered the most from the region's prolonged recession, are offering visas to foreigners who buy real estate. The goal is to lure investment and strengthen battered European economies.
Portugal has been offering these deals for just over a year. Foreigners receive a residency permit when they invest €500,000 in property.
After five years, they can apply for permanent residency, and EU citizenship one year later. Portugal is also trading visas to those who inject capital or create jobs in the country -- similar to the U.S. immigrant investor program, which requires a minimum spend of $500,000.
Like those on offer in Spain, the Portuguese visas grant access to the Schengen area, which includes the bulk of the EU but not the U.K.
Official figures show more than 330 visas have been issued in the first 12 months of the program, raising €225 million.
By contrast, lawyers with Efthymios G. Navridis & Associates say just one application for a so-called golden visa has been approved in Greece.
Yet the flow of wealthy investors buying the keys to Europe -- via Portugal at least -- is strengthening.
Francisco Barata Salgueiro, partner at Portuguese law firm Neville de Rougemont & Associates, has seen a steady rise in inquiries this year and currently advises around 150 mostly Chinese investors on the golden visa program.
The increase partly reflects a watering down of the law. In January, the minimum stay requirements were scaled back significantly, to just 35 days over 5 years.
Salgueiro said most investors are lured by the prospect of being able to travel freely throughout most of Europe.
"They also mention the flexibility of sending their children to study in Europe. Quite a few will consider retiring here," he said.