After this year of no travel, many are those who would love to head to their second homes in Greece as soon as the travel bans are lifted, and stay as long as possible. However, as a result of Brexit, since January 1st British citizens can no longer spend as much time as they like in the the country – at least not without acquiring proper permits.
Just as for other non-EU citizens, Schengen rules now limit British citizens’ stays in EU member states to a maximum of 90 days within any 180-day period.
In an effort to remedy what they believe to be an unfair development for property owners who’ve invested in Greece (and which they argue is bad for Greek tourism as well), a group of British holiday home- and boat owners are calling on the Greek government to create a solution that would allow them to spend up to six months in the country at any one time. This, the group points out, would be equal to the amount of time EU citizens are allowed to spend in the UK.
The private Facebook group for the campaign, named “180 days in Greece”, currently has 761 members, however, since many Brits with property in Greece are pensioners, it’s not unlikely that many of those affected can’t be reached, or participate, through Facebook.
Speaking to Kathimerini newspaper’s English edition, the group’s creator, crime novelist David Young, said: “Many British people like to spend up to six months at a time in Greece – some in summer, some in winter – and that helps extend the Greek tourist season in areas with high British ownership. That brings in money to shops, tavernas, marinas and other businesses.”
At the moment, the only way for British citizens to spend more than 90 consecutive days in Greece is to apply for a residence permit, either via the Golden Visa program, or a residence permit for financially independent persons (FIP). However Golden Visa permits are only available to those whose property is valued at €250,000 or above; meanwhile the FIP residence permit requires not only that applicants can prove they have an income of €2000 per month, or at least €50,000 in the bank, but also that they stay at least half the year in Greece.
The homeowners behind the 180 Days in Greece campaign note that a large number of British property owners in Greece do not have the financial means to qualify for those schemes, or still require greater flexibility.
“We realize it is the Brexit decision that has caused this – but we invested in Greece in good faith; many of us did not vote for Brexit and vehemently oppose it. We hope the Greek government will act unilaterally to help us by granting us special permits or visas allowing us to spend up to 180 days at a time in Greece,” David Young said.
While there are indications that some in government are sympathetic to the Britons’ plight, it remains to be seen if it is willing act unilaterally. “In theory, the government could revoke the regulation introduced last year that requires those with the FIP residence permit to stay a minimum of six months,” says lawyer Daphne Siopi, who specializes partly in immigration law.
“It would also be possible, theoretically, to introduce a new permit for those not qualified for the FIP permit or the Golden Visa, just like the [Brexit] Withdrawal Agreement allows for those who were legal residents before January 1st to stay.”
Such a decision would presumably benefit the Greek economy – especially the local economies where British home owners help grow the tourist season. Real estate business owners in the UK are reporting that interest in buying property in Greece is significantly down, with prospective buyers basing their decisions about where to buy on where they can count on being able to spend unlimited time, without going through hoops.
Requests similar to those of the 180 Days campaign are also currently being made from Brits who already own property in Cyprus, Portugal, and Spain. In the case of Spain, between 800,000 and 1 million British citizens own holiday homes and, were they to leave, that could have a substantial negative impact on the tourism industry.
However, despite the benefits British property owners bring to local economies, passing new regulations may prove complex, with some arguing that since Britons are now third country citizens, it would be difficult to pass new rules that apply only to the Brits; new regulations might have to encompass everyone.
A brief guide to Greek residence permits for real estate owners can be found here.