PM António Costa
Has PM Costa bitten off more than he can chew with the government's new housing programme?: Image: Tiago Petinga/ Lusa

Golden visa ‘axing’ violates law, say constitutionalists

Government’s policy u-turn violates principle of protection of citizens’ trust

With battle lines already being drawn over the government’s perceived attack on the right to own property, constitutionalists have entered the molten housing debate, suggesting the decision to axe golden visas – and give current visa holders a completely different set of options for any renewals – violates the law.

These specialists in the fine print of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (CRP) stress the measure is blatantly unconstitutional, in that it violates the principle of citizens’ trust and legitimate expectations.

Jorge Miranda, very often referred to as the father of the the 1976 constitutional document, has told Jornal de Negócios that the State has a “duty of good faith”, and that “in any case, reasonable periods of ‘vacatio legis’ must be ensured” – this being ‘an acceptable time span between the publication of the law and its entry into force’.

As things happened on February 16, the government announced the end of golden visas point blank. Any applications that were in the pipeline but unprocessed were effectively locked out.

For Jorge Miranda, the decision – indeed the whole proposal – “affects the guarantee and the confidence of those directly interested” and in that it “does not even contemplate a ‘vacatio legis’ period” leaves the measure ‘suffering from material unconstitutionality’.

In other words, unless the government rethinks and accepts “a transitional regime that ensures implementation of the new measures is done gradually and deferred over time”, it is legally on extremely thin ice – not to mention the dissuasive message the measure has sent out to international investors.

With a petition on this last point already amassing signatures online, the Resident has been contacted by several golden visa holders horrified by the changes affecting them.

An American, resident in Lisbon for some time, explains: “The Golden Visa program won Portugal tens of millions of euros of free publicity in the press and on social media over the past 11 years. Just search business publications like Bloomberg for “Portugal Golden Visa,” and you’ll see that program really got this small country’s name out there. It’s very much helped cultivate the buzz in tech and investing circles that Portugal is a good place for business, for startups, for the emerging technology scene, for investing. The reputational fringe benefits have been enormous and maybe bigger than the measurable impact on tax revenue and GDP.  But all that buzz and goodwill can disappear overnight. Look at what happened in the past month to Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and Credit Suisse — word travels fast around the world in 2023, and the message that Costa’s proposal would send far and wide is: DO NOT TRUST PORTUGAL. Whatever promises they make to you as an immigrant, an investor, a business owner, a startup founder, a digital nomad can be revoked without a second thought to earn short-term political points”. 

A group of investors from Jordan has also been in touch to say that the end of the golden visa programme “will be reflected on us in a very bad way”, but that they have been unable to sign the online petition as it won’t accept their visa residency number.

As another investor mused: “For every signatory on the petition, there are probably 10 people like me who have seen how capricious the government and SEF are, and are terrified that exercising our right of free speech would send us into a deeper circle of bureaucratic hell”.,

Just this one measure has developed into a hornet’s nest while elsewhere everyday citizens are completely frustrated by the lack of concrete measures to help them.

Meantime, lawyer Filipe Eusébio, a partner at Ana Bruno & Associados, has warned that lawsuits for compensation (as highlighted by the petition) could reach “unsupportable values”.

What it all boils down to is that a law that aimed to attract investment “can after all be revoked with retroactive effects, irreversibly affecting acquired rights, without any care for the legitimate interests of those who invested in national territory”, he told Jornal de Negócios.

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