Portugal’s housing programme threatened by “massive recourse to courts”

Petition rapidly gaining traction accuses government of “strange prejudice against foreigners”

A petition rapidly gathering signatures opens the spectre of a “massive recourse to the courts” over damages likely to be suffered by foreign investors as a result of the ‘Mais Habitação’ (More Housing) programme.

The programme which has been universally-slated, and condemned by President Marcelo as unworkable, was ‘approved by the Council of Ministers’ last week, and will now come up for ‘debate in parliament’.

With an absolute majority in the House, PS Socialists ostensibly have free rein to see all the measures pass.

But the new petition, uploaded onto the public petitions site last night, suggests that if this happens, investors will be joining forces to demand compensation for the loss of what they see as their rights – as well as to decry the unconstitutional nature of the changes that will affect/ have already affected them.

Addressed to both President Marcelo and prime minister António Costa (a champion of the proposed legislation), the text has amassed over 2,000 signatures in less than 24-hours. 

Entitled for “the defence of the image and reputation of Portugal when it comes to international investors”, it suggests “Portugal will no longer be seen as a stable and friendly country for foreign investment” if the more polemic measures – namely the axing of golden visas as they were initially ‘marketed’ – make it onto the Statute books. 

“It will be with great embarrassment and shame that Portugal will be perceived as an unstable country in which the uncertainty and volatility of political agents will make investment a risky activity”, the text continues. 

The truth is that the ‘ending of golden visas’ has been shrouded in confusion. 

What essentially looks to be happening is that all those with current visas will see them converted to a different type of of temporary residence permit — the entrepreneur, or startup, permit.

This, complains the petition, will impose obligations and limitations that were not initially established (see below*).

Under the guise of a policy to respond to the difficulties of access by Portuguese families to decent housing at prices compatible with their incomes, the government has come up with a measure that ‘goes further’, says the petition, and has “nothing to do with the Mais Habitação programme”.

According to signatories, it reveals “a strange prejudice against foreign citizens that should also be protected by the Rule of Law that is in force in Portugal”.

Thus the ‘appeal’:

a) To avoid the adoption of any measures that have a retroactive nature, in clear violation of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, by offending the principles of legal certainty and the protection of confidence.

b) To avoid the adoption of any measures that affect the stability of investments made in Portugal and change the assumptions under which residence permits aimed at this category were granted

c) To enable a legislative transition that protects all ongoing investments and that does not affect a sector of activity that has always tried to adapt to the requirements that have been imposed.

d) To adopt measures that do not contribute to a massive recourse to the courts to demand from the Portuguese State fair compensation for damages caused by the application of unconstitutional legislation.

Battle lines have been drawn. The petition can be found here

*Complications of the conversion of ARI golden visas to entrepreneur/ start-up permits:

The change proposed by the government will require people who have already gone through all the hoops of being of the ARI ‘golden visa’ process to have to renew residency permits through the entrepreneur/ start-up regime.. This will require them to be sponsored by a business incubator, whichm, as one visa holder has explained “is totally different than investing.
“I invested €500,000 in a Portuguese business investment fund, followed all the rules, got residency, moved here, bought a house, and now the government wants to essentially cancel my residency unless I create an entirely new business through an incubator. Or I would have to fly back to the US, file a new application at a Portuguese consulate, and then wait around for months for a visa to return to my family in Portugal. It’s outrageous and nonsensical”.

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