Turkey cuts investment levels for citizenship, property sales seen boosted

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has slashed the financial and investment criteria for foreigners to become Turkish citizens, in a move expected to double annual property investment by foreigners to around $10 billion, according to sector officials.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses teachers and students at an Istanbul high school, Sept. 18, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

The government has been taking measures to boost investment in the economy and shore up the lira, which has fallen 40 percent this year due to jitters about President Tayyip Erdogan’s sway over monetary policy and a row with the United States that has triggered reciprocal sanctions and trade curbs.

According to new regulations, foreigners can become citizens if they own property worth $250,000 for three years, down from a previous value set at $1 million, or if they hold $500,000 of Turkish debt for three years, down from a previous $3 million.

The reduction of the minimum limit to invest for citizenship is expected to double property sales and bring in cash which would otherwise be invested in Greece or other European Union countries, sector officials said.

Foreigners purchased $4.6 billion worth of properties last year, with a large proportion of them from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia, according to official data.

“Annual sales of $10 billion is not an unrealistic amount; it can be achieved with the new regulation change,” Real Estate Investment Association (GYODER) Chair Feyzullah Yetgin said.

Turkish house sales dropped 12.5 percent year-on-year in August. However, property purchases by foreigners were up around 130 percent, focused mainly in Istanbul and holiday destination Antalya, data showed on Wednesday.

Turkey has introduced measures to tackle the slowdown in housing market including lowering mortgage loan rates by state-lenders and discounts by well-known property construction firms.

“A citizenship industry was created recently for example in Greece and Portugal. The competition may work well for Turkey now,” said Makbule Yonel Maya, the general manager of TSKB Real Estate Valuation.

Under the new rules, foreigners could qualify for Turkish citizenship if they meet any one of a series of criteria. The sharp reduction in the required foreign currency value applies to fixed capital investments and bank deposits, as well as for properties and bond holdings.

The amount of required fixed capital investment was reduced to $500,000 from $2 million and the size of bank deposits was cut to $500,000 from $3 million, the decision published on Official Gazette said.

It also halved the number of employees an applicant must employ to gain Turkish citizenship, to 50 from 100.

Reporting by Can Sezer, Daren Butler and Ceyda Caglayan; Writing by Sarah Dadouch and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich