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LISBON: Portugal’s plan to end its golden visa scheme for investors, yet to be officially approved, has led to a rush in applications according to advisory firms who have criticised the plan as populist.

The scheme, aimed at non-EU nationals ready to invest in Portugal, has attracted 6.8 billion euros ($7.30 billion) since its launch in 2012, with the bulk of the money going into real estate. Successful applicants are then given residency rights.

The golden visa has been heavily criticised at home for sending house prices up, and the European Commission has called for the end of such programmes.

As part of a package to address the housing crisis as rents also soar, Portugal’s premier Antonio Costa announced last month the intention to scrap the scheme. The measure is under public consultation until next Friday.

Armand Arton, head of Arton Capital, which helps people get a second residency or citizenship via investment, said his firm had seen a 50% jump in applications since the announcement.

“As soon as you put a deadline on something, it gets people rushing,” Nuri Katz from another advisers, Apex Capital Partners, told Reuters. “There’s absolutely nothing as good as a deadline in this business.” In January, 93 golden visas were issued, a 45% drop compared to December, but the number went up again in February, when 130 were handed out, mainly to Chinese, US and Turkish investors, according to border agency data.

While the data shows a jump in applications, the process can take months so it is not immediately clear whether the numbers are a reflection of the government’s announcement, which was first floated in November.

Both Katz and Arton described the decision as populist.

“He (Costa) is just trying to ... show that he’s doing something about the housing prices,” Katz said.

Arton said: “I have seen a lot of PMs doing this kind of messaging for electoral votes.” Costa’s Socialist party is losing support due to the housing crisis, among other issues, however the next election is not due until 2026.

His office did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Costa has previously said there was no justification to keep the scheme because it had fulfilled the role it had been intended to fulfil, without elaborating.

Golden visa rules had already changed last year to redirect investments from a red-hot property market in big cities to depopulated areas.

Goncalo Roxo, of Portugal-based Your Property Advisor, said he had warned his clients against trying to speed up the process due to the risk from bureaucratic delays.

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