Opening BEST LEGAL Conference in Limassol, Minister of Interior, Mr Nicos Nouris gave a brief overview on topics that fall under the competencies of the Ministry of Interior and have to do with laws and regulations on facilitating the employment of foreign nationals as well as incentives offered for foreign companies operating in Cyprus. Below you may read the full version of his speech.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor to welcome you all at the VIII Conference in Cyprus, which is organized by Best Legal Conference, under the auspices of the Cyprus Bar Association. I would like to extend my gratitude for inviting me as a speaker. This type of event brings together professionals from different countries and nationalities, aiming to invest in building contacts and a two-way exchange of views.
Over the next few minutes, I would like to give a brief overview on topics that fall under the competencies of the Ministry of Interior and have to do with laws and regulations on facilitating the employment of foreign nationals as well as incentives offered for foreign companies operating in Cyprus.
New Strategy for Attracting Business and Talent
First of all, allow me to start with the Key incentives offered for foreign companies.
I can assure you that the Government's efforts to improve the economic and business environment are systematic and continuous. In 2020, the Council of Ministers decided to facilitate, among others, the transfer of Specialists to foreign companies operating in Cyprus through a Fast-track Activation Mechanism.
Since then, we have moved forward by modernizing our policies even more.
Hence, as of Jan 2022, the Council of Ministers set into force the New Strategy for attracting Businesses and Talent and, within its context, introduced additional key incentives for foreign companies, especially with the transformation of the Fast Track Business Activation Mechanism into a Business Facilitation Unit operated by the Ministry of Energy, Commerce and Industry.
In addition to the very attractive tax incentives, the New Strategy offers a revised immigration policy for international businesses, providing easy relocation of employees from non-EU countries, enhances family reunification and employment of family members and introduces the Digital Nomad Visa.
Particularly, as far as residence and employment is concerned, the New Strategy cancels quotas for highly skilled non-EU recruits. Until 31.12.2026, existing companies of foreign interests and companies that are registered as such by the Business Facilitation Unit can freely employ any number of highly skilled third country nationals, without undergoing a market test, given that some basic requirements are met.
At the beginning of 2027, the percentage of third country personnel will be monitored. The maximum percentage of third country employees is set at 70% of the business employees. Of course, in case this quota is not met, each case will be evaluated based on its own merits.
Also, within the New Strategy, the examination time for residence and employment applications is reduced and limited to one month. This increases the feeling of security both for the employer and its human resources.
The adoption of the New Strategy has led to an impressive increase of interest from foreign companies in relocating to Cyprus. The number of submitted applications has more than doubled within the first eight months since the adoption of the New Strategy. Specifically, in the whole of 2021, 5475 applications were submitted, while till the end of August 2022, the competent Department has already received 7883 applications.
In addition to facilitating the employment of third country nationals, the new Strategy is further encouraging family reunification. Spouses of highly skilled third country employees can now benefit free and direct access to paid employment under family reunification, without having to undergo a market test. In 2021, 4242 applications were submitted for permits under family reunification. In just the first eight (8) months of this year, already 4524 applications were submitted.
Another aspect of the New Strategy is the creation of a new category of stay, that of the Digital Nomad Visa. This new category of stay is set into force at a critical time, specifically taking into account all the special circumstances created by the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine.
Third-country nationals that are either self-employed or salaried employees abroad, and are working remotely from Cyprus, have the right to a Digital Nomad residence permit for up to one year, which can be renewed for an additional two year-period. Digital Nomads can be accompanied by their family members in Cyprus. Originally the quota for such permits was set to 100, but has been increased to 500, due to the popularity of the Scheme. By the end of August 2022, 127 non-EU nationals have applied for and have been granted a Digital Nomad Visa.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
New Development licensing policy
To better serve the citizen, the government has also proceeded to simplify building licensing procedures. This reform intervention of urban planning and building permitting, came into force for the first time in October 2020, introducing through the possibility of electronic submission of applications, a faster, more effective, and more transparent procedure for granting planning and building permits for residential developments in the form of detached and semi-detached houses. This fast-track process allows for the issuing of building permits within 10 days for applications that include one or two residential units allocated in approved plots. Also, since last June all applications are submitted and issued in an electronic format using electronic signatures, through the new Platform of the Ministry of Interior and the Town Planning Department.
The results from the implementation of this fast-track procedure are very encouraging. 4080 (four thousand eighty) applications were submitted to the 5 Planning Authorities of the Town Planning Department and 3327 (three thousand tree hundred twenty-seven) planning permits were granted (which is equivalent to 82%).
Since 15th of September, we have extended this fast-track procedure, by including larger and more complex developments, such as:
-three or four residential units,
-up to twelve residential units in a row,
-multi storey residential buildings with up to twenty apartments, and
-mixed-use developments that consist of commercial/ office/ residential uses, with a maximum building surface of 1000 square meters.
New licensing policy
The third and final step of facilitating the licensing procedures concerns the so called strategic developments with a cost more than 20 million euros which will come into force hopefully before the end of the year and as soon as the House of Representative will vote the respective bill. This law simplifies the procedures and aims to turn out our country to a truly attractive investment destination for sustainable and long-term development.
Revision of Local Plans
Within this context, in addition to the planning incentives and simplified licensing procedures, which undoubtedly act as a catalyst in promoting land development, the government’s policy is the rational intervention through the forthcoming revision of Development Plans in both the major urban areas and the countryside.
Finally, I would like to point out that the reform of Local Government, which is being promoted for implementation in summer of 2024, is completely intertwined with the development of local society.
This reform, along with the intensification of digital transformation will transfer the management and the development licensing framework to a District level, limiting bureaucracy.
In this new era of realities created by the pandemic and with the consequences of the recent economic crisis still fresh, we are confident that these initiatives and reforms will create new opportunities for both existing and new businesses which intend to transfer their operations in Cyprus.
Once again, I would like to thank the organizers for the invitation to attend this very important conference. Special thanks and congratulations to Natalia Kardash, founder and chairwoman of the BEST LEGAL Conference, whom I have to say I know for over a decade and I follow her efforts to promote Cyprus, as an international business center and to assist the international business community of Cyprus.
My personal congratulations to Dr. Christos Clerides and the Cyprus Bar Association, who placed this conference under its auspices.
Once again, thank you for giving me this opportunity and I wish you all an interesting and fruitful conference.