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Immigration WorldwidePolicies, Practices, and Trends$

Uma A. Segal, Doreen Elliott, and Nazneen S. Mayadas

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195388138

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195388138.001.0001

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Immigration to Greece: Problems and Prospects

(p.191) 13 Greece
Immigration Worldwide

Anna Triandafyllidou

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides a comprehensive account of immigration to Greece during the past 15–20 years. It reviews the main demographic features of the immigrant population, discussing critically the main developments in Greek immigration policy since 1990, and explores the immigrant adjustment “model” Greece has adopted. The chapter reveals that after nearly 15 years of massive migration, the country still strives to accept its role as a host society. Migration policy planning lacks a mid- to long-term perspective. Immigrant integration policy needs to be reconsidered to address the social and economic challenges of migration. At the same time a proactive migration planning and a realistic migration control policy are necessary to manage migration through legal channels, avoid the proliferation of undocumented migrants, and combat human trafficking in the region.

Keywords:   Greece, Pontic Greeks, irregular migration, Southern Europe, migration policy, civic participation

Understanding Migration Toward Greece

Until recently, Greece was migration sender rather than host. Emigration however came nearly to a halt in the mid to late 1970s after the tightening up of migration regimes in northern Europe. After the geopolitical changes of 1989, the country was quickly converted into a host of mainly undocumented immigrants from eastern and central Europe, as well as the Third World. Major population inflows since the late 1980s include co-ethnic returnees, the Pontic Greeks, arriving from the former Soviet Republics (Georgia, Kazakshtan, Russia, and Armenia); immigrants of Greek descent, notably ethnic Greek Albanian citizens (Vorioepirotes); immigrants from non-EU countries (other than the categories mentioned previously); and a smaller number of returning Greek migrants from northern Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The investigation of the factors that attract immigrants to Greece reveals interesting combinations of economic motivations with historical ties. Contrary to the argument that post-1980 migratory movements have been largely independent of geographical and historical ties between origin and destination (King et al., 1997), in the case of Greece, ethnic ties and labor market conditions have had an equal share in determining incoming flows (Veikou, 2001). A large part of the migration patterns toward Greece correspond to preexisting ethnic ties. A number of immigrants coming from former communist states claim Greek ethnicity and choose Greece as their resettlement destination on the assumption that a presumed common cultural past should allow an easier integration. Another important reason that attracts “co-ethnics” to Greece is that according to the Greek Constitution, people from the Greek Diaspora are entitled to a favorable legal status in Greece.

The dramatic and sudden increase of immigrant influx since the early 1990s was a new and unexpected phenomenon for both the government and the population. The new situation has been characterized by administrative and political confusion with regard to migration policy, and also by a shift in popular attitudes toward foreigners. An increase in xenophobic behavior and racism has been registered since the mid-1990s. In the last few years, hesitant steps have been taken to address the integration of legal migrants. At the same time, stricter border controls remain a priority for Greek governments. (p.192) Although NGOs and to a lesser extent governmental agencies have mobilized in recent years advocating immigrant social and economic rights, recognizing that Greece has become a multicultural society, political participation of immigrants remains a taboo. Even progressive state policies are sometimes met with the citizenry’s reluctance to accept foreigners as equal members of Greek society.

In this chapter, my aim is to provide a comprehensive even if short account of immigration to Greece during the past 15–20 years. In the first part of the chapter, I will review the main demographic features of the immigrant population. I will also discuss critically the main developments in Greek immigration policy since 1990. In the second part of the chapter, I will consider the Greek model of immigrant adjustment, discussing the ideal types proposed by Segal in this volume. In this respect, I will review the discriminatory policies regarding immigrants of Greek ethnic origin and others, the insertion of immigrants in the Greek labor market, and their participation in public life.

The Size of the Immigrant Population

According to the last census of the National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), which took place in 2001, there were 797,091 foreign residents in Greece at that time. Of those, 750,000 were citizens from outside the EU–15 countries. If we also include the population of repatriated Greeks from the former Soviet Union who migrated to Greece predominantly during the 1990s, which, according to a census carried out by the General Secretariat of Repatriated Co-Ethnics in 2000, numbered 155,319 people, the actual number of migrants in Greece in 2001 reaches approximately 900,000.

According to data of the Ministry of Interior there were 432,000 stay permits in force for non-EU25 citizens on April 30, 2008. At a conference in Athens, on November 22, 2007, the president of the Migration Policy Institute (IMEPO), a government-controlled think tank, estimated that there were 250,000 permits in process at that time. In Table 13-1 below we use this conservative estimate to calculate the total immigrant stock in Greece today.

Permits that are being processed do not appear in the Ministry of Interior records or indeed in any records as valid permits. Nonetheless, applicants for issuing/renewing a stay permit who have received a blue receipt proving that they submitted a complete application for issuing/renewing a stay permit are treated generally by local and state authorities as regular migrants. In effect they can live their lives almost as if they held valid permits. If checked during a random internal control they are not charged and during the Christmas, Easter, or summer breaks they can travel back to their countries of origin on the basis of special press releases of the Ministry of Interior (formerly Ministry of Public Order) issued before each holiday period. This happens because Greek authorities are aware of the long delays (that last in the best of cases three months and in the worse of cases over a year) that many migrants experience in the issuing/renewing of their stay permits by the relevant municipal, regional, and Ministry of Interior offices. Migrants holding the “blue receipts” though cannot travel to other countries nor can they travel to their country of origin at any time they wish. They are also unable to sign legal documents or address requests to public agencies as they are not fully “legal.” In effect, they are held “hostage” by the inefficiency of the Greek administration.

Greek co-ethnics who are Albanian citizens (Voreioepirotes) hold Special Identity Cards for Omogeneis (co-ethnics) (EDTO) issued by the Greek police. EDTO holders are not included in the Ministry of Interior data on aliens. After repeated requests, the Ministry of Interior has released data on the actual number of valid EDTO to this date. The total number is 185,000.

Alongside the non-EU citizens and the Voreioepirotes, we should consider as immigrants in substance even if not in form, the co-ethnic returnees from the former Soviet Republics, generally referred to as Pontic Greeks who arrived in Greece in the late 1980s and early 1990s as economic migrants. According to the special census administered by the General Secretariat for Repatriated Co-Ethnics in the year 2000, 155,319 Pontic Greeks had settled in the country. More than half of them (about 80,000) came from Georgia, 31,000 came from Kazakhstan, 23,000 from Russia, and about 9,000 from Armenia.


Table 13-1. Estimate of Total Immigrant Stock in Greece, April 2008


% of total population

Source of data

Valid stay permits



Ministry of Interior, valid permits on April 30, 2008

EU citizens with valid stay permits



Ministry of Interior, April 30, 2008

Estimate of stay permits in process



Ministry of Interior, November 07

Co-ethnics holding Special Identity Cards (EDTO)



Ministry of Interior, April 2008

Co-ethnics from former Soviet Union (Greek citizens)



Census of General Secretariat for Repatriated Co-ethnics, 2000

Irregular migrants



Maroukis (2008)

Total (including co-ethnics)



Total (excluding co-ethnics)



Total of legal migrants



Including those whose permits are in process

Total Population of Greece



Census 2001, rounded to the nearest million

(*) Rounded to the nearest thousand.

Thus, in line with our calculations there are currently about 900,000 immigrants in Greece excluding those of Greek ethnic origin (Pontic Greeks who have received citizenship and Voreioipirotes who hold EDTO cards) of whom at least 680,000 hold legal status (or are in the process of renewing their legal status). Including co-ethnics, the number of people of immigrant origin residing in Greece rises to 1.24 million that is about 11% of the total population.

Migrants in Greece come mostly from neighboring countries. More than half of Greece’s foreign population comes from Albania, while the second largest group is Bulgarians, but their percentage on the total migrant population is considerably smaller. Table 13-2 contains data from the last census (2001), data from the Ministry of Interior concerning the number of stay permits that were valid in April 2008, and also data from the Headquarters of the Greek Police concerning the number of valid EDTO cards and valid stay permits for EU citizens for the same month, but do not include data on valid permits of refugees and asylum seekers or the number of applications that are being processed.

It is difficult to compare the data for 2001 with those of 2008 (Table 13-2 above) because the census data (2001) include undocumented migrants since the census services made an explicit effort to register all aliens residing in the country. It remains however unknown what percentage of the undocumented population was eventually registered in the census. The data for 2008 on the other hand, include only migrants who hold valid permits and exclude those who are undocumented, those whose permits are under process but also those who are in Greece as refugees or asylum seekers. Table 13-2 does give us some valuable information regarding the larger national groups present within the immigrant stock in Greece. While Albanian citizens represent approximately 60% of the total immigrant population in 2001, in 2008 they represent almost 70% of the legal foreign population that resides in the country. The percentages of Moldovan, Ukrainian, and Pakistani citizens over the total legal foreign population in April 2008 are higher than the corresponding percentages in the 2001 census. This increase shows most likely an increase in the actual numbers but also an emergence of the respective national groups from undocumented status.

Major Developments in Greek Immigration Policy since 1990

At the eve of the 1990s when immigrant flows started, Greece lacked a legislative frame for the control and management of immigration.1 The increasing migratory pressures of the late 1980s led to the design of law 1975/1991, which was enacted by the Greek Parliament in October 1991, formally applied in June 1992, and remained in force until 2001. This law was exclusively concerned with restricting migration— its title actually was: “Entry-exit, sojourn, (p.194)

Table 13-2 National Composition of the Migration Stock in 2001 and 2008

Country of Origin

Census 2001

Valid Permits April 2008

EU Citizens’ Valid Permits April 2008

All foreigners EU and non-EU 39,539 














































































































































































(*) This is the total number of Albanian citizens residing in Greece, including 185,000 co-ethnics holding special identity cards (EDTO).

Source: National Statistical Service of Greece, Census 2001, and Ministry of Interior. Data for 2001 include both regular and undocumented migrants and exclude citizens from the EU 15. Data for 2008 include only legal non-EU immigrants with valid stay permits and EU citizens registered with police authorities (holders of stay permits).

employment, deportation of aliens, procedure for the recognition of alien refugees, and other provisions.” Its main objectives were to prevent the entrance of undocumented immigrants and facilitate the expulsion of those already present in Greek territory, by means of simplifying the expulsion procedures, giving a certain degree of autonomy to local police and judiciary authorities and also penalizing illegal alien stay in the country. The law aimed to bring Greece into line with its European partners, cosignatories of the 1990 Dublin convention (ratified by Greece by law 1996/1991) and members of the 1990 Schengen treaty, to which Greece was accorded observer status at the time.

More specifically, a maximum time-period was set for residence and work permits regarding certain types of employment, granted by the authorities (article 23), along with a list naming categories of “unwanted aliens” (article 11). A special police force was established to maintain effective border control and regulate deportations (article 5). The conditions for recognition of refugee status were made stricter (article 24), and sanctions were imposed on those who employed foreign workers without permission or helped them in any way to cross the border (article 23). Moreover, the law defined as a criminal action the entrance and stay of any alien in Greece without documents and residence permits, and legalized, in this manner, deportations and expulsions even in the transit zones (article 27). According to that law, undocumented immigrants, in order to obtain residence and work permit, had to demonstrate to the police authorities within one month of entering the country, that they had a potential work contract with a specific employer for a given period of time (article 23). Additionally, the law required that the employment of nonnationals was (p.195) allowed only when the job vacancy cannot be filled by Greek citizens or EU nationals, in which case the Ministry of Labor would grant work permits for the specific employment in question, only before the arrival of the foreign employees in Greece (article 22). The law allowed for a certain degree of discretion to administrative authorities in the enforcement of its provisions. For example, the specific police unit set up to patrol the borders was given the power to decide ad hoc who would or would not get permission for entry (article 4, § 2, 7).

Nongovernmental organizations and scholars criticized heavily law 1975/1991 for, among other things, its lack of touch with reality: it ignored the de facto presence of several tens of thousands of foreigners in Greece. Indeed, the aim of that law was mainly to curb migration, to facilitate removals of undocumented migrants apprehended near the borders and, if that were possible, to remove all illegal aliens sojourning in Greece. The law made nearly impracticable the entry and stay of economic migrants, seeking for jobs.

In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands of immigrants came to Greece without documents, or permits. They crossed the northern mountainous borders between Albania or Bulgaria and Greece on foot at night, or landed with small dinghies on the Greek islands of the Aegean or Crete (usually with the “help” of human smuggling networks). Some arrived at Greek airports with tourist visas, which they overstayed, and others crossed the northern Greek borders by bus, pretending that they were traveling for leisure. It took more than five years for the Greek government to realize that immigrants were there to stay and the new phenomenon could not only be managed through stricter border control and massive removal operations.

The presidential decrees 358/1997 and 359/1997 inaugurated the first immigrant regularization program, which took place in spring 1998. In total, 371,641 immigrants applied for the white card (limited duration permit) which was the first step in applying for the temporary stay permit or green card (of 1, 2, or 5 years’ duration). Only 212,860 undocumented foreigners managed to submit an application for a green card. The main reason for this was that while this first regularization program was ambitious in its conception and rather open in its conditions, it met with insurmountable organizational and practical difficulties. For one, the state services responsible for managing the program were hardly prepared to receive and process the hundreds of thousands of applications.2 In addition, proof of legal employment for a minimum number of days was an important prerequisite; the reluctance of many employers to pay social insurance contributions made it very difficult for many applicants to meet this requirement. As a result, a significant number of applications were unsuccessful in passing to the second but necessary phase of the green card application phase and despite the repeated extensions of the deadlines, presumably fell back into undocumented status. Nonetheless, this program laid the first foundations in Greece for an institutional framework able to deal with immigration. In addition, the data collected through the regularization procedure offered some first insights to the socioeconomic and demographic features of the immigrant population (see Cavounidis, 2002, Lianos, 2001).

In 2001, and before the first regularization program had come to a close, the government issued a new law (law 2910/2001) entitled “Entry and sojourn of foreigners in the Greek territory, naturalization and other measures.” This law had a twofold aim. First, it included a second regularization program that aimed at attracting all the applicants who had not been able to benefit from the 1998 “amnesty” as well as the thousands of new immigrants who had, in the meantime, arrived in Greece. Second, the new law created the necessary policy framework to deal with immigration in the medium to long term. Thus, it provided not only for issues relating to border control but also for channels of legal entry to Greece for employment, family reunion, return to their country of origin (for ethnic Greeks abroad), and also studies or asylum seeking. It also laid down the conditions for naturalization of aliens residing in the country.

Another 362,000 immigrants applied to acquire legal status within the framework of the new program. Even though the implementation phase had been more carefully planned, organizational issues arose quickly. In the Athens metropolitan area in particular, the four special (p.196) immigration offices set up by the regional government to receive and process the applications were completely unable to deal with the huge workload they were faced with. Following repeated recommendations by trade unions, NGOs, and the Greek Ombudsman3 the law was revised and the relevant deadlines extended. Nonetheless, resources were still insufficient, as work and stay permits continued to be issued for one-year periods only. Hence, by the time one immigrant was done with the issuing of her/his papers, s/he had to start all over again to renew it. In addition to the cumbersome nature of the procedure, the costs (in money but also in time spent queuing) associated with this renewal process that are incurred by the migrants constituted a further hindrance. Only in January 2004 (Act 3202/2003) did the government decide to issue permits of a two-year duration, thereby facilitating the task of both the administration and the immigrant applicants.

Law 2910/2001 established a complex administrative procedure for the issuing of stay permits with the purpose of employment or studies. During the last trimester of each year, stated the law (article 19), the Organization for the Employment of the Labor Force (OAED) would issue a plan outlining the domestic labor market needs. OAED would verify the need for workers in specific sectors and areas and would forward the relevant data to the Greek consular authorities. Interested foreign citizens would then be able to apply at their local consulates and register for the advertised types of work. At the same time Greek employers who were interested in hiring a foreign worker would apply to their local prefecture (nomarchia). Subsequently the employer would choose by name people from the lists that in the meanwhile would have been sent by the consular authorities to prefectures. A prefecture would then issue and send, under certain conditions, the work invitation to a specific foreign citizen at his/her country of origin and the foreign citizen would then be able to obtain a visa for work purposes. The new migrant would have to produce a new series of documents upon arriving in Greece so as to obtain a work permit (that would replace his/her work visa) and a stay permit, conditional upon the former.

The procedure for acquiring a residence permit with the purpose of studying was similar to that. Every year, the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs determined the number of foreign students who could enter Greece in order to study, by department and sector. Based on the relevant report of the ministry, those who were interested applied for a visa to their local consulates and followed a procedure similar to the one described above.

The logic of the two cases discussed above was the same, despite the fact that the procedures differed as to the specific documents that needed to be submitted. It is obvious that, although the above procedure is completely logical, it was based on a series of time-consuming and costly (for the Greek state, the consulate authorities, the Greek employers, and the foreign workers) administrative actions. Moreover, the coordination of the whole procedure is, in our opinion, unfeasible because it assumes a series of acceptances (that all the steps are going to be accomplished correctly and in a short period of time) that are not realistic. The law emphasized on the lawful character of the procedure and neglected the essence: the needs of the local labor market, the importance of filling vacant places in due time in order to maintain the viability and the competition of the businesses, and finally the fact that many immigrants, pressed by poverty or political oppression, will try to migrate illegally.

Indeed, although the situation has progressively improved since 2001, in practice immigrants often receive their permit after it has expired. Therefore, they end up applying for renewal when they obtain it or sometimes even before they even receive it. This situation leads to a condition of ambiguous “legality” for migrants who are de facto obliged to have as their only documentation the receipt of the application for issuing or renewing their residence permit, but not the permit itself. This situation runs counter to the principles of a fair public administration since the foreigners have to pay a high fee (145 Euros) for the issuing/ renewal of their permit, which they never actually get to benefit from due to the enormous delays.

This type of economic migration management policies is completely inefficient in the Greek environment. In economies like Greece, where immigrants are occupied in small and medium (p.197) enterprises, small family businesses, and households, the demand meets the offer through social networks and personal acquaintances. It is therefore nearly impossible for the immigrants and their prospective employers to follow the legal procedure described above. As a result, the informal networks keep functioning,4 immigrants keep coming to Greece, in many cases illegally, those who already reside in the country stay and work there with or without renewed permits and finally the responsible state authorities do not know where to end migration control and where to start managing migration.

Nonetheless, 2001 may be considered a turning point for the development of Greek migration policy. Not only was the first comprehensive migration law voted in Parliament, but it was also the first time that the government carried out a three-year action plan for immigrant integration (2002–2005), supported by the European Social Fund and the European Commission. This plan included measures for improving and facilitating migrants’ insertion in the labur market, looked at issues of health care and introduced measures combating racism and xenophobia in Greek society (see http://www. ypergka.gr/index_gr.html). Unfortunately most of these measures remained only on paper.

On 23 August 2005 the government voted a new law (law 3386/2005) that regulates migratory matters and incorporates the EU Directives 2003/86 (on the right to family reunification) and 2003/109 (on the status of long-term residents) to the national legal order. This law has been in force since the January 1, 2006, but was modified in February 2007 by law 3536/2007.

Both acts (3386/2005 and 3536/2007) include new regularization programs. Article 91 of law 3386/2005 introduced a regularization program for undocumented migrants who had entered Greece before December 31, 2004. Law 3536/2007, article 18 introduced a new, smaller regularization program enabling those who had not been able to renew their permits in time, according to 3386, and those who were not able to collect the necessary insurance stamps, to remain legally. Thus the aim of these two programs (the second one ended on 30 September 2007) has been to incorporate to the legal status certain specific categories of immigrants who have lived in Greece for several years (the date by which the foreigner had to have come to Greece remained December 31, 2004) but who, for various reasons, had not been able to legitimize their residence and employment in the country.

Act 3386/2005 regulates matters of entry, stay, and social integration of third country nationals in Greece. EU citizens, refugees, and asylum seekers are excluded from its field of effect. The new law abolishes the existence of separate work and stay permits and introduces a stay permit for different purposes (e.g., for work, study, family reunification, as well as a variety of special reasons, article 9 of the law). The application fee of 150 euros for a residence permit with a one-year duration remains, but the fee rose to 300 euros and 450 euros for permits with two- and three-years’ duration correspondingly. As a result of protests by immigrant organizations and other institutions this provision was amended so that dependent family members did not have to pay the fee.

It is worth noting that for the Greek administration the work load of issuing a permit is the same (or almost the same) regardless of the duration of the permit. Therefore the application fee of 150 euros per year resembles an “additional tax” for the applying foreign citizens. The increase of the fee is all the more provocative if one considers the huge delays in issuing/renewing residence permits when the law 2910/2001 was in effect, which, to a point, continue today. According to sources in the Ministry of Interior Affairs (Int. 2) the delays have been reduced in certain municipalities but despite that, issuing or renewing a permit in three months is considered a record!

Law 3386/2005 introduces a stay permit for financial investment activities (articles 26–27), which refers to people who are willing to invest a capital of at least 300,000 euros in Greece. The permit for independent financial activity is defined separately (articles 24–25, and requires a minimum investment of 60,000 euros) and so is the residence permit for employees of companies of another EU member or a third country who are moved to Greece for a limited period of time in order to offer specific services within the frameworks of their employment for their company. Moreover the law determines the condition for issuing residence permits for a series of (p.198) other categories (such as athletes and trainers, intellectuals and artists, financially independent people, practitioners of known religions, scientific researchers, tour guides, students at the Athoniada school in Athos, etc.). It is also very important that the new law has special provisions for the protection of human trafficking victims (articles 46–52).

Stay permits issued for study purposes (article 28–29) include a time limitation: the total duration of the study increased by its half plus one year for learning the language. The law indirectly emphasizes on the development of the sector of education and vocational training in Greece because it recognizes all the relevant public and private institutions of higher and professional education. In addition, it does not set a maximum yearly limit of residence permits to be issued for this reason. It also establishes the possibility for foreign students to work part-time (article 35).

Articles 53–60 of law 3386/2005 determine the right and the procedure to family reunification by incorporating the relevant EU directive to the Greek legal order. Law 3536/2007 waives the application fee for the stay permits of underage children. Articles 67–69 incorporate the EU directive for the status of long-term residents into the Greek legal order. A basic knowledge of Greek language and of Greek history and culture are among the conditions for acquiring this status. The original presidential decree that determined the details for the certification of Greek language knowledge was particularly restrictive (it only accepted high-school diplomas or the certificate of special courses that the ministry would found specifically for the status of long-term residents but did not recognize for example the degrees from Greek Universities and Technological Education Institutes or other state language departments) and was heavily criticized by NGOs and immigrant associations. Finally, a new ministerial decree was issued in November 2007 that simplified the procedure of proving one’s fluency in Greek and one’s knowledge of Greek history and culture.

Finally, articles 65 and 66 introduce a Complete Action Plan for the social integration of immigrants based on the respect of their fundamental rights and with the purpose of their successful integration into the Greek society, emphasizing the following sectors: certified knowledge of the Greek language; taking introductory courses of history, culture, and way of life of the Greek society; integration to the Greek labor market; and active social participation (article 66, paragraph 4). This program has, so far, remained on paper apart from some actions funded by the community program EQUAL. Our research interview with the Ministry of Interior, Social Integration Directorate (Int. 12) in December 2007 however suggests that there is now a renewed interest and political will on the part of the relevant ministry to put into action a wide national program (called ESTIA, which literally in ancient Greek means home) that will bring together state and nonstate actors in a variety of actions aiming at promoting the social, cultural, and economic integration of migrants in Greek society. However, it is likely that the reorganization of the relevant Social Integration department into a Social Integration Directorate was affected by the voting of the European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals in the summer of 2007.5

Act 3386/2005 also regulates reasons for revoking a residence permit and the procedure of administrative deportation (see particularly article 76). It is worth noting that unfortunately this law continues to prohibit (article 84) the Greek public services, legal entities, organizations of local government, organizations of public utility, and organizations of social security to offer services to foreigners who are “unable to prove that they have entered and are residing the country legally.” The only exception to this prohibition is hospitals in emergency cases and in cases of offering health care to minors (under 18 years of age). Children’s access to the public education system is regulated by law 2910/2001 regardless of their parents’ legal status.

Models of Immigrant Adjustment

Segal in this volume proposes seven ideal types of immigrant adjustment to the host country. In my view these models should be considered as points on a continuum rather than watertight boxes of a rigid typology. The actual model of immigrant adjustment adopted in a host country may lie somewhere in between these ideal types. Also different models may be applied with (p.199)

GreeceImmigration to Greece: Problems and Prospects

Figure 13-1. The Integration Curb

reference to specific groups of migrants (e.g., co-ethnics or citizens of former colonies).

We could imagine this typology as a curb (see Figure 13-1 below) where the two extremes (full assimilation and outright rejection) are socially and normatively less desirable than the middle points (integration or accommodation). A rejection or marginalization option and an acculturation or assimilation one imply an important loss of social and human capital for both the receiving society and the immigrant groups (and by consequence for their countries of origin). In my understanding, acculturation or assimilation may increase social cohesion but they often involve a waste of the cultural and social capital that immigrants bring with them in the form of customs, traditions, and special skills, but also ideas, intellectual products, and informal or formal networks of solidarity and assistance. On the other hand, rejection or marginalization is not only a waste of the human capital of the immigrant population but also a violation of their human dignity and basic individual rights. Separation is also a less desirable option as it usually includes political inequality and may easily slide into marginalization.

Even though scholars may be in favor of models of immigrant adjustment that are considered to be ethically just, politically acceptable, and socially viable, such as for instance the ideal types of segmented assimilation, integration, and accommodation (see chapter two, this volume, also Kontis, 2001), national governments tend to be pragmatic and are often event-driven in their policy decisions.

Greece is a typical case in this respect of a host country that reacted to developments and tried to deal with migration flows a posteriori, applying fragmented measures rather than adopting a comprehensive approach to migration. For the past ten to fifteen years, Greek migration policy has had as its main objective to limit immigration, considering that the latter was a liability for the country’s economic prosperity and for its presumed cultural and ethnic “purity.” Without proper analysis of the economic or demographic effects of immigration flows, Greek governments sought mainly to stop migration at the national borders. Greek authorities, until recently, viewed international population flows as external developments from which the country could be shielded through effective policing and enforcement measures. The results of this policy were costly. Public expenditure for border control skyrocketed while an immigrant population of several hundred thousands people was left to “survive” without papers and without rights. The undocumented migration had large indirect costs related to social exclusion and social pathologies that affected not only the migrant but also the native population (see also Lymperaki and Pelagidis, 2000).

Following the above, I shall classify the Greek migration-management model as one of rejection and marginalization for most of the 1990s. Since 1997, when the first “amnesty” for undocumented migrants was approved by the Greek parliament, Greece has started to make hesitant steps up our imagined curb from rejection and marginalization to separation, and has more recently segmented assimilation of foreigners and co-ethnics.

A segemented assimilation approach has characterized the settlement of citizens from (p.200) the former Soviet Republics and Albania who could claim Greek ethnicity. As I shall argue in the following sections, these two groups enjoyed preferential treatment, but the outcome of the relevant state policies was rather poor. Immi-grants who could not claim a connection to Greek genealogy or culture, were marginalized and/or rejected.

During the last few years, Greek policy and public discourse have oscillated between a tolerated separation of Greek citizens and “others” to a more progressive viewpoint of assimilating cultural and ethnic diversity into the national Leitkultur, which is seen as cohesive and homogeneous. Albeit this assimilation comes at a price, immigrants have to assimilate culturally while socioeconomically integrating into specific niches of the labor market. They remain excluded from the political system, and even their civic involvement in public life is severely limited.

Ethnic Hierarchies

An important feature of Greek migration policy has been the distinction between immigrants of Greek descent, namely ethnic Greek Albanians and co-ethnics from the former Soviet Republics (Pontic Greeks), and “others” (Triandafyllidou and Veikou, 2002). The official policy of the Greek government was somewhat differentiated toward each of these groups. The right of Pontic Greeks to return to their “homeland” (Greece) was conceded by presidential decree in 1983. Pontic Greeks are defined by the Greek state as members of the diaspora community who “return”—even though most of them had never lived in Greece before—to their “homeland” and are, therefore, given full citizen status and benefits aiming to facilitate their integration into Greek society. Their naturalization was subject to proof of Greek origins at the Greek embassy in their previous country or residence. Because many of these people, or their ancestors, suffered oppression and persecution by the Soviet regime because of their nationality, it was relatively easy for them to prove their Greek identity. Besides, a number of alternative documents were (and still are) accepted as proof of Greek ethnicity (membership in cultural associations, religious membership, place of residence, earlier correspondence, just to give a few examples).

In December 1990, the Greek government set up the National Institute for the Reception and Rehabilitation of Emigrant and Repatriate Co-Ethnic Greeks (Ε.Ι.Y.Α.Π.Ο.Ε.Ε.) (on the basis of art. 8, law 1893/1990) to manage the conditions of entrance, residence, and work of Pontic Greek returnees. Accommodation, food, education for children and for adults, specialized courses of Greek language, and professional training were provided within the context of this institute’s program aiming at a successful integration of Pontic Greeks into Greek society (Kassimati, 1993). Although living and working conditions of Pontic Greeks may still be of low standards and highly problematic (Mavreas, 1998; Diamanti-Karanou, 2003), there is no doubt that the policies of the Greek state toward them have been radically different from its general migration policy, affecting aliens.

As regards Greek Albanians, law 1975/1991, on the basis of article 108 of the Greek Constitution, provides them with a preferable legal status as people without Greek citizenship but with Greek nationality (article 17). Because of their ethnic minority status in southern Albania, they were perceived as refugees who suffered persecution and discrimination because of their Greek nationality and Christian Orthodox religion. Immigrants from Albania with “Greek nationality” written in their passports could register at the Aliens’ Department of the Greek Ministry of Interior and Public Order and get a Temporary Residence Permit more easily than other immigrants, while their refoulement was prohibited. The legal provisions in issues of social security, retirement coverage, and medical care were of an equally discretionary positive character as opposed to those concerning other categories of foreign immigrants (article 24 of law 1975/1991).

Even though the law provided for the preferential treatment of Greek Albanians, in practice the situation has been somewhat different. First and foremost, proof of Greek origin was not always straightforward. Greek public officials reported (Triandafyllidou, 2001; Triandafyllidou and Veikou, 2002) severe difficulties in certifying the authenticity of documents presented by immigrants from Albania (p.201) to prove their Greek origins. Language could not be a valid criterion because some of them spoke very poor Greek while others had learned fluent Greek during their undocumented stay in the country. Furthermore, the massive crossing of the Greek-Albanian borders by both Albanians and Greek Albanians and the practice of massive deportations adopted in the early 1990s by the Greek state made it even more difficult to apply the distinction. Meanwhile, a number of administrative circulars were issued distinguishing Vorioepirotes from foreign immigrants, on some occasions exempting them from the need to obtain a work permit and advising the police not to arrest them for illegal stay.

The legal status of ethnic Greek Albanians was clarified by Presidential Decree 395/1998. Ethnic Greek Albanians could thus register directly at local police stations, which issued Special Identity Cards of a three-year validity that provide for full residence and work rights and are valid travel documents throughout the Schengen area. These identity cards are issued to ethnic Greek Albanians and to the members of their families (spouses and children) regardless of the ethnic origin of the latter.

The preferential treatment of immigrants of Greek ethnic origin by the Greek state has created a lot of uncertainty and confusion among the immigrant population (ECRI, 2004). It was often unclear who was entitled to preferential treatment, and hence often people misunderstood their rights and generally mistrusted Greek authorities. At the same time such positive ethnic discrimination created feelings of resentment among other immigrants settled in the country. The rights of these latter were unclear and even when clear were not respected as they were delegated into third- or second-class individuals in the ethnic hierarchy that the Greek government applied (Triandafyllidou and Veikou, 2002). It was only in November 2006 that the Ministers of Interior and External Affairs issued a joint statement encouraging co-ethnics from Albania to naturalize and stating that the high naturalization fee would be waived for them. About 8,000 Voriepirotes applied for naturalization during 2007 according to data released from the Minstry of Interior in spring 2008.

Immigrant Workers in the Greek Labor Market

Greece is characterized by high unemployment rates especially among the youth, women, and people with secondary education. OECD data for 20076 show that the unemployment rate was 8.3%, while in 2006 there were more than 400,000 people registered as unemployed. However, there is an important imbalance in the unemployment rates of the two genders. The female rate of unemployment is nearly 13%, while for men it is 5.2%. Unemployment particularly affects youth between 15 and 29 years of age reaching 17.3% for both genders and 22% for women in this age group (data from the National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), referring to May 2008, obtained on June 20, 2008). Also women’s participation in the labor force is rather low: 47.3% (data from OECD for 2006).

At first glance, it may come as a surprise that in the mid-1990s there were half a million migrants employed mainly in the Greek informal economy. The explanation is relatively simple and unfortunately a common pattern among southern European countries; the Greek labor market is characterized by high segmentation with special employment niches occupied by migrant workers. The native population’s living standards have increased in the last decades and there is widespread participation in the tertiary and higher education. Thus, young Greeks prefer to wait for employment that conforms to their skills, meanwhile financially supported by their families, rather than take up a low-prestige, low-skill, and low-pay job.

OECD comparative statistical data7 on participation and unemployment rates of foreigners and natives in southern European countries in the early 2000s (www.sourceoecd.org data for 2001, ) revealed a distinctive combination of higher immigrant participation rates and similar or lower unemployment rates than natives. Having a look at the OECD data (www.sourceoecd.org, data for 2001, ) by type of economic activity, in Greece, about one-fourth of all migrants worked in construction, 20% in mining and manufacturing, 20% in retail and wholesale services, and another 20% in households. Even if these data covered only a (p.202) small part of the immigrant population in Greece, they clearly indicated the segmented nature of the Greek job market and the fact that immigrant employment was concentrated on specific economic sectors.

Empirical research on the insertion of immigrants in the Greek economy showed high levels of employment in the agricultural sector and in unskilled work (about 30% and 12% respectively, in four regions of northern Greece) (Lianos et al., 1996). This research, conducted in the mid-1990s, showed also that the salary of migrant workers was on average 40% lower than that of natives. As nearly all workers at the time were undocumented, they did not benefit from insurance coverage, and their employers “saved” that cost too. This study concluded that natives and foreigners were only partly in competition for jobs, as the latter mostly took up work that the former would not perform.

Similar patterns of limited competition were shown by a study concentrating on the agricultural sector (Vaiou and Hatzimihali, 1997). The authors pointed to the seasonal character of migration in northern Greece where immigrants from neighboring (Bulgaria and later Albania) and even more distant (Poland) countries were employed in seasonal agricultural work. Such work had long been turned down by natives and even before the massive arrival of immigrant workers, such jobs were usually taken up by members of the Muslim minority in western Thrace.

Studies concentrating on the late 1990s paint a more complete picture of immigrant contribution in the Greek economy and in particular of their insertion in the labor market. Sarris and Zografakis (1999) have argued that immigration overall has a beneficial impact on the Gross National Product (1.5% increase), on private investments (0.9% increase), and on the cost of living (contained). Immigrants also contribute to an increase in the national production. As in two-thirds of the cases they take up jobs that natives reject, immigrants also contribute to creating new jobs (or maintaining existing ones). As their work makes some small and medium enterprises economically viable, it revitalizes some economic sectors (such as agriculture and construction); and overall while it depresses low-skill wages it comparatively increases skilled wages (see also Baldwin-Edwards and Safilios-Rothschild, 1999). These findings are similar to those of a study on the effects of immigrant labor on the Italian economy and job market (Reyneri, 1998).

Sarris and Zografakis (1999) showed already in the late 1990s that immigrants contributed by a 1.5% growth to the Gross National Product (GNP) and that they had contributed to lowering prices by 2%, which meant that Greek products were becoming more competitive for exports. They calculated that about 50,000 natives had lost their jobs because of the incoming immigrant labor and that wages had been lowered by 6% in total. They also showed that two categories of Greek households, those with unskilled native workers and people with average or low incomes in urban areas (accounting for 37% of the total population) had been in competition or might have suffered from the impact of immigrants on the economy and the labor market. All other categories of the native population, both in urban regions but also in rural ones (where all categories benefit from the immigrant employment), had benefited from immigrant work. Immigrants had contributed to creating 20,000 high-skill jobs in the service sector in urban areas and 5,000 self-employed jobs in the rural areas. In sum, about two-thirds of the Greek population had experienced a positive impact while one-third a negative impact of the presence of immigrant workers.

During the years 1999–2000 there was an increased demand for unskilled male workers for the construction sector and for women to be employed in cleaning and domestic care in the Athens area (Lianos, 2001). The demand for unskilled laborers was high in the years before the 2004 Olympic Games, as many major public works were under development during that time. Indeed, in the construction sector, immigrants account for a large share of all workers. Among those, 82,922 men (72%) of the total number of immigrant construction workers are Albanians (National Insurance Service, IKA, data for 2005).

Recent data on immigrant insertion in the labor market (Zografakis, Kontis, and Mitrakos, 2007: 74) show that nearly 40% of foreign workers are employed as unskilled laborers, mainly in manual jobs, and another 35% are employed as skilled workers (craftsmen). An important part (p.203) of the immigrant population though (15%) is now employed in the service sector and as salespeople at shops or open air markets. Other employees and technicians or drivers account for 2% and 3% respectively of the immigrant labor force. It is also worth noting that only 2% of immigrants are currently employed in agriculture, compared to 7% registered in that sector at the census of 2001 (see Figure 13-2 below).

The study by Zografakis, Kontis, and Mitrakos (2007) shows also that immigrants (both regular and undocumented) contribute between 2.3% and 2.8% of the Gross National Product. Zografakis and his co-authors (2007) apply a social accounting method to calculate the contribution of immigrants to the GNP and to explore three different scenarios regarding the evolution of the migration phenomenon and its impact on the Greek economy and labor market. In the first scenario, they hypothesize that immigrants continue to work but stop consuming, in the second scenario immigrant stocks increase by 200,000, and in the third scenario immigrants leave within a few years. In the first scenario, there is a negative impact on the economy because of the reduction in consumption levels, in the second scenario there is overall a positive impact because of the increased consumption and production and because the newcomers create new jobs too; however, the earlier migrants suffer from increased competition, and wages become overall lower. In the third scenario, assuming that migrants leave the country in three progressive waves and assuming that there is an increased flexibility of native workers, at least half of the 400,000 jobs that migrants leave vacant remain vacant, creating substantial negative pressures on Greek businesses and on the Greek economy as a whole. Overall consumption falls, GNP falls, the level of wages rises for unskilled workers, and the income of poorer families rises, but the income for middle and upper social class families remains the same or decreases. The deficit in the national balance of payments also increases.

The findings of Zografakis, Kontis, and Mitrakos in their recent study appear similar to those of the 1999 study by Sarris and Zografakis. In other words, immigrants compete with unskilled and low-/medium-low-income natives for jobs but overall create new jobs for natives, increase consumption, decrease prices, make Greek products and businesses more competitive, and contribute thus positively to the national balance of payments. Moreover in a number of sectors immigrants take up jobs that Greeks are not willing to do. If immigrants were not there to take these jobs, there would be serious negative repercussions for Greek businesses, products, and exports.

A clearer, even if partial, picture (because it refers to waged labor, registered with welfare

GreeceImmigration to Greece: Problems and Prospects

Figure 13-2. Immigrant Insertion in the Greek Labor Market (Per Sector of Employment)

Source: Zografakis, Kontis, and Mitrakos, 2007.

(p.204) services) is given by the National Welfare Institute (IKA) most recent available data for May 2006. In May 2006, foreign citizens accounted for 13.55% of all insured workers at IKA, albeit men accounted for nearly 17%, while women for nearly 10% only. Albanian citizens accounted for nearly half of all foreigners registered with IKA. Among men, Albanians actually account for 60% of all foreign workers. The second largest nationality among men registered with IKA were, quite surprisingly, Pakistani citizens (6%), Russians (slightly over 5%), and Romanians (5%). Among foreign women, Albanian citizens account for nearly 40% of all foreign women workers registered with IKA, Russian citizens for 17%, and Bulgarians for 12%. These data suggest an overrepresentation of Pakistani men among IKA-insured male workers and of Russian and Bulgarian women among IKA-insured female workers. At the same time we note an underrepresentation of Albanian women in waged labor registered with IKA.

Regarding the sector employment, the data from IKA show that Greek and foreign workers have a significantly different pattern of distribution among sectors. Among Greek workers registered with IKA about 20% are employed in sales, 20% in manufacturing, 10% in construction, 7% in transport and communications, and 7% in the management of real estate. Among Albanian citizens this distribution is different: about half work in construction, 15% in manufacturing, 13% in tourism and catering, and 12% in sales. Among other foreigners (i.e., excluding Albanians and EU25 citizens), 22% work in construction (a percentage significantly lower than that registered for Albanian citizens), 24% in sales (double the percentage of Albanians), and another 24% in manufacturing (again a significantly higher percentage than that of Albanians). About 16% of other foreigners work in catering and tourism (a slightly higher percentage than that registered for Albanian citizens). Another 12.15% of other foreigners are employed in private homes, a sector that is nearly absent from data on Greek (only 0.34%) and Albanian (only 1.84%) citizens. It is worth noting that Albanian workers account for nearly one-third of all workers employed in the construction sector, while Greeks account for just under two-thirds of the workers in this sector.

Looking at the data of the National Welfare Institute (IKA) regarding the declared profession of insured workers we note again a significant difference in the pattern of distribution between Greek, Albanian, and other foreign citizens (non–EU25). About one quarter of Greek workers (24%) do clerical jobs, and 17% are salespersons (including both shops and open air markets). Only 18% of Greek workers are employed as unskilled manual workers and skilled crafts’ workers. Among Albanians the rate for unskilled and semiskilled manual jobs is 70%, and among other foreigners it is 60% approximately. About 8% of Albanians and 10% of other foreigners are employed as skilled craftsmen, while 13% of Albanians and 15% of other foreigners are employed as salespersons (including both shops and open air markets). In other words, in the sales’ professions the participation of foreign workers approximates that of Greek citizens.

Immigrant Rights and Their Participation in Public Life

In Greece, immigrant participation in public life, even in its most trivial aspects, has been seriously hampered by the undocumented status of most immigrants for nearly all of the 1990s. Even legal migrants’ status was insecure because of the annual applications necessary for them to renew their stay and work permits.

The lack of high visibility movements does not mean immigrant associations have not been active in Greece, or in Athens in particular, where most immigrants concentrate. Petronoti (1998) has, for instance, documented the activities of the association of Eritreans in Athens, a tiny immigrant community, as well as the activities of the Sudanese and Filipino associations in Athens (Petronoti, 2001). Albanians, on the other hand, by far the largest immigrant group in Greece, have displayed very low levels of self-organization and civic activism.

Turning to the types of activities of these immigrant associations, the main objectives consist of providing information for the regularization procedure; contributing to the social inclusion of their members; material and psychological support in cases of emergency (for instance in case of medical assistance, (p.205) imprisonment, etc); establishing a network of contacts and cooperation with Greek political and administrative actors in order to promote specific interests and immigrant rights; and last but not least promoting the culture of their country of origin though participating in festivals and other cultural events.

Regardless of ethnic or national origin, what is striking to note is the small number of immigrants that actually do participate in such associations. What are the reasons for this limited participation? Representatives of immigrant organizations that were interviewed by Soubert (2004) (including Egyptians, Syrians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis) listed the following as the most likely reasons: The feeling of being in Greece on a temporary basis gives them the impression that participation in an association is meaningless and time-consuming. The financial contribution to the association is sometimes a discouraging factor. They tend to have very limited free-time (it is common practice for them to work double shifts or to have two jobs), and the limited free-time that is available tends to be devoted to the family, entertainment, or religious practices. Last but not least, associations are often viewed with prejudice or distrust. In addition to the lack of conviction as to the results that the collective representation of their interests can in fact bring about, there tends to be deep mistrust that associations may be politically motivated/oriented.

Recent efforts by Greek NGOs and state organizations to organize public awareness campaigns in favor of immigrant inclusion in Greek society, although increasing in number, are far from gaining prime-time visibility of the kind that presumed immigrant criminality has been receiving for several years. Intellectuals, NGOs and the Greek Ombudsman have been increasingly active in promoting and protecting immigrants’ human and more general sociopolitical rights. Trade unions have to a certain extent tried to encourage immigrant workers’ membership. Trade unions of specific professions, for example, the builders’ union, have formally been pro-immigrant as a means to secure their native member’s rights and to avoid illegitimate competition from immigrants accepting work for lower pay and without welfare benefits. During the last ten years, the National Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) has taken at the forefront of pro-immigrant civic or political activism. Although leading trade union positions are still held exclusively by Greeks, strategic alliances between the GSEE and other large trade unions with immigrant associations and in particular with the Hellenic Forum of Migrants (the largest federation of immirant associations) have played an important part in putting forward the social and economic problems faced by migrant workers and their families.


At the eve of the twenty-first century, Greek society finds itself transformed by comparison to the 1980s. Modern Greece is now fully integrated in the European Union and the Euro-zone, albeit with a still very large informal economy that is difficult to combat. The country is facing the economic and cultural tensions of globalization and at the same time has become host to nearly a million immigrants in little more than a decade. The native population is rapidly aging, causing preoccupation for, among other things, the state welfare system. The relatively high internal unemployment is paradoxically coupled with severe labor shortages in some sectors. Greek authorities have made hesitant steps toward immigrant incorporation in Greek society—for example, the inclusion of immigrant families in state housing for the first time in October 2004. Nonetheless, the majority of Greek citizens still hold xenophobic and racist attitudes with regard to immigrants (Εurobarometre 1997; 2000), Albanians in particular. Immigrant participation in public life is very limited. Ethnic associations are few and relatively small. Foreigners’ participation in mainstream organizations such as political parties or trade unions is formally welcome but in effect marginalized.

The contours of the immigration situation in Greece are rather disappointing. After nearly fifteen years of massive migration the country still strives to accept its role as a host society. Migration policy planning lacks a mid- to long-term perspective, and policy measures up to now have been short-term and fragmented. Immigrant integration policy needs to be (p.206) reconsidered to address the social and economic challenges of migration. At the same time a proactive migration planning and a realistic migration control policy is necessary to manage migration through legal channels, avoid the proliferation of undocumented migrants and combat human trafficking in the region.

In the post-9/11 context a lot of attention has been paid to the connection between migration and security, with particular reference to international terrorism. It is worth noting that the profiles of the suspected terrorists conform more to those of skilled legal immigrants—often sought after in developed countries—than to those of the undocumented manual workers that have swelled the ranks of undocumented migrants in Greece in the past decade. Moreover, Greece is a small country with little economic or military power and with traditionally friendly relations with the Middle East. Thus, in the post-9/11 context, Greek governments have paid less attention to international terrorism threats (even if security was a top issue on the Olympic Games 2004 agenda) while giving more emphasis to regional security threats related to political instability in neighboring Balkan countries (Albania, Kosovo, FYROM) and economic or political crisis in Turkey. Thus, although security is an issue on the Greek migration policy agenda it certainly has not radically affected the opinions and views of Greek governments on the issue.


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(1) . Law 4310 of 1929, revised in 1948, mainly dealt with issues of emigration.

(2) . The main weaknesses of the program had to do with the inability of the Greek hospitals to examine thousands of applicants so that these last would receive the “good health” certificates necessary for their applications. Also, the Ministry of Justice was unable to issue in such a short time criminal record certificates to the thousands of applicants. On top of this, the Employment Institute (OAED) responsible for managing the program suffered from staff shortages. The temporary personnel eventually hired did not have the necessary training to perform their tasks efficiently and transparently. The whole process suffered from severe ideological and ethnic bias (and sometimes outright corruption) that conditioned decisions on the eligibility of applicants (Mpagavos and Papa-dopoulou, 2003; Psimmenos and Kassimati, 2002).

(3) . See special report for law 2910/2001, submitted to the Minister of Interior in December 2001, http://www.synigoros.gr/porismata.htm#

(4) . The function of social networks in the search of employment is also recognized by Ambrosini (2001) in the case of Italy, which is, to a point, similar to that of Greece.

(5) . 12.06.2007 2007/435/EC: Council Decision of 25 June 2007 establishing the European Fund for the Integration of third-country nationals for the period 2007 to 2013 as part of the General programme Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows, Official Journal L 168, 28.06.2007, p. 18–36.

(6) . See https://stats.oecd.org.

(7) . These data are based on the national censuses conducted in several countries in 2000 and 2001.