By the end of this year, up to 650,000 illegal immigrants in Greece will have been fully legalized and granted residence permits, the government said yesterday after a Cabinet meeting on immigration. Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis told journalists that some 450,000 residence permits will have been issued by June, with the total for the whole year expected to range from 600,000-650,000. This implies that, by the end of the year, there will be at least 100,000 immigrants illegally residing in Greece. According to the 2001 population census, the total number of immigrants in Greece stood at 750,000, although many are believed to have avoided census officials for fear of arrest and deportation. But the minister said there was no prospect of a new legalization drive for the illegal immigrants who failed to respond to the last one, stressing that any migrants whose residence permits are rejected or who are caught without residence permits will be deported promptly. The first residence permits will be issued in the administrative regions of Attica (where 150,000 will be given) and Central Macedonia on February 15. Skandalidis said the government now proposes to focus on a 260-million-euro operational plan for migration which, over the next three years, aims to integrate newcomers into Greek society while improving health and education services available to immigrants. According to a study by the Athens Panteion University made public last week, by 2015 non-Greeks will account for 25 percent of the country’s population – some 3.5 million people out of a total of 14.2 million. Greece already has the highest number of illegal immigrants as a percentage of overall population in the European Union.