Immigration bill not mass legalization, says minister

The government has denied that it is preparing for a mass legalization of illegal immigrants in Greece by submitting to Parliament a bill reducing the number of years a migrant has to be living in Greece before they can apply for a residence permit.

Interior Minister Haris Kastanidis launched a debate in Parliament on Thursday concerning the changes that the government plans to make to immigration laws.

The government?s intention to reduce from 12 to 10 the number of years that a migrant has to be living in Greece before they can claim legal status on humanitarian grounds or because they have strong ties to the country is the most contentious of the reforms being planned.

?The condition of a 10-year stay before a permit can be issued will not lead to the mass legalization of immigrants,? said Kastanidis, who added that he was happy to debate with MPs possible safeguards that could be introduced to ensure the system is not open to abuse from applicants.

The government says it wants to make the change because the frequent tinkering with immigration laws over the last 10 years means that many migrants who have a genuine connection with Greece have not been able to gain resident permits.