A longer wait for Green Cards

The Interior Ministry will table draft legislation within the next few days to extend the deadline for the issuing of residence and work permits to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants living in Greece, ministry sources said yesterday. The deadline had been due to expire today, which raised the specter of mass deportations of immigrants who lack updated permits. To prevent this, the ministry will send circulars today to police and judicial authorities explaining the situation. As a result, non-Greeks who can prove they have entered the legalization process will not be expelled. Nevertheless, ministry officials expect that no more than 500,000 permits will be issued, down from estimates of 600,000-650,000 made public by Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis at the beginning of the year. This means that at least 250,000 immigrants will be living illegally in Greece, under threat of deportation, after the permits are issued. The 2001 population census set the number of non-Greeks living in the country at over 760,000, although at least another 300,000 are believed to have avoided national statistics service officials for fear of arrest and deportation. Billed as a last chance for illegal immigrants, the legalization process – which was initially supposed to have finished last year – was due to end with the last permits being issued today. However, the civil service proved unable to cope with the flood of applications by migrants, and the new target is some time in the first two months of 2004. So far, according to ministry figures, some 473,000 applications have been tabled, while a few thousand more are expected over the next few weeks by immigrants whose residence permits are due to expire now. Only 350,000 files have been processed so far.