New operation to register immigrants

Earlier this month, the fourth – and final, according to Interior Ministry officials – effort to register and give legal status to economic immigrants in Greece began. However, the same officials believe that this attempt will, like the previous ones, leave out in the cold a considerable number of foreigners who are in Greece illegally. The precise number will remain forever unknown, but even if this latest effort is as successful as the ministry hopes, about 250,000 immigrants will still be in the country without being listed on the Immigrant Register. According to ministry figures, 480,000 people submitted applications for residence permits since an earlier campaign began in June 2003. The latest effort, which is to conclude at the end of this month, is expected to attract another 250,000, according to the ministry’s general secretary, Thanasis Vezyryiannis – bringing the total to 750,000, assuming they all fulfill the necessary requirements. There are an estimated 1 million immigrants in Greece. The new government’s attitude to immigration, particularly in view of the situation expected to arise after the Olympic Games are over and given the many immigrants employed in major public works currently under way, is to register as many as possible in order to get a clear picture of the situation. So the first law tabled by the Interior Ministry in Parliament allows a wide spectrum of immigrants to apply for legal status. According to the amendment, anyone who has at any time initiated procedures to apply for residence in Greece, even if the procedure had not been completed (that is, if the person had received the initial temporary six-month residence permit without ever renewing it) has the right to apply to local government organizations for a residence and work permit. In fact, the ministry is facilitating this procedure by requesting only 150 social security stamps for the period until June 2003 (over whatever period of time) and 150 for the past year. Those who do not have this many can buy them from their social security fund the same day without additional fees and without the application for the stamps having to be approved by a special committee. According to the amendment, all immigrants in possession of the following documents may apply: – a green card whose renewal was still pending when the first immigration law was passed in 2001. – a green card that expired on December 31, 2001 but was temporarily extended for six months. – a residence permit that had expired by December 31, 2001 and was extended for six months. – a temporary residence permit granted or renewed in 2001. All the immigrants to which these conditions apply, irrespective of whether the documents have expired, may apply for a residence permit, as long as they have a work permit. June 30 is also the deadline for renewing work permits, first of all at prefectural labor offices, by submitting authorized copies of old work and residence permits, copies of passports, a statement from the taxation department that all payments are up to date, a certified employment contract with a sworn statement by the employer that the contract is valid and a statement that the immigrant has at least 150 social security stamps. If the immigrant has no previous work permit, he or she should submit a health certificate from a state hospital. If he or she has a work permit, or a statement from the prefecture that the necessary documentation has been submitted, the immigrant may apply to the municipality for a residence permit. All deportations because of expired residence permits have been suspended until June 30. By the end of the year, the Interior Ministry is to table a new immigration law that will simplify procedures being followed by about 700,000 registered immigrants in order to renew their permits, and create «one-stop» services, possibly in municipalities. The same law will include provisions arising from European Union directives expected to be issued by the end of the month at the Irish presidency’s summit. One issue currently being dealt with by the Interior and Foreign ministries concerns immigrants from the EU’s new member states. At the moment, people from these countries – with the exception of Cyprus and Malta – are required to follow procedures applying to all economic migrants for the next two years, even though they are citizens of Europe.