Migrants on agenda

The government is contemplating a third attempt to legalize migrants, now that recent surveys indicate the number of illegal migrants in Greece has risen to 350,000. The ministry’s main concerns at the moment are first to gain as accurate as possible a record of the actual number of migrants, and then to try and legalize them. The effort will form part of a general redesign of migrant policy which the jointly responsible ministries have already embarked upon. The Labor and Justice ministries have already drafted legislation «to implement the principle of equal treatment» in order to combat discrimination. According to Interior Ministry statistics, the total number of migrants legally and illegally resident in Greece is around 960,000. But these statistics must be compared with data from other sources – the ministries of Education, Health and Labor – in order to evaluate their accuracy. In any case, Interior Ministry sources say that the new legalization attempt will be made with great care, as it involves many different categories of people. For example, it may legalize a thoroughly supervised category of migrants who come to Greece for seasonal work of specific duration after which they return to their own countries, or it may consider the cases of migrants who have lived in Greece for many years but for various reasons have not participated in earlier legalization drives. Government officials have difficulty ascertaining the real extent of immigration, as there is no way of monitoring people who enter the country on short-term visas, whether for seasonal work, studies or tourism. Unlike some other European countries, Greece has no system for checking that such visitors leave the country when their visas have expired. The next phase of migrant policy will incorporate the EU directive which entitles migrants who have resided legally in the country for five years to be issued with a residence permit for an indefinite period. Simplification Measures are being examined to simplify the permit process for the 600,000 migrants who are legally resident in Greece. The search is on for a service that will issue and reissue work and residence permits. That role may well be undertaken by the Citizens’ Service Centers (KEP), which would carry out the intermediary procedures required for the permits on behalf of migrants. By January of next year, sources say, the ministry aims to issue all permits for which applications have been submitted.