NEWS

Structure of immigration policy revised

A bill aimed at reforming Greece’s often chaotic immigration laws and reducing the red tape faced by migrants, who make up over a tenth of the population, was unveiled by the government yesterday. «For many years, the country has suffered from lack of an immigration policy. This prevented migrants in Greece from offering all that they could,» said Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who presented the draft law with Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis after an Inner Cabinet meeting. The bill, which Voulgarakis said could be voted in by the end of May, introduces a series of measures that are intended to eradicate the colossal bureaucracy faced by the over 1 million migrants living in the country and bring Greece in line with EU regulations on migration. One of the bill’s key elements is that residence and work permits will be combined into one document, which will be issued by the general secretaries of regional authorities, cutting a myriad of ministries and local authorities out of the loop. The new permits will also last for two years rather than the present one. Regional authorities will also be allowed to assess whether their area needs migrant labor and immigrants will be allowed into the country to cover seasonal jobs, lasting no more than six months. The government hopes that by setting some ground rules, it will be able to deter migrants from choosing Greece as their final destination simply by chance or by default. «Greece will no longer be a free-for-all and will function as a well-organized and ordered state,» said Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, commenting on the proposals last night. Migrants will have to undergo background checks upon submitting their applications and before being given a special serial number which can then be used in any dealings with state bodies. In one of the draft law’s most controversial elements, migrants who spend an uninterrupted period of five years living in Greece legally can have their residence permit renewed automatically, subject to a naturalization exam during which applicants will be tested on the Greek language, history and culture – in which the state will previously provide free lessons. A panel of officials will also evaluate migrants’ «morals and character.» It was not clear what would be used in the evaluation process. Pavlopoulos said that once the law goes into effect, probably by the start of 2006, an amnesty on illegal immigrants in Greece is likely to be declared so that they can obtain legal papers. It is thought that there are some 400,000 illegal migrants in the country.