NEWS

Legal status is a luxury far beyond financial means of many migrants to Greece

A foreigner who has full social security coverage and is legally employed submitted an application for a residence permit through a lawyer last year. Although he already had collected 300 days’ worth of social security stamps, the employee at the permit office told him he would have to buy another 150 days’ worth. In other words, after paying 2,500 euros to the Social Security Foundation (IKA) he was asked to pay another 1,500 euros. His application was eventually rejected as he did not fulfill all the criteria, but IKA did not return the money. This year the same person submitted a new application. He was asked to buy another 150 stamps for the same period, bringing the total cost to 4,700 euros for the year. Foreign Ministry circular 29 and IKA circular 70 clearly state that «stamps which (foreigners) collected by December 3, 2004 cannot be added to contributions due» as the purchase of stamps for 150 days (valued at 1,050 euros) per year is «an independent qualification.» Indeed, since many migrants already had stamps when they went to submit their applications under the new law, and since the ceiling for IKA insurance is 25 days per month, IKA managed to get around the legal hurdle by specifying that the additional stamps «will be regarded as «multiple insurance» (A23/592). Other social security funds, such as the farmers’ fund (OGA) and the fund for the self-employed (TEVEE), have resorted to similar measures. As workers’ contributions to OGA are much lower than for IKA, in order to ensure high payments from every foreigner, OGA issued a supplementary document (79498/20-10-2005) which states that «the amount to be paid for the purchase of social security contributions is 1,020.36 euros (per year) and includes contributions of the individual, the employer and the state.» Family unity With regard to family unity (the possibility of the legal migrant’s family members residing in the country), the Athens Municipality and other municipalities require each couple to purchase 150 days’ worth of stamps. If the husband already has stamps then the wife must also purchase stamps, even though this is not a formal requirement. Since IKA has invented «multiple insurance,» the «state contribution» and a new fee of 150 days’ worth of stamps levied for family unity, it is not surprising that people say the Greek State is «selling» residence permits. As one employee dealing with applications aptly put it: «Migrants have realized what the situation is. One of them came a few days ago and said: ‘I don’t have that much money. Next time.’» President of the Antigone Center (the official National Focal Point of the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia), Nassos Theodorides, has pointed out that «the cost of fees is the highest in the EU and is a serious disincentive for poor migrant families who want to legalize their status. The high earnings ceiling required for family unity (up by 20 percent for the spouse and 15 percent for each dependent child over a 8,500-euro annual income) makes this an unrealizable dream for migrants.» In a report to the Interior Minister in October 2005, the Citizens’ Ombudsman pointed out serious ambiguities and flaws in the law. A characteristic example is article 91, where two different legalization procedures are specified: one for those already issued a residence permit at least once on the basis of law 2910/2004 and who for various reasons have not renewed it, and another for those who entered the country before December 31, 2004, and have been illegally living in Greece. The lack of clarity makes it difficult to place migrants within one of the two categories, and as a result everyone suffers: migrants, lawyers and employees. Lawyer Eva Fakinou, member of the Network for Social Support to Refugees and Migrants, has had two such cases. «An immigrant girl came to Greece on a study visa,» Fakinou says. «However she did not renew her residence permit, which expired before the law was made public. In which category does she belong? The Interior Ministry must clarify which categories non-documented migrants come under.» Bureaucracy has aggravated the whole issue. Fakinou gave one of her own cases as an example. «A foreign girl was invited to come and work as domestic help,» she said. «After five months she switched to another employer. For this reason she was considered an illegal resident by the prefecture. However, the municipality decided she was legal as there had been no official rejection of her application by the prefecture. Last September I sent an extra-judicial letter to the prefecture, asking them whether the girl had legal status. I received no reply. I submitted an application for the issue to be re-examined and was told to take the request to the municipality. There I was told that this was not possible, as the computer had no category for ‘inquiries.’ When I told them to put it in whatever category they wanted, they replied that they could not do so until the prefecture placed it in another category.»