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The Immigrant Population

Greece Current Developments in Greece's Refugee and Asylum Policy Historical Development The Immigrant Population Recent Developments Migration Management Citizenship and Integration Policies Irregular Migration and Asylum Current and Future Challenges References

The Immigrant Population

Anna Triandafyllidou

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Children demonstrate against racism in Athens. The immigrant population varies in composition according to nationality. (© picture alliance / Robert Geiss)

Stocks of Migrants in Greece

According to the 2011 national census data, there were 713,000 third country nationals and 199,000 non-Greek EU citizens living in Greece accounting for 6.5 percent and 1.8 percent of the total resident population, respectively. Albanians constituted by far the largest immigrant group (480,000, or 60 percent of the foreign population), followed by Bulgarians (75,000), Romanians (46,000), Pakistanis (34,000), Georgians (27,000), Ukrainians (17,000) and Poles (14,000).

Table 1: Stock of foreign population in Greece, 2011

Size of immigrant stock% of total resident population
Total TCN population713,0006.59
Total EU population (non-Greeks)199,0001.84
Total immigrant stock912,0008.43
Total population of Greece 10,815,197 100.00

Source: National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), National Census 2011, data published September 2013.

There are two groups of foreign-born Greek citizens – who could be considered as immigrants sociologically (in the sense of facing discrimination in the labor market, ethnic prejudice and exclusion), but who have naturalized under preferential citizenship acquisition paths and hence do not appear in Table 2.

Table 2: Composition of the migrant population

Labor Force Survey 4th trimester 2012TCN valid residence permits December 2012
Country of Origin Number Percentage Number Percentage
Albania 471,47059.82300,83968.35
Bulgaria 38,3824.87
Georgia 23,4822.9713,5963.09
Romania 38,4694.88
Pakistan 24,4883.1012,9402.94
Russia 15,0881.91 11,7722.67
Ukraine 10,7141.35 16,6983.79
Bangladesh 7,5250.95 5,0251.14
Syria 13,4381.70 5,9201.35
Armenia 7,5000.95 4,9141.12
Cyprus 11,2071.42
Poland 11,2991.43
Egypt 10,4211.32 10,7752.45
Iraq 1,1470.14 6440.15
India 5,4480.69 10,8062.46
UK 9,5481.21
Germany 5,2420.66
Moldova 1,3850.17 9,266 2.11
Netherlands 1,1450.14
Philippines 9,9361.26 8,363 1.90
OTHER 50,7878.98 33,888 7.70
TOTAL 768,122 100.00 440,118 100.00

Sources: National Statistical Service of Greece (ESYE), Labor Force Survey 4th trimester 2012; Ministry of Interior, Valid Residence Permits on 31 December 2012.

The first group is that of Greek co-ethnics from Albania (also known in Greece as Voreioepirotes). They hold special identity cards for Omogeneis (co-ethnics) (EDTO) issued by the Greek police and have the same socio-economic rights as Greek citizens. EDTO holders are not included in the database of the Interior Ministry. During the last three years, EDTO holders have been encouraged by the Ministry of Interior to naturalize and many have done so. In addition, the Ministry of Interior has started cross-checking the previously issued special identity cards and hence many were cancelled as people did not live in Greece any more. The result has been that the number of EDTO identity card holders has decreased from approx. 197,000 in December 2009 to only 6,509 in December 2011 (see also section on Interner Link: citizenship and naturalization).

The second group is ‘returnees’ from the former Soviet Republics, generally referred to as Pontic Greeks who arrived in Greece in the late 1980s and early 1990s as economic migrants. They are officially considered as ‘returnees’ to the ‘motherland’ even though they or their ancestors had never lived within the boundaries of the modern Greek state. According to the special census administered by the General Secretariat for Repatriated Co-Ethnics in the year 2000, 155,319 Pontic Greeks had settled in the country. More than half of them (about 80,000) came from Georgia, 31,000 came from Kazakhstan, 23,000 from Russia, and about 9,000 from Armenia.

Flows of Migrants in Greece

Figure 1: Legal migrants* (stock) in Greece, 2005-2012 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Data on effective inflows and outflows of immigrants in Greece are based on the issuing and renewal (or not) of residence permits but are not accurate as hardly any immigrants enter Greece legally (see discussion on migration policy further below). However, data on residence permits do give an indication of the actual trend in terms of inflows and outflows and also in terms of the possible de-legalization of migrants who previously had a legal status.

Figure 1 presents the legal migrant stock in Greece from January 2005 to December 2012, excluding seasonal migrant workers. The data is based on the Ministry of Interior’s database of residence permits. The highest number of legal migrants present in Greece was registered in December 2009, with more than 600,000 valid permits. Since then, there is a continuous decrease in the number of valid residence permits, which fell to just over 550,000 at the end of 2010 and to an all-time low of 440,000 in December 2012. The decrease in the number of valid residence permits is related to the current economic crisis that Greece is facing. It should also be noted that this decrease does not necessarily mean that these migrants and their families have left Greece. Some of them may still be in the country but have lost their legal status because of the impossibility to satisfy the employment and welfare payment requirements provisioned by law.

Socio-Economic Features of the Immigrant Population

Figure 2: Third Country Nationals’ residence permits by purpose (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

A look at the purpose of third country nationals’ stay in Greece (see Figure 2) shows that 45 percent of male immigrants hold permits that allow them to reside for ten years or an indefinite period in Greece. These are subsumed under the category "other purposes" in Figure 2. Thirty-one percent of male immigrants are in possession of residence permits for family purposes, followed by residence permits for employment purposes (23 percent). The vast majority of female immigrants hold family reunification permits (65 percent) followed by ten-year or indefinite duration permits (23 percent) and employment permits (11 percent). For both sexes, student permits are considerably lower in number.

Figure 4: Educational level by nationality group and gender, 2012 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Regarding the settled immigrant population, it is worth noting that at the end of 2012, there were 107,000 people holding a ten-year or indefinite duration residence permit. Long-term permits have increased significantly in the last six years. In 2012, the number of such permits had increased by 42 percent compared to 2011, but still accounted for only about one quarter of the total legal migrant population, standing at 440,000 at the end of 2012.

As in previous years, the gender composition of the migrant population remains imbalanced – men are much more numerous than women (see Figure 3). However, this imbalance varies among groups. For instance, nationalities like Ukrainians, Bulgarians or Georgians include more women than men (70 percent women for Ukrainians and Bulgarians, 60 percent for Georgians) while Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are predominantly men (90 percent approximately).

Table 3: Valid long-term permits, 2007-2012

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Total permits of ten-year or indefinite duration82134,29645,99862,31275,377107,080

Source: Ministry of Interior database on residence permits, author’s own compilation.

Figure 3: Gender composition of the migrant population, 2012 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

As far as the educational level of the migrant population is concerned (see Figure 4), the educational profile of EU citizens is largely similar to that of natives as regards primary education. But they include higher shares with secondary or technical education (indeed a type of education that was quite common in Communist countries) and lower proportions who have attended university than natives. By contrast, immigrants from non-EU countries are overall less educated than natives or EU citizens with significantly higher levels who have finished only lower middle school (the obligatory schooling). The percentage of third country nationals with a university diploma is also quite low. Despite these differences in educational qualifications between non-EU migrants and EU citizens, we should note that the sectors of migrant employment in Greece are generally the same for both groups (construction, agriculture, other low-skill jobs, transport services for men; cleaning, caring, catering, tourism for women).

This text is part of the country profile "Interner Link: Greece".



  1. 553,916 valid residence permits on 1 December 2010.


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Anna Triandafyllidou is professor at the European University Institute in Florence and Fiesole, Italy. She is Director of the Global Governance Programme’s research area on Cultural Pluralism at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies. Her main areas of research and teaching are the governance of cultural diversity, migration, and nationalism from a European and international perspective.
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