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Migration and Migration Policy in Greece

Angeliki Dimitriadi

/ 6 Minuten zu lesen

Greece, traditionally a country of emigration, turned into an immigration country in the 1990s. The economic crisis of 2010 temporarily reversed the trend of a positive migration balance. A restrictive stance on asylum seekers marks the current migration policy.

Refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos. Greece's migration policy is characterized by a restrictive course - especially towards asylum seekers. (© picture-alliance, NurPhoto)

Greece, traditionally an immigrant-sending country, transformed in the period 1990-2009 to a destination country for economic migrants as well as a transit country of asylum seekers . In the 1990s, the dissolution both of the USSR and Yugoslavia produced large-scale (forced) migration in Europe. The first immigrants came mainly from the neighbouring Balkan states, most notably from Albania. From 2000, Greece recorded many irregular arrivals – once again mainly from Albania, but also from countries beyond the immediate neighbourhood such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India as well as sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb region. Mixed migratory movements of economic migrants and asylum seekers created a multi-ethnic immigrant population that to this day maintains a significant presence in Greece.

Immigrant population in Greece

On 1 January 2020, there were about 906,000 foreign citizens in Greece (approx. 8.4 percent of the total population), according to estimates of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) (see Table 1). Compared to the results of the population census in 2011, the number of foreign nationals had slightly decreased which is due to a reduction in EU citizens living in the country whereas the number of Third Country Nationals has increased, especially because refugees are now included in the data. In 2020, the foreign-born population, which includes immigrants who have acquired Greek citizenship, stood at 1,348,174 according to Eurostat data (12.6 percent of the total population).

Table 1: Stock of foreign nationals in Greece

Numbers rounded.
Total population in Greece10,816,00010,858,00010,718,000
Third Country Nationals (TCNs)713,000623,000715,000
Total foreign population912,000822,000906,000

Source: compiled from Kotzamanis, V. (2021). Demographic changes and challenges. Institute for SME G.S.E.V.E.E. (in Greek). Externer Link: (accessed: 20-09-2021), and Hellenic Statistical Authority (2011). Population Census (in Greek). Externer Link: (accessed: 20-09-2021)

From 2010, the economic crisis and high unemployment amongst the Greek, but especially the foreign population temporarily reversed the trend of positive net migration (see figure 1). It is estimated that about 250,000 foreign citizens left Greece in the period 2010-2015.

Figure 1: Emigration, immigration and net migration in Greece, 1991-2000. (© bpb)

Figure 1: Emigration, immigration and net migration in Greece, 2001-2019. (© bpb)

Despite the ebbs and flows in figure 1 throughout the past decade, the top nationalities of third country nationals in Greece appear to have remained relatively stable in the last five years, suggesting that many have now settled in Greece (see Table 2).

Table 2: Top nationalities of valid stay permits of TCNs

China (incl. Hong Kong)4,6575,7717,35211,67122,73923,770
Philippines 10,55011,46711,20411,40011,6129,452

Source: Eurostat, 2021. All valid permits by reason, length of stay and citizenship on 31 December of each year [MIGR_RESVALID], last updated 18 October 2021.
Externer Link: (accessed: 19-10-2021); data for 2020: Ministry for Migration and Asylum (December 2020). Statistic on legal immigration (in Greek).

The data show the predominance of Albanians among third country nationals residing in Greece. Many Albanians hold ten-year renewable permits. Of the 508,452 persons who held valid permits in December 2020, 62,3 percent were Albanian nationals. Similarly, in 2020, they were the top nationality in the Golden Visa program, which grants permanent residence permits to third country nationals and to members of their families, who purchase real estate property in Greece worth at least 250,000 Euros. In the framework of this program, 2,555 Visas were issued to Albanian nationals in 2020. Chinese nationals were at the top of this residence-by-investment program in 2019 with 10,787 permits issued. For 2021, Chinese nationals are once more at the top for golden visa with 6,274 new applications.

Migration policy

Greece's migration policy since the 1990s has predominantly sought to manage and reduce inflows of migrants. Policy design has been reactive rather than proactive, focusing on numerous legislative changes that are often complex and bureaucratic yielding limiting results. Between 1998 and 2008 several regularisation programs sought to address the presence of a growing number of people living in the country irregularly by facilitating the acquisition of residence/work permits for undocumented migrants. Between 2008 and 2014 the policy focus was on border control and a reform of the asylum system. However, in 2010, an attempt was made to improve integration processes by facilitating naturalization for second generation children as well as by granting third country nationals residing in Greece the right to vote and to stand for election at the local level (Law 3838/2010 ). However, aspects of the law were ruled unconstitutional in 2013 and the previous system was reinstated.

Throughout 2014-2015 legislative changes sought to address gaps regarding the settlement and integration of migrant groups already present in the country. In 2014, the Immigration and Social Integration Code (L4251/2014) was introduced. An important element of the Code was the introduction of a long-term residence permit for third country nationals. The Codification facilitated also the passing of a new law (L4332/2015 ) offering citizenship to second generation children born and/or educated in Greece and providing refugees with the possibility to apply for naturalisation after three years of stay. In 2019, the new liberal-conservative government of Nea Dimokratia introduced a mandatory written citizenship test prior to a verbal interview and increased to seven years of stay the requirement for naturalisation of refugees.

Greek migration policy overall has been restrictive since the early 1990s, especially as regards asylum. Particularly since the refugee ‘crisis’ of 2015, several legislative changes have sought to grapple with the asylum-seeking population in the country by placing a strong focus on deterrence. Most notable is the International Protection Act (IPA) (Law 4636/2019) that was amended shortly after its adoption on 1 November 2019 (by L4686/2020) . These two reforms restricted access to the asylum procedure further and regularised the practice of detention of asylum seekers for up to 18 months while massively reducing access to material care. The Greek government under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis places emphasis on border security, with the reinforcement of the border fence along the land border with Turkey in the Evros region and strengthened border patrols both after the February 2020 Evros incident (when thousands of migrants were encouraged to attempt to cross the Greek land border from Turkey ) and the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in August of 2021. Persistent issues since 2020 remain the alleged pushbacks at the Greek-Turkish borders, poor reception conditions (especially on the Greek islands in the Aegean) and an insufficient framework of assistance for asylum seekers and recognized refugees, as well as insufficient education for asylum-seeking minors and young adults, and the absence of a comprehensive integration plan.

Thirty years after receiving the first large-scale inflow of immigrants and seven years after the European ‘refugee crisis’, Greece is still grappling with its transformation from a sending and transit country to a destination for migrants and refugees.

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is Senior Research Fellow & Head of the Migration Programme at the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). She is a political scientist interested in irregular migration and asylum. Her research looks on Europe, particularly the front-line countries and countries of transit.