In 2018, 36 000 new immigrants obtained a residence permit longer than 12 months in Greece (excluding EU citizens), 18.6% more than in 2017. This figure comprises 8% labour migrants, 48% family members (including accompanying family), 2.3% who came for education reasons and 41.7% other migrants. In addition, 11 000 intra-EU postings were recorded in 2018, an increase of 38.3% compared to 2017. These posted workers are generally on short-term contracts.

In 2019, the number of first asylum applicants increased by 15.3%, to reach around 75 000. The majority of applicants came from Afghanistan (24 000), Syria (11 000) and Pakistan (6 400). The largest increase since 2018 concerned nationals of Afghanistan (+12 000) and the largest decrease nationals of Iraq (-4 100). Of the 33 000 decisions taken in 2019, 53% were positive.

Since 2020, third-country citizens entering the country to study Greek can receive a one-year visa, possibly leading to a one-year residence permit, renewable twice. In addition, professionals with a business invitation can enter for short-term stays. Greece transposed the EU Directive on Students and Researchers in February 2020.

From July 2019, Greece has a new National Strategy for Integration. It includes a ‘Greek integration model’ allowing several institutions to coordinate action plans. The strategy stresses, not only the benefits of interculturalism, but also the need to respect national values, as well as the important role that local government can play in the field of social integration, in cooperation with national authorities.

In January 2020, new legislation regarding the asylum process came into force. Among other provisions, Greece may now detain asylum seekers for up to 18 months. Following massive attempts to illegally enter the Evros region in Greece through the Greek-Turkish borders, submission of asylum applications was suspended for one month in March 2020.

The National Strategy for Integrated Border Management was developed in 2019. In July 2019, Greece introduced changes to the legislation regarding trafficking in human beings. New forms of exploitation became punishable and sentences for accepting the services of a trafficked person were raised. Greece also activated the National Referral Mechanism to identify victims and coordinate action to combat human trafficking.

In 2019, Greece made additional steps to implement its new guardianship system for unaccompanied minors, who receive guardians to represent them in legal matters and ensure their best interest. In addition, a scheme for the relocation of a total of 1 600 unaccompanied minors from Greece to other EU Member States, organised by the EC and the Greek authorities, with the support of UNHCR, IOM and EASO and the receiving Member States, started being implemented on 15 April 2020.

In 2019, a law amending the Greek Nationality Code foresees the replacement of the citizenship interview with a standardised language and citizenship test. The relevant law provision though, has been suspended up to now and the procedural aspects, as well as the content of tests, have not been determined yet. The same law reduced the naturalisation fee from EUR 700 to EUR 550 and facilitated access to Greek nationality for several groups, such as minors with severe disabilities (>80%) and those not having the capacity to perform legal acts. Since March 2020, refugees may apply for naturalisation only after seven years of permanent stay, instead of previously three.

In July 2019, the responsibilities of the former Ministry for Migration Policy were transferred to the Ministry of Citizen Protection. However, following important developments, a separate Ministry of Migration and Asylum was established in January 2020.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece closed its borders but allowed holders of residence permit to enter, including foreign health personnel on condition of inclusion in the National Health System. Immigration and Asylum Services remained closed to the public from 12 March to 15 May 2020, while only pending applications for residence permit or asylum were being processed. Ministerial decisions ensured the legal status of third-country citizens until December 2020. Greece also extended the duration of stay of seasonal workers already present in the country and implemented an ad hoc fast-track procedure for additional agricultural workers. Return and readmission operations, suspended since mid-March due to COVID-19 related restrictions, resumed in July 2020.

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