Legislative changes in the awarding of Greek citizenship render the social integration of refugees even more difficult.
On Thursday, April 22, six months after the adoption of Law 4735/2020 which introduced changes to the system for awarding Greek citizenship, a very important Decision by the Ministry of Interior was published in the Government's Gazette. This Decision concerning the requirements for the economic and social integration that applicants must meet in order to apply for Greek citizenship establishes unprecedentedly specific and strict financial criteria that are effectively impossible to meet in practice.
The Decision stipulates that: "A foreigner who wishes to become a Greek citizen must prove that he has an annual income that ensures him an adequate standard of living without burdening the social welfare system of the country (…)". Adequate standard of living in practice means that the annual income of the applicants must reach 7.800 euros, as shown by the annual salary of the employee and craftsman of the country based on the current minimum wage.
Yet there are other additional strict requirements. Applicants must prove this sufficient income, not only for the previous year, but for more - depending on the years of previous legal residence required for the naturalization application. Specifically, the Ministerial Decision states:
"For applicants who are required to complete 3 years of previous legal residence (EU citizens, spouses of Greek citizens with children) they must prove sufficient income for all 3 years. For those who are required to complete 7 years (refugees or subsidiary status, those who awarded humanitarian protection, long-term, second generation, third country family members of Greek citizens) must prove sufficient income at least for the previous 5 years before submitting application. For those who are required to complete 12 years (those who hold other types of residence permits) they must prove sufficient income at least for the previous 7 years before submitting the application (…) ". [emphasis added]
In October 2020, when the bill on the new naturalization system was being discussed in Parliament, the General Secretariat of Citizenship attempted to introduce the minimum sufficient income as a criterion for naturalization. The NGO Generation 2.0 RED expressed their opposition through the public consultation stage, pointing out that acquiring citizenship will become a privilege for very few. Following the reaction from the opposition parties, even from the MPs of the governing coalition, the former Minister of Interior introduced a legislative amendment withdrawing the provision on the grounds that it would indeed exclude a large number of applicants.
Nevertheless, this Ministerial Decision contradicts what the Minister of Interior previously claimed, since it ostentatiously overlooks the social and economic reality of Greece the past 11 years. The country has experienced an unprecedented economic crisis since 2010, with complete deregulation of labor relations, unemployment soaring, and the current conditions of economic suffocation due to the pandemic. These data are always harsher for immigrants, as evidenced by the official data of ELSTAT: in the last quarter of 2020 the unemployment of third country citizens rose to 28.2%, 13 points above the unemployment rate of Greeks.
Under these circumstances, the Ministry of Interior introduced one of the strictest economic criteria that will have to be met retroactively and consecutively for many years prior to the submission of an application. It should be highlighted that the new Ministerial Decision applies also to those who have already filed an application under the previous naturalization system. So, quite simply, it excludes not only the vast majority of those who wish to apply for naturalization in the future, but also those who have applied in the past and whose case is pending – those who already paid the expensive administrative fee of 550 or 700 Euros prior to 2019.
The organization Generation 2.0 RED has emphasized that the aforementioned decision excludes not only those who wish to apply for citizenship in the future, but also the vast majority of those who have already applied in the past.