Legal status at last for immigrants working in Greece

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After many difficult attempts to resolve the problem of illegal immigration and work in Greece, the process of legalising the status of aliens living and working in Greece is set to begin soon, following a government initiative in December 1997.

On 2 December 1997, the Minister of Labour released the text of two new Presidential Decrees (PD s) that deal with the conditions for guaranteeing that aliens who are non-EU nationals can legally live and work in Greece. The new initiative follows a number of problematic attempts to resolve the issue of illegal immigration and employment (GR9707121N) The PDs provide for the legalisation of the status of all aliens currently living illegally in Greece, as well as the harmonisation of their labour and insurance rights with those of the indigenous workforce. The registration and legalisation process will be completed within the five months from 1 January to 31 May 1998 in two stages.

First, a "white card" valid for six months will be issued to the people concerned, and then a "green card" valid for between one and three years. There is a time limit of five months, with the chance to obtain special permission for a two-month extension, within which the alien must submit all the relevant supporting documents so that the "white", or "temporary alien's residence card", can be issued. From June 1998, no allowance will be made for employers who have not declared aliens employed by them. Only holders of white cards will have the right to apply for a green card, or limited-duration card, provided that they submit the necessary supporting documents to the Labour Force Employment Organisation (OAED). Another condition is that they must have worked for 40 days during the first few months of 1998. The green card may be renewed one or more times for a further two years, depending on conditions in the labour market. As long as one of these two cards is valid, the alien's spouse and dependent children may not be deported. There will also be penalties for those who do not comply with the PDs. Excluded from the PDs is anyone who has been sentenced in Greece to a prison term of at least three months, as well as alien crew members on ships flying the Greek flag.

The announcement of both PDs was initially welcomed with satisfaction by everyone involved in this issue, especially by the foreign workers' trade unions and the aliens themselves. The president of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) stated that the PDs were a pioneering regulation in European terms, and noted that the trade unions, which from the very beginning had demanded that measures be taken in this direction, had also been instrumental in bringing them into being - though they had also proposed more advanced measures. However, despite these initially positive reactions, everyone realises that the way forward will be extremely difficult and is waiting for the first stages of implementation of the PDs. From the trade union side, a member of the executive committee of the GSEE has noted that many points in the PDs will act as obstacles to their implementation.

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