Greece Eases Immigration For Non-EU Nationals

Greece eases immigration for non-EU nationals

The main stipulations in guidelines in response to an EU directive, extended families of immigrants to Greece will find it easier to obtain residence visas.

By Kathy Tzilivakis
Spero News
Friday, March 28, 2008

After a two-year-long delay, the interior ministry has issued a circular outlining the residence rights and obligations of non-European Union citizens who are the spouses, children or other dependent family members of EU citizens living in Greece. The 33-page circular is aimed at bringing order to the chaos that for years has hounded these immigrants' residence application and renewal process.

The rules are based on a European Union directive (2004/38/EC) that came into force across the EU in April 2006. As outlined in the circular, these family members may include the spouses and children under 21 and/or other dependent relatives of all EU citizens, including citizens of Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Any other dependants or members of the household, such as grandparents, are subject to the residence application requirements that apply to other non-EU nationals outlined in Greece's immigration law 3386/2005.

The only difference is that their application for a residence permit will be given special priority. According to the circular, “partners” with whom the EU citizen has a proven relationship that can be duly attested may also benefit from this “facilitated” route to residence.

Same-sex partners who are registered as such in other EU member states like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, however, are not considered family under the provisions outlined in the circular. This means that gay and lesbian couples legally recognised as such in other EU member states, despite pressure from Brussels, have no rights as a family in Greece.

In 2006, European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini warned EU member states about discriminating against same-sex couples. He even threatened to subject EU member states that do not eliminate all forms of discrimination against homosexuals – including the refusal to approve marriage and unions/partnerships between same-sex couples – to sanctions and eventual expulsion from the EU.

Relatives' permanent residence

As outlined in the circular, non-EU nationals married to European Union nationals residing in Greece are eligible for permanent residence after five years of legal stay in Greece. This is good news for thousands of American, Australian, Canadian, Russian, Albanian and other non-EU expats married to Britons, Germans and other EU citizens residing in Greece. This also applies to the children of the non-EU spouse.

The non-EU family members who wish to secure permanent residence must show they are employed, self-employed or that they have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden on Greece's welfare system. They should also have health insurance coverage.

The application requirements for permanent residence include a photocopy of the non-EU national's residence permit, a certified photocopy of the EU family member's permanent residence permit or his/her death certificate, and a recent document verifying the non-EU family member's relation to the EU national. The application must be filed three months before the expiration of the initial five-year permit. If it is not, the applicant may be subject to a 150 euro fine.

The permanent residence is renewable automatically every 10 years. All that is needed is an application. It is also free. Other non-EU immigrants are required to pay a non-refundable application fee of 900 euros.

Rights and obligations

Non-EU immigrant family members of EU citizens residing in Greece have the right to work or create their own employment here. They also have the same rights as EU citizens.

These non-EU family members, however, are obliged to notify the authorities within one month if they move or if there is any change in their personal or family situation (marriage, divorce, birth) and if they lose or renew their passport or their residence permit.

The following are examples of the rights of non-EU immigrants married to non-Greek EU immigrants residing in Greece.

Coming to stay

The Russian spouse of a French citizen residing in Greece may enter the country without a visa if she travels from another EU country and/or if she has been issued a residence permit from another EU member state. A visa will be required if she does not hold a marriage certificate or a residence permit issued by another EU country.

However, an American spouse does not need one because US citizens enjoy visa-free travel to Greece.

Getting sick

Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos (L) and the head of the minstry's Migration Policy Institute, Alexandros Zavos – the two men responsible for immigration policy

An Albanian holds a residence permit that was issued to him on the grounds he is a dependent adult child (over age 21) of an Albanian married to an EU citizen residing in Greece. After one year in Greece, the Albanian is hospitalised. He does not, however, have health insurance or enough money to cover the cost of his treatment. The question arises whether Greek authorities have the right to revoke his residence permit. According to the circular, this is not out of line because one of the prerequisites of the issuing of a residence permit is that the applicant has health insurance and sufficient resources so he does not become a burden on Greece's welfare system.

Getting married

A Pakistani national who has been residing in Greece legally for five years marries an Italian citizen. When the time comes for the Pakistani to renew his residence permit, he will be issued one that is valid for five years. The five years the Pakistani migrant was residing in Greece prior to being married do not count towards the acquisition of a permanent residence permit. He will be eligible for the permanent residence permit once his new, five-year permit expires.

Staying away

Non-EU immigrant relatives may lose their right to residence if they remain outside Greece for more than two consecutive years. Their residence will not be revoked if they remain outside Greece to serve in the military abroad.

They may also remain outside Greece for serious reasons like pregnancy, illness, studies or vocational training in another EU country or anywhere else in the world.

Dearly departed

The Canadian wife of an Italian citizen and her two children from a previous marriage move to Athens from Toronto. Three years later, the Italian husband dies. The widow and her children are eligible to obtain permanent residence because they had been residing here with the Italian national for at least two years. However, if the Italian spouse had died in a work-related accident, his non-EU family members would have been eligible to acquire permanent residence immediately – no matter how many years the Italian had been living in Greece.

'Til divorce do us part

The Filipino spouse of a French citizen residing in Greece files for divorce after two years. There are also two Filipino children from a previous marriage residing here. The Filipina and her Filipino children will not lose their right to continue residing in Greece while the divorce case is pending. After one year, when the divorce is final, the Filipina and her children may continue to reside in Greece legally, provided she has stable employment or sufficient resources to support herself and her two children.

Greek citizens' non-EU family members

The EU directive deals only with non-EU immigrant family members of EU citizens. The new interior ministry circular, however, also addresses the residence rights and obligations of non-EU immigrant family members of Greek citizens. This is based on Greek legislation (law 3386/2005). According to the interior ministry circular, they have the same rights as natives, including access to the labour market.

Their residence permit applications are examined by the regional (periferia) general secretary.

The application requirements for a permanent residence permit include a photocopy of the five-year-duration residence permit, a certified photocopy of the Greek spouse's ID card and a copy of their marriage certificate or other official document verifying their relationship.

Authorities are required to examine the application and, if approved, to issue the permanent residence permit within six months.

The immigrant and his/her children from a previous marriage are eligible to continue residing legally in Greece if their Greek spouse dies or if they divorce. In the case of divorce, the wedding should have lasted for at least three years and one of these years in Greece. The immigrant is also entitled to continue residing in Greece if he/she has been awarded primary custody of the children, regardless of when they tied the knot.

It is also worth noting that the immigrant parent of a Greek citizen has the right to remain in Greece legally once their child has come of age. The residence permit is issued to them as a close relative of a Greek citizen.


A Russian woman and her 17-year-old son have been residing in Greece legally for four years. Just before renewing her residence permit, she marries a Greek. The application for the renewal of her residence permit is cancelled so that she may be issued a five-year residence permit for immigrants married to Greeks. The Russian woman will become eligible for a permanent residence permit after five years.

EU citizens simply register

EU citizens who wish to remain in Greece for longer than three consecutive months are required to apply for a registration certificate (veveosi eggrafis) at their local aliens' bureau. The registration certificate, which does not have to be renewed because there is no expiry date, may be issued to those who have come to Greece for employment purposes or if they have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members so they do not become a burden on Greece's welfare system. Also, EU citizens registered at a private or public school recognised by the Greek state may also apply for a registration certificate.

After five years, EU citizens residing and working in Greece may obtain permanent residence (dikaioma monimis diamonis). If they have reached retirement age (including early retirement), they may obtain this after three years, provided they have worked in Greece for at least 12 months. If they are self-employed, they may obtain this status after their 60th birthday.

They may also obtain this permanent resident status after two years if they become ill or are disabled in a work-related accident and can no longer work. This status is also available to those who, after three years, take up employment in another EU member state, but they return to Greece on a daily or at least a weekly basis.

Kathy Tzilivakis writes for Athens News and appears here with permission.