Migration in Greece

European Cities Network on Migration: Getting the Skills Synchronized
© ELF & Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

What is the current situation and general numbers among the migrants / refugees?

According to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, 17,470 refugees arrived in Greece in 2021 (12,346 entering the mainland and 5,124 on the islands).

There are an estimated 32,647 resident asylum seekers living in Greece. According to the same sources, over 350,000 asylum applications have been registered in Greece since 2013, distributed per year as below:

The asylum applications in 2021 were mainly made by Afghans, Pakistanis and Syrians. The top 10 nationalities for asylum applications in 2021 are presented below:3

The total immigrant population, according to the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, is 965,749.4 Among them, 213,016 are EU citizens & expatriates (22%); 693,517 are citizens of other countries (72%), while 6% are identified as refugees. Citizens of third countries mainly come to Greece seeking occupation or to reconnect with their families. The vast majority of migrants in Greece come from Albania (62.82%). See the table below:


Figure 2.1: Asylum Applications in Greece, 2013 - 2021

© ELF & Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

What is the current situation and regarding the employment processes and work permit of the migrants / refugees?

Migrants and refugees entering Greece face several obstacles from the early stages of their reception. First, the recognition of their status in the reception and registration process is, in most of the cases, delayed and as a result, migrants and refugees try to reach the mainland undocumented and a non-acknowledged residential status. In terms of government’s employment policies, there is no specific action plan and any permanent active policy dealing with migrants’ and refugees’ employability. The current National Strategy of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum does not provide any kind of realistic policies to integrate the migrants’ population and it is very short (only 27 pages) to fill its purposes. The actions proposed are vague, suggesting the cooperation between government, unions and employers and better information access by the Labor Employment Organization (OAED) for the assessment and accreditation of the population skills. Migrants’ skills and their former professional status are not registered upon their reception, thus there is not a standard method of matching their skills with potential job offers in the labour market.

Although refugees who gain the status of beneficiaries of international protection have the same employment rights and obligations, as Greek citizens (Art. 71 of Law 4375/2016 and Art. 15 of Law 4540/2018), they face difficulty of obtaining certain required documents such as tax number or social security number, as well as they lack the appropriate social networks to haves access to the labour market, just as also migrants do. The usual recruitment processes (such as career websites) do not work for the undocumented immigrants. According to the report on refugees job seeking by the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR), International Rescue Committee Hellas (IRC), Diotima Centre and Popaganda “the jobseeker culture and treatment applicants and beneficiaries of international protection receive in Greece, as reported by them to the job counsellors of our organisations, is not friendly”.

Tourism and agriculture are the main sectors in which migrants are seasonally (undeclared) occupied in Greece. It should be noted that there is an exemption under Article 13A (Law 4251/2014) for the “employment of illegally residing third-country nationals in the agricultural sector”. An undocumented immigrant can be hired in agricultural sector only if at first place receive a deportation order against him/her. Then, a suspension of deportation is issued, only until the job ends and the immigrant is left with a pending deportation order. Both regular and irregular migrants end up working in informal economy and very often suffer several human and employment rights violations (see the “Manolada case”).

What are the existing projects/policies/ programs/trainings for the employment of the migrants / refugees?

The vast majority of the current policies for the employment of the migrants are offered via the civil society organizations, which are trying to substitute the absence of government’s policies. The main obstacle for migrants is the lack of communication in Greek language and the NGOs offer those programs for the first period of their staying in Greece. Besides the language lessons, the NGOs are working with their beneficiaries to focus on certain obstacles they face (different for immigrants, refugees, country of origin, culture, sex etc.), rather than they follow a certain policy in mutual understating with the government, according to a national action plan.

The Migrant Integration Centers (M.I.C.) offer job counselling for helping third-country nationals find jobs and contacts with potential employers on employee rights, hiring processes and available training programs. However, not all the MIC have the capacity for such counselling. In addition, the Community Centers of Municipalities provide counselling support concerning job search in the local areas, focusing on younger people. Nevertheless, the offered services do not cover the whole population.

The most prominent educational program from NGOs is called “HELIOS” and it is implemented by the International Organization for Migration, which, among others, offers professional counselling services to enhance job readiness.

What are the needs of labour markets in short and long term?

The employment prospects of the migrants are limited by the recovery of the Greek economy, which a experienced a severe economic crisis and the covid-10 pandemic effects in the last 12 years. The high unemployment rate hits both the domestic population and the migrants and given that Greece’s economy is based in tourism the future is difficult for everyone looking for a job. Under these broader challenges, there are several sectors of the economy on the rise the last 7 years; Manufacturing, retail, scientific personnel, information and communication and mining seem to occupy more personnel since the huge recession of 2015, despite the 2020 pandemic detrimental impact.

What are the demands and needs of the migrants / refugees?

Migrants need primarily two kind of policies, which would help them achieve a higher degree of integration and give them the opportunity to seek for a job equal to their skills. Employed migrants are often overqualified for the job they are doing, since the first thing they care about is to find a job to secure a basic standard of living.

First, they expect more political will and a realistic national plan of integration with focus on mitigating the administrative obstacles in order to stay in Greece and pursue their purposes. This means that the state should offer language lessons from day one and have trained staff in the social services with the capacity to speak foreign languages, which would guide migrants concerning the appropriate state’s procedures to issue the legitimate documents. Therefore, simplification of the legal framework and appropriate assistance.

Second, they would be helped by a system, which registers their skills and their former occupations, while equally important is considered the acknowledgment of their professional certifications. This is a task which should be undertaken by the Labor Employment Organization (OAED) along with the native unemployed population.

What is missing in the market and how we can work on it?

There is a need to set up a migration registry, which would include the migrants’ skills according to their statements, any proof of their certification, years of experience and means of communication. This shortlist could be communicated to employers and workers unions asking for certain occupations. The state could conclude specific occupational agreements with employers and give them incentives (such as tax rebates) for the employment of migrants. The access into information on occupational status and certain needs would give to both sides the opportunity for mutual benefits. 

However, it should be highlighted that these policies would need a national strategy of integration at first place. Currently, migrants do not have any reason to be registered, in particular if they are in danger of deportation.

How to reach our stakeholders to contribute to the synchronization of the skills of migrants / refugees and the needs of European markets?

In Greece, the main stakeholder, which needs to be involved more in the synchronization of the skills of migrants and the needs of European markets, is the state’s public services. The Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the municipalities should work along with the CSOs in order to create a national strategy for migrants’ integration. Since the absence of political will in the Greek case is given, the EU institutions and the international organizations should put some more pressure in the Greek state, firstly to guarantee the human rights of migrants, which seem to be violated in certain cases.

Access to senior government’s officials seems to be currently limited and Civil Society Organizations should keep them accountable for the situation of migrants in Greece. The CSOs should work together and agree on a minimum set of policies required (language lessons for all and registry of skills), so that the dialogue with the government can open again. The adoption of integration policies by the government rely on the pressure of the EU institutions and the access the SCOs can have to people with a minimum of understanding on the importance of such policies, in general.

How we can support enrol of migrants / refugees to the vocational high schools?

The enrolment of migrants / refugees to the vocational high schools have two main parameters. The first parameter is that they need to have access to housing, clothing food and/or a basic income, in order to ensure a minimum standard of life. If this concern is addressed, migrants / refugees will be able to seek opportunities for improving their conditions of living, mainly by getting better vocational training.

The second parameter is that each state needs to make sure that migrants / refugees are able to be informed of the programs of vocational high schools. Migrants and refugees are often living in certain specific neighbourhoods, where they are kept forcibly segregated (ghettos). The access to information in those areas is restricted.

What is the role of university students in the system?

University students should encourage migrants’ and refugees’ children to and operate in a community trying to exchange experiences and culture in an open and friendly environment.

Could you briefly talk about the best practise projects in this field in our country?

There is no important network in Greece. However, Albanian managed to integrate on their own in the Greek society.

What should be done in this regard, what are your policy suggestions?

  • There should be a unique digital registry as a shortlist operated by Labor Employment Organization (OAED), in which migrants and refugees could record their skills, their education, their former professions and asked to participate to further trainings in order to be occupied in areas with higher demand of employment.
  • Simplification of the processes of getting a residence permit for migrants and refuges with have managed to be hired.
  • Training campaigns to specific neighbourhoods which host migrants and refuges, in order to be better informed for training and job offers.
  • Better allocation of population in rural areas with increasing demands of occupation, in particular during the high touristic season, which lasts from April to October in Greece.

This chapter is part of the Publication: “European Cities Network on Migration: Getting the Skills Synchronized”, by European Liberal Forum and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. The research has been conducted by Constantinos Saravakos, Research Project Coordinator at the Center for Liberal Studies (KEFiM) -Markos Dragoumis and a PhD candidate of International and European Studies at the University of Macedonia.