Greece: what the new Migration Code means for undocumented people

In March 2023, the Greek Parliament reformed the national Migration Code. The changes will significantly impact migrant’s lives – some changes will improve their lives, others won’t. This blog covers changes that impact people’s access to a secure residence status, and highlights the introduction of a permit for former unaccompanied children. While the government is yet to define the modalities of its implementation, civil society highlights important gaps in the protection of some of the most marginalised people, including children. Except for a few provisions, the law will enter into force on 1 January 2024.

For an overview of regularisation mechanisms in Greece under the previous code, see Turning 18 and undocumented: supporting children in their transition into adulthood (annex 2: Greece).

Ten-year residence permit for young people

The new Code improves the eligibility conditions for the ten-year residence permit (“M2 permit”) for two groups of young people. Firstly, third-country nationals born in Greece or who successfully completed six grades of school in Greece and are younger than 23 at the time of application, are eligible for the ten-year permit. This regularisation mechanism already existed, but only gave access to a five-year permit.

Secondly, the new Code improves conditions for former unaccompanied children. Up until this reform, Greece had no way for former unaccompanied children to regularise their status. Now, article 161§1(c) extends the eligibility for the M2 permit to adults who arrived in Greece as unaccompanied children and successfully completed at least three years of secondary education in a Greek secondary school before they turned 23.

Although this provision entered into force upon the publication of the law earlier this year, it cannot be implemented until the relating Ministerial Decision is published. No information on this permit or how to apply for it is currently available on the Ministry of Migration and Asylum website.

The introduction of this new regularisation mechanism for undocumented former unaccompanied children is a positive development in itself. In addition, the length of the permit provides stability. However, the requirement to successfully attend three years of school in Greece before turning 23 can be challenging for many former unaccompanied children. Many unaccompanied and formerly unaccompanied children cannot enroll in school because places are limited (especially when enrolling in the middle of the year). Even when they do manage to enroll, they may struggle to follow classes in Greek, as many are not supported in learning the new language.

To apply for an M2 permit, the applicant must also have health care coverage and must not have been absent from Greece for more than two consecutive years. After its expiration, the M2 permit is automatically converted into a long-term residence permit (“M1 permit”).

Three-year permit for exceptional reasons

The reform complicates access to the A6 permit, a three-year permit for exceptional reasons. As before, this permit remains accessible to undocumented people who continually lived in Greece for seven years or more (art 134§5). However, the time awaiting an asylum decision no longer counts towards these seven years, effectively extending the time of precarity.

Five-year exclusion for false documents

The new Code sanctions people who provided false information or documents during an application procedure with a five-year ban from applying for a new permit or renewing their current permit. This ban can be issued by any competent authority and without a court order.

No security for unaccompanied children or agricultural workers

Overall, this reform may improve access to a secure residence permit for undocumented children and young people. The introduction of the ten-year residence permit for former unaccompanied children who attended school in Greece is particularly promising. Whether the permit will be accessible to undocumented young people in practice will however largely depend on the policies regulating the implementation of the law, especially the documents required to obtain the permit.

At the same time, the new Migration Code fails to introduce residence permits for two important groups, despite the continued advocacy work of Greek civil society, including PICUM members. First, unaccompanied children who do not apply or did not receive asylum continue to be undocumented. Greek law now leaves this group of children in a highly precarious situation, where they need to go to school and wait until they turn 18 to be able to apply for a permit. Secondly, the reform did not introduce any solutions for undocumented agricultural workers, who often endure serious exploitation and abuse.

Cover image: jimmy teoh – Pexels