by Notis Mitarakis
The formulation of the new immigration strategy is based on two basic assumptions. First, Greek society not only does not want illegal immigration but has also spoken out – many times – against it. With the effective guarding of our sea and land borders, Greece has long ceased to be, and never again will be, a gateway for illegal immigrants to the European continent.
Second, the needs of the Greek economy are far removed from the general, one-sided view of immigration. And this is an oxymoron. On the one hand, we do not want immigrants, on the other we need seasonal workers in the primary and secondary sectors. And this workforce is basically imported into the country. The new strategy will combine the peculiarities of the Greek economy with the inviolable request to combat illegal immigration, by multiplying Greece’s cooperation with third countries – which is what initiated the Greek mission’s trip these days to Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Aiming to promote legal and orderly migration as a counterweight to illegal immigration, we have reached an agreement with Bangladesh and opened a round of talks with Pakistan that will conclude in the same form. These agreements to enter into force will first obviously be ratified by the Greek Parliament and will be put to consultation with all political parties and bodies. This will also be a good test to see who really wants solutions to immigration and is not hiding behind obsessions and old problems.
A key part of this agreement is the need for Bangladesh to comply with the return requests for those residing or arriving illegally in Greece. These requests will now be submitted by Greece, in the context of the relevant readmission agreement with Europe. We are thus opening a new corridor of returns at a transnational level, aspiring to leave behind the difficulties of the EU-Turkey joint statement.
The legislation of Article 13 of Law 4251/14 for the conclusion of bilateral agreements is the arsenal that our country has at its disposal to stop illegal immigration. It provides the possibility of using seasonal workers with a residence permit of specific duration, a specific time of stay per year, and a limit on the number of years.
More specifically, Greece will allow 15,000 Bangladeshi citizens currently living in Greece to join the newly created seasonal work permit regime. In this case, on the one hand, they will be able to stay in the country for up to nine months per year, and, on the other, to follow the procedures provided for this residence permit. The state will then grant up to 4,000 permits per year over a five-year period to Bangladeshi citizens. Each beneficiary of the total of 35,000 permits that will be available has specific rights, but also obligations toward the Greek state.
The main element is that the permit is individual and there is explicitly no room for family reunification, in accordance with the provisions of European legislation on seasonal work. The beneficiary comes to Greece alone, stays up to nine months per year, and then has to return to Bangladesh. After five years, they will not be able to return to Greece to work again. Of course, this permit does not give the right to acquire citizenship – only to work.
Consequently, there is no permanent residence and neither is there a danger that new “minorities” will be created in Athens, as some people hastened to conclude. On the contrary, it is an initiative that offers incentives for the registration and legal entry into the country of those who placed their lives in the hands of smugglers for the sole purpose of profit. But it also crushes the activities of these gangs in their infancy. It is a new model that sets a precedent as a good practice for EU member-states. In this way, we set the rules, create a skills map for the labor market and gradually eliminate the means of illegal immigration.
Notis Mitarakis is Greece’s migration and asylum minister and a New Democracy lawmaker for Chios.