Meeting with the Secretary General for Immigration Policy, Reception and Asylum
Following our first meeting with the Secretary General for Immigration Policy, Reception and Asylum (SG), Mr. Patroclos Georgiades, which took place on 29th August 2019 in the context of his newly assumed duties, Generation 2.0 for Rights, Equality and Diversity had a second meeting with him, on Friday 1st November 2019. Our goal was to continue the conversation in order to get clarifications on the topics we had already raised, as well as to present new issues which have arisen.
In particular, the topics discussed during our meeting were:
Extreme delays in the issuance and renewance of residence permits
One of the major and chronic problems faced by both the immigrant communities and the services themselves is the extreme delays observed in the issuance and renewance of residence permits. In this regard, the SG reaffirmed that it was a matter which he was aware of and has taken steps towards restoring the proper functioning of the services. He also added that in his opinion the situation deteriorated since December 2016 with the transfer of the responsibility for issuing residence permits for exceptional reasons from the Department of Imigration Policy of the Ministry of Migration Policy to the Immigration Services of the Decentralized Administrations, as these services were then called upon to handle a huge volume of pending applications. Any applications submitted prior to the implementation of this transfer remained in the (former) Ministry of Migration Policy now current Ministry of Citizen Protection for examination by the Department of Imigration Policy of the same Ministry. In this regard, the SG stated the Department is currently examining applications submitted in the fall of 2016 and foresees that by the end of January 2020 all the applications filed by February 2017 will have been processed.
Concerning the under-staffing of the services, of which the delays in the processing of applications is often attributed to the SG informed us that 130 people have already been recruited to staff the Immigration Services across the country.
Restoration of the website of the General Secretariat
It is general knowledge that as of mid-September 2019 the website of the former Ministry of Migration Policy was shut down, without however any formal notice about its restoration. This website collated information on all the necessary documentation for residence permits, the online application for third country nationals to track their resident permit application , all the relevant immigration legislation as well as statistics on the issuance of residence permits. Regarding this issue, the SG stated that the site is scheduled to be operational again by the new year, however, it has since been restored.
Access to welfare benefits based on the type of residence permit
The issue of the exclusion of third-country nationals from certain welfare benefits was also discussed, an exclusion attributed to the restrictive preconditions of the Welfare and Social Solidarity Organization (OPECA). In particular, only immigrants who hold a residence permit on humanitarian grounds for health reasons are entitled to the disability allowance. This means that long-term residents (e.g. holders of ten-year or second-generation residence permits) with disabilities are deprived of disability benefits and need to switch to a residence permit for humanitarian reasons, which is not only short-term (1 year), but does not provide the same residency benefits to its holders. In some cases, this exclusion affects children with disabilities because their parents do not hold the specific residence permit. Regarding this issue, it seems that the Secretariat has the intention to make coordinated steps towards its resolve by issuing either a joint ministerial decision or a circular.
Policy on fees
The issue of the introduction of new and readjustment of other fees, fines and other charges related to residence permits (with article 38 of Law 4546/2018) is one which we have referred to in the past. We emphasised how this change caused disproportionate financial burdens resulting in some immigrants or persons of immigrant background now facing serious problems in maintaining their legal residence in the country. In this respect, the SG explained that some fees were adjusted to comply with the European standards for residence permits in accordance with the decision of the European Commission. The remaining residence permits concern Greek national legislation hence the maintenance of their fees, despite the disproportion. He added that at present, there is no intention of changing them.
Third-country nationals without travel documents
Finally, the chronic issue concerning a particularly vulnerable category of third-country nationals, those who are objectively deprived of travel documents, was also tabled in the discussion. When applying for the issuance or renewal of any residence permit, a third-country national is required, among other documents, to submit a copy of their current passport or travel document. Some nationals are not able to produce such documents either because they are stateless, or because of an objective inability to obtain a passport or travel document from their country of origin. In such cases, there is a specific committee for the recognition of their status as objectively deprived of travel documents. Having found that these committees have not been fully operational, Generation 2.0 RED has been monitoring this issue since 2014 , The (non) assembly of these committees has been a key factor in the accumulation of cases and the years of hardship third country nationals belonging to the above-mentioned category have had to face. As such, the processing of such pending cases before the competent committees has been a firm demand of the organization. In regards to this issue, the SG assured that the establishment of the said committees is already under way.
Generation 2.0 RED will continue to monitor the above mentioned issues. We hope that in continuing this dialogue and mutual cooperation we will work towards finding the best solution to the above issues.