Residence permits in state of emergency
Generation 2.0 RED through its daily contact with the immigrant population and following communication and meetings with the authorities and public services has identified a number of urgent issues that have arisen, as a direct consequence of the precautionary measures against the spread of the coronavirus (covid-19), taken by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, between March 11, 2020 and April 24, 2020.
These measures mainly concern the closure to the public of the Immigration Services of the Decentralized Administrations as well as in the Department of Migration Policy from 12/3/2020 to 15/5/2020 and the extension of residence permits until the end of the year (31/12/2020). Considering that the gradual reopening of the services has begun and that an online applications platform has been launched, we find it crucial to highlight the main issues, and shortcomings which continue to exist, making the daily lives of third-country nationals (TCN) precarious.
Extension of residence permits
According to the decision by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum (24/04/2020), an extension of validity was granted until December 31, 2020 to all residence permits, residence cards, permanent residence cards, blue certificates and special certificates that expired or are due to expire up until June 30, 2020 and under normal circumstances could have been renewed.The services currently do not accept applications for renewal or initial residence permits, nor are they able to initiate these procedures. So far, however, no extension has been announced for all licenses and residency cards valid from 1 July 2020 onwards. Thus, a significant number of TCN’s are at immediate risk of losing their legal residence due to mismanagement by the state.
As we have been informed, another serious issue that has arisen is that TCN’s whose residence permits/blue certificates technically have or will expire, face a number of difficulties in their exchanges with public and/or private services, since the extension of the validity of their documents is not being recognized. Indicatively, we have received complaints about the non-compliance of banks with the decision of the extension of the validity of residence permits as well as difficulties in the transactions with the national health and insurance services. Therefore, we find that there is still a lack of briefing between the ministries as well as with the updating of their information systems, to ensure that TNCs can present expired residence cards and certificates in the respective services, whether public or private, without difficulty.
Operation of the Immigration Services
On 22 April 2020 the Ministry of Migration and Asylum issued a decision regarding the possibility of sending by courier all the residence permits ready for collection. This decision, taken in order to meet a specific need of the time, appears to have failed as two months later, it has yet to be implemented.
Subsequently, in line with the gradual reopening of the Immigration Services of the Decentralized Administrations, it was announced by the Ministry of Migration and Asylum that from 18/05/2020 the gradual reopening of the services would begin with the process of residence permit collections and that from 25/05/2020 an electronic platform (e-appointment) would launch where TCNs would be able to book an appointment to collect their residence permit. The platform in the end was launched on 19/06/2020, almost a month later. According to the Ministry, the delay was due to “unforeseen technical reasons“. Besides this important delay, we have been informed by TCNs that the system “gets stuck”, preventing them from being able to book their appointments and collect their permit. The most important issue with the platform – and absurd if one considers the linguistic peculiarities of the population to which it is addressed – is that it is only available in Greek.. In our communication with the relevant General Secretariat on the matter, the answer we received is that its availability in other languages “will be examined at a later stage”. We therefore await, together with the immigrant population, who in the meantime find it difficult to take the necessary steps for securing their legal residence, to see when exactly this time will come. That is, when will the bare minimum, that is a functional system, be provided in more languages, so that a TCN can fulfill their obligations on time?
The fact that there is currently no plan in place for the re-establishing of application submission procedures, either for renewal or for initial issuance of residence permits, is a serious problem. Given that the current extension does not provide for a more gradual and proportionate procedure in line with the original expiration date of the residence permits and certificates, on the 31/12/2020, when the extension comes to an end, we know for a fact that the Immigration Services will not be able to respond to the sheer volume of all the simultaneous applications for renewals and initial issuances they will receive. Let us not forget that in the last few years, a large number of employees have left the Immigration Services resulting in the remaining staff not being enough to respond to the number of applications the services’ receive. Already, there are extreme delays in the issuance and renewals of residence permits. The waiting period for a TCN to receive their residence permit in the Attica services before the pandemic ranged from 2-3 months in the best scenario, reaching up to 3 years in the worst scenario. Now, in the absence of a plan in place for a smooth resumption of procedures, we wonder how long will it take?
Travel to and from abroad
Finally, an important consequence of the measure brought forth by the pandemic, is that TCNs with permanent and legal residence in Greece who had traveled abroad before the pandemic now remain trapped abroad due to the travel ban. For some, their residence permit “expired” in the meantime. Therefore, they are now trapped abroad with a technically expired residency document. Since there is no information available on the matter from the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, we wonder how will it be ensured that TCNs with an expired residence permit will be able to cross country borders without problems?
In addition, according to what the Immigration Code states for residence permits, a TCN cannot be absent from the country for a period of more than six months. We have raised this issue with the relevant Directorate of Immigration Policy of the Ministry, where we have been assured that there will be no problem with the renewal of residence permits due to absence abroad because this situation will be considered force majeure. We also hope that any pending naturalization applications will not be rejected for the same reason, because the naturalization process also places the same restrictions on absence from the country.
In the context of the above-mentioned issues, we call on all stakeholders to take into account the issues we have raised and to take immediate action towards their resolve.
Α well-governed modern state, has an obligation to provide for the smooth restoration of the special conditions created by covid-19. A prerequisite is to ensure that all citizens have unhindered and equal access to the procedures that ultimately determine their daily lives. For a third-country national, the procedures for securing legal residence are the most crucial. However, due to the inadequacy of the planned political and bureaucratic procedures, legal residence and therefore the life of an immigrant in Greece is a constant stake.