Immigration trends and statistics



Following the beginning of mass illegal immigration into Greece in the early 1990s, largely as a result of disintegration of the former Communist bloc, Greece has struggled not only with immigration policy but also with acquiring even approximate data on the extent and type of immigration into the country. After several years of mass illegal immigration, accompanied by mass (illegal) deportations of mainly Albanians, Bulgarians and Romanians, Greece reluctantly initiated in 1997 its first legalization programme for illegal immigrants. The 6-month White Card was granted to almost all 372.000 applicants, and at that time yielded the only reliable data on immigrants. Its successor programme, the 1-3 year Green Card, laid substantial impediments in the way of applicants, and the number of applicants was only 228.000 with heavily delayed bureaucratic procedures.
The 2001 Census had a total of 762.000 registrants normally resident and without Greek citizenship, but this figure supposedly included ethnic Greeks [homogeneis], EU nationals, and children.

A new Immigration Law in 2001 was accompanied by another legalization, which attracted a total of 368.000 applications, although press reports claim that only 220.000 were eventually accepted. No data on numbers, characteristics of the applicants, or anything at all were ever provided by OAED. Only IKA social insurance contributions – some 328.000 active registrations in 2002 – provided any indication of immigrants’ role in the economy and society.

Finally, in 2004, the Ministry of Interior database on residence permits became fully operational. It is these unpublished data which constitute the most crucial new information on immigrants in Greece.

Profile of immigrants in Greece: information from the 2001 Census

The Census recorded 762.191 persons normally resident in Greece and without Greek citizenship, constituting around 7% of total population. Of these, 48.560 are EU or EFTA nationals; there are also 17.426 Cypriots with privileged status. The residual is around 690.000 persons of non-EU or non-homogeneis status, whose adult members all require standard residence permits.

Albanians constitute some 56% of total immigrants, followed by Bulgarians (5%), Georgians (3%) and Romanians (3%). Americans, Cypriots, British and Germans appear as sizeable foreign communities at around 2% each of total foreign population. However, Greece is unique in the EU in having one dominant immigrant group in excess of 50% of its immigrant population.

Gender balance
The gender balance of immigrant groups varies widely. Overall, the sexes are well-balanced, but certain nationalities have highly skewed profiles. The Asian countries in particular (Pakistan, Bangladesh and India) have almost exclusively male immigrants in Greece, and the Arab countries also tend in this direction. Syria and Egypt have 80% male presence in Greece. Other nationalities have a predominantly female presence, the Ukraine, Philippines and Moldavia especially so at around 70% female. Albania shows some 60% male presence, along with Romania. The other leading nationalities (Bulgaria, Georgia, USA, Cyprus, Russia, UK, Germany, Poland) are 50-60% female, until we reach Pakistanis at 1,4% of foreign population.

Age profiles by nationality
Around 80% of immigrants are of working age (15-64), which contrasts with the Greek ratio of only 68%. The principal difference with the Greek population is the presence of many elderly Greeks, although there is a slightly higher ratio of children than amongst Greeks (17% as opposed to 15%). For both sexes, Central Europe (i.e. Albania, along with Bulgaria, Romania and Poland) dominates all age brackets – even the 85+ group.

Location in Greece
Looking at non-EU population densities, the highest (13-25%) seem to be generally on islands (Mikonos, Kea, Skiathos, Zakynthos), in Attika and close to Athens, or the northwestern Greek border. The lowest (0-1,7%) are in the northeast of Greece, around Alexandroupoli and also a few economically disadvantaged regions of the country.
The greatest cluster of non-EU immigrant population is in the Municipality of Athens – some 132.000 immigrants, at 17% of local population. Thessaloniki is the second largest cluster, with 27.000 – but reaching only 7% of local population.
After this, the predominant areas of location are the Athens environs. Islands also show large numbers of immigrants, particularly on Kriti, Rodos, Kerkyra and Zakynthos. EU migrant population ratios are low, although reaching 6,4% in the island of Alonissos, and tend to be in the richer suburbs of Athens and many Greek islands (South Rodos and Lindos, Symi, Amorgos, Skiathos, Spetses).
EU migrant clusters are in Athens, followed by Thessaloniki, and again focused on islands (Rodos, Kerkyra, Kos) and richer suburbs of Athens such as Glyfada, Kifissia, Voula.
Looking at major population centres in Greece, it is apparent that these attract both EU and non-EU immigrants; however, the population density of immigrants varies with a clear geographical pattern. Northern Greece, even where there are quite large numbers of immigrants, has a low concentration (e.g. around 1-3% in Serres, Drama, Komotini, Alexandroupoli), with even Thessaloniki at only 7%. Attika and some island regions (e.g. Chania, Rodos) have around 8%, with central Athens at 17%.

Length of residence in Greece
Given the absence of any official data on this point – even of documented migrants – a question in the Census asks self-declared migrant workers how long they had been resident in Greece, giving three options of: less than a year, 1-5 years, and over 5 years. About half of Albanian men claimed to have been in Greece for more than 5 years, and about 40% of Albanian women similarly. Migrants from the Philippines, and to some extent from Egypt and Poland, show a large proportion having resided for more than 5 years. Recent labor migrants from the Balkan and European region answered predominantly 1-5 years, as did the migrants from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Only Moldavians, along with Ukrainian males, had few people with residence of more than 5 years.
These results are highly consistent with known migratory patterns of the national groups, and first observations of their presence in Greece: the data, therefore, appear to be quite reliable. If most of these immigrants have remained in Greece since 2001, then the corollary is that about half the immigrant population of Greece has been here in excess of 8 years, and probably some 80% for at least 5 years.

Immigrants in the Greek Labor Market

The geographical distribution of non-EU immigrants in Greece follows, with some exceptions, the general pattern of other countries: immigrants go to where there is work available, which tend to be the economically developed regions. Therefore, immigrant concentrations are in Attika and tourist areas, such as islands. The principal exception is the border region with Albania, where some areas have large numbers of Albanians: the exact nature of their employment is not known from official data.
The Census revealed some 413.000 immigrants who declared that they had come to Greece to work:
Albanians constitute the vast majority at 240.000 persons (58%), followed by Bulgarians at 28.000 and Romanians at 17.000. Comparing the self-declared foreign workforce with the total foreign population of the Census, one can see that certain nationalities are over-represented in the labor force.
In fact, this group consists of most non-EU or non-Greek immigrants – namely, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Pakistan, Ukraine, Poland, India. Thus, the participation rate of these nationalities is considerably higher than that of Greeks and even EU migrants. Among the principal immigrant groups, only Georgia shows a lowish participation rate: whereas Georgians constitute 2,9% of the immigrant population [as do Romanians], they are only 2,7% of the workforce compared with Romanians’ 4,2%.