Greece to combat Labor Shortages by offering Undocumented Migrants 3 year work permits

Greece is taking a pragmatic step to address persistent labour gaps in key industries like agriculture, tourism and construction. On December 19th, the Greek parliament approved a new law that will grant around 30,000 undocumented migrants the ability to obtain three-year residency and work permits.

The center-right government led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis argues this measure is necessary to fill critical shortages of unskilled labour that have hampered economic growth, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many migrant workers have been employed unofficially in Greece for years, but now they can emerge from the shadows.

Who Qualifies for the New Work Permits?

According to the new legislation, migrants who have resided in Greece for at least three years, have no criminal record, and possess existing job offers will be eligible to apply for renewable three-year permits by the end of 2024. The government estimates around 30,000 people, primarily from countries like Albania, Georgia and the Philippines, are likely candidates.

This temporary legal status does not allow for family reunification. However, it does aim to grant migrants more rights, require them to pay taxes, and ideally prevent labour exploitation by bringing them into the formal workforce.

Closing Labor Gaps While Controlling Migration

While controversial, the law represents a compromise solution blending tighter border controls with facilitating some legal migration pathways to meet market realities. Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras opposed the bill over concerns it could encourage more undocumented arrivals if migrants believe they may eventually be legalised.

However, the government has emphasised this legalisation program is a one-off and finite. Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis stated “Greece is faced with an unprecedented problem of labour shortages…this is a small step in meeting the acute needs of the tight labour market and a big step in enhancing public safety.”

To systematise future labour mobility, Greece has also pursued bilateral agreements with countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh and Moldova to enable legal migration of needed workers.

A Pragmatic, If Imperfect Solution

While not a comprehensive fix, this new law reflects Greece adapting to economic pressures created by labour deficits in key sectors. Major employers and unions welcomed the change, which could provide relief for struggling industries while generating more tax revenue.

The UN migration agencies IOM and UNHCR praised the law as “a positive example of political will to lift the barriers that render people invisible and marginalised.” For Greece, legalising undocumented migrants already residing in the country was likely a difficult but necessary decision to squelch crippling labour shortages.


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