Sunday, June 15, 2008

How to become a greek Citizen by Christos Iliopoulos

Until only a few decades ago thousands of Greeks were leaving the country in search for a better life in foreign countries, like Germany, America, Canada, Australia, South Africa. Millions of Greeks became immigrants all over the world and a plethora of Greek communities outside the country was born.
After the year 1990, though, Greece has known a massive wave of foreign immigrants, who legally, or illegally have populated the country, forcing the Greek authorities to face the opposite side of the immigration issue.
In the meantime, Greece became a full member of the European Economic Community (European Union, today) in 1981, the standard of living has risen, and Greece is already an active member of the largest block of states in the world affairs, the EU.
The almost unstoppable flow of immigrants from poor countries and the participation into the EU, are the two basic reasons that explain why the Greek citizenship has become so popular.
Those that wish to obtain the Greek citizenship could be categorized into two lists. The first comprises the poor immigrants from former communist countries, Asia, the Middle East and Africa that want to legalize their presence in Greece (and the EU). The second includes the citizens of rich countries (USA, Canada, Australia etc.), who would like to be able to reside, work, set up business or study in the EU enjoying the same rights as the locals and not being discriminated against because they have a non European origin.
There are different rules that govern the acquisition of Greek citizenship, depending on whether the applicant has an ancestor who was Greek by birth, or not.
A. Those that can prove that they have a parent or a grandparent who was born in Greece and obtained the Greek nationality by birth, can claim the Greek citizenship now if they can find documents proving the Greek citizenship of their ancestor. According to Greek law there is no problem if the applicant wants to keep his/her present nationality. So, a Greek American can become Greek citizen without losing his/her American citizenship.
The most important document that a person of Greek origin can use to obtain the citizenship is a certificate from the local municipality in Greece certifying that a certain ancestor was born in Greece, has a municipality number, and therefore was Greek by birth.
The next line of documents that are required are the marriage certificate of that ancestor, the birth certificate of their child, until we reach the person that applies for the citizenship today. If that ancestor was a grandfather, we need his marriage certificate, the birth certificate of his child, the marriage certificate of the child that is the parent of the present applicant and the birth certificate of the present applicant. If the applicant is married, we need his/her marriage certificate as well.
Many males of Greek origin are concerned that if they obtain the citizenship they will have to serve to the Greek Army. This is not the case if they retain their status as foreign residents. A foreign resident (even if he is a Greek national), does not have to serve to the army. He can visit and stay in Greece for up to six months each calendar year without losing his status as foreign resident. If he stays for more than six months he automatically becomes permanent resident of Greece and he will have to do 12 - 15 months of military service.
However, a foreign resident can first serve to the army for six months (or even less) if he chooses to do so and then become a permanent resident of Greece.
Some examples of special cases: a Greek woman who lost her Greek citizenship because she married to a non Greek can obtain again the Greek citizenship if she declares her wish to the Greek authorities, either in Greece, or at a Greek Consulate all over the world.
A child that was born before the 8th of May 1984 by a Greek mother who at the time of her marriage or of the birth of the child was Greek, can become a Greek citizen if he/she (the child) declares such a will to the Greek authorities.
The child who was born before 1982 of a Greek father and a non Greek mother can become Greek if he/she declares such a will at the Greek authorities.
In some case it is of importance whether the marriage was a religious or s civil one.

B. Those that have not Greek ancestors but wish to become Greek citizens must have legally lived in Greece for a period of ten years within the last twelve years in order to apply for the citizenship. The applicant must be an adult at the time of the lodging of the application and must not have been convicted of a sentence to one year jail time minimum, or for a list of crimes even to smaller sentences (drug trafficking, money laundering, international economic crimes, crimes committed with the use of modern technology, monetary crimes, crimes against adolescents, smuggling, etc).
If the applicant has no other nationality or is a refugee, the law requires only five years of residence in Greece during the last twelve years in order to apply. The non-Greek applicant must have a sufficient knowledge of the language, of the Hellenic history and of the Hellenic civilization in general.
The final stage of such an application is at the Ministry of the Interior and the decision of the Minister need not present reasons, since the granting of the citizenship is a prerogative of the Hellenic Republic.

Christos ILIOPOULOS is attorney at law, LL.M.
in Athens, Greece.

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