Conditions for citizenship
The Citizenship Code has been subject to numerous amendments over the years. Prior to the amendment of March 2020, refugees could apply for citizenship under the conditions that inter alia they reside lawfully in Greece for a period of 3 years. The amended legislation has increased this period to 7 years, similarly to the time period required for foreigners residing in Greece on other grounds (migration law) despite the legal obligation under article 34 of the Geneva Convention 1951 to ‘facilitate the assimilation and naturalisation of refugees’ and ‘in particular make every effort to expedite naturalisation proceedings’. The aforementioned amendment does not apply to refugees who had already submitted an application for naturalisation that was still pending by the time that L. 4674/2020 entered into force. In 2021, some legislative changes were introduced by L. 4873/2021. Even if these changes do not refer specifically to beneficiaries of international protection, they also affected the change in the procedure. In particular, the fact that the exams involve a written test makes it increasingly difficult for every applicant including beneficiaries of international protection.
More precisely, according to the Citizenship Code, citizenship may be granted to a foreigner who:
- Has reached the age of majority by the time of the submission of the declaration of naturalisation;
- Has not been irrevocably convicted of a number of crimes committed intentionally in the last 10 years, with a sentence of at least one year or at least 6 months regardless of the time of the issuance of the conviction decision. Conviction for illegal entry in the country does not obstruct the naturalisation procedure.
- Has no pending deportation procedure or any other issues with regards to his or her status of residence;
- Has lawfully resided in Greece for 7 continuous years before the submission of the application. (As mentioned above, in March 2020, the possibility of recognised refugees to apply for citizenship after three years’ lawful residence in the country has been abolished);
- Hold one of the categories of residence permits foreseen in the Citizenship Code, inter alia long-term residence permit, residence permit granted to recognised refugees or subsidiary protection beneficiaries, or second-generation residence permit. More categories of permits were added in 2018.
Applicants should also:
- have sufficient knowledge of the Greek language;
- be normally integrated in the economic and social life of the country. According to the new law, supporting documents proving the economic independence of the applicant must be submitted in the application. Additionally, the above-mentioned law provides that the applicant is not examined through an interview regarding his/hers financial independence, yet the examiner of each case is responsible for issuing the decision taking under consideration only the provided documents. It is worth mentioning that according to Ministerial decision No 29845/16-4-2021, applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection, who have submitted their application before 31-3-2021 are required to submit documents proving their economic independence and social life for the last 5 years before their application.
- be able to actively participate in political life (i.e. be familiar with the political institutions of the Hellenic Republic, knowledge of Greek political history).
A book with information on Greek history, civilisation, geography etc. is issued by the Ministry of Interior and dedicated to foreigners willing to apply for naturalisation. Simplified instructions on the acquisition of Greek citizenship was also released by the Ministry of Interior.
However, the acquisition of citizenship requires a demanding examination procedure in practice. Wide disparities have been observed between Naturalisation Committees as to the depth and level of difficulty of examinations. Against that backdrop, the Ministry of Interior issued a Circular on 12 December 2017 to harmonise naturalisation examinations.
Law 4604/2019 brought several changes to the Citizenship Code. The examination procedure is no longer oral. Candidates have to prove their familiarity with Greek history and culture through a written test. They must answer correctly 20 out of 30 written questions from a pool of 300 questions. The sufficient knowledge of the Greek language is also tested through a language test. The exams take place each year on May and November. On the 8th May 2022: the number of test centres for the exams increased to 98 in 13 cities. The total number of applications for participation in the exams was 8,281. Of these, 5,730 were made by applicants with a file pending to be examined by the citizenship services and 2,551 were new applications for participation in the exams without having applied for naturalisation. The total number of participants on the day of the examination amounted to 7,318, 5,031 with the old system and 2,287 under the new system. The total number of successful candidates was 3,353 of which 2,153 were pending and 1,200 were new applications. The pass rate for these examinations was estimated at only 45,82%. Moreover in the exams of 13 November 2022: Only 4,564 applications were submitted, 2,576 by persons with a pending naturalisation file and 1,988 by persons intending to apply for naturalisation under the new system. On the day of the examination, 4,094 candidates finally arrived, 2,335 under the old system and 1,759 under the new system. Of these, a total of 1,741 persons succeeded, 936 and 805 respectively from the two systems. The pass percentage was the lowest ever recorded. The above-mentioned statistics are general. There is no data available specifically for beneficiaries of international protection.
However, the aforementioned provisions regarding the examination procedure of Article 5A of Citizenship Code, as amended by L.4604/2019, were suspended for six months – namely, from the entry into force of L. 4674/2020 on 11 March 2020 until 11 September 2020. The suspension of the said provisions, that were actually never applied, results from a Ministerial Decision regulating the requirements of the language exams and other issues relating to the organisation and the content of the said exams was not issued.
Furthermore, Article 5A of Citizenship Code, as amended by L.4604/2019, was replaced by Article 3 L. 4735/2020. According to the Article 18 L. 4735/2020, Articles 3, 5 and 6 L.4735/2020 that replace respectively Articles 5A, 6 and 7 of the Citizenship Code came into force on 1 April 2021. A pool of questions for the acquisition of the newly introduced Certificate of Adequacy of Knowledge for Naturalisation (Πιστοποιητικό Επάρκειας Γνώσεων για Πολιτογράφηση (ΠΕΓΠ)) and information on the respective exams were posted on the webpage of the Ministry of Interior. Moreover, a decision regulating and providing more details on the procedure of the exams was published on 15 April 2021 and later abolished by Ministerial Decision 71728/8.10.2021. Furthermore, on February 2022, a circular was issued providing more details on the procedure of the exams.
A fee of € 100 is required for the submission of the application for refugees. In the case of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, the fee was reduced in 2019 from € 700 to € 550. A € 200 fee is required for a re-examination of the case. In addition to this, every third-country-national who wishes to obtain the Greek Citizenship must participate in a written exam that requires an exam fee of € 150. For those who already have a pending application before the change of the law and the provision of the written test, the first participation in the examinations does not require a fee.
The naturalisation procedure requires an application for naturalisation to the authorities of the Prefecture. After obtaining the Certificate of Adequacy of Knowledge for naturalisation and having collected all the required documents, the applicant must submit an application before the Decentralised Administration competent Prefecture. As of 1 April 2021, there is no longer a need to make a declaration to the Municipality of residence with two Greek witnesses before filing the naturalisation application with the Directorate of Citizenship, as this was a symbolic action that did not produce any further effects.
Where the requisite formal conditions of Article 5 of the Citizenship Code, such as age or minimum prior residence, are not met, the Secretary-General of the Decentralised Administration issues a negative decision. After the Adoption of Law 4735/2020, the possibility of filing objections against the negative recommendation of the Commission was abolished. In other words, the right to object to a complaint against the Commission’s decision was abolished. stage of appeal to the Administration, and the applicant may now appeal to the against a negative decision by filing an application for annulment directly before the competent Administrative Court of Appeal.
When the required conditions are met, the Regional Citizenship Directorate seeks, on its own motion, a certificate of criminal record for judicial use and a certificate of non-deportation, and addresses, through the police authority of the applicant’s place of residence, a question to the competent security services of the Ministry of Citizen Protection if there are public or national security reasons to reject the application. Security services are required to provide an answer within 4 months. Failure to send an opinion in a timely manner does not prevent the issuance of the Minister’s decision. If this deadline is missed, the naturalisation application will be forwarded to the Naturalisation Committee and will be processed without this opinion.
The applicant is invited for an examination he/she must undergo a written test under the procedure introduced by L.4604/2019. In addition to the examination, the applicant must go through a new form of interview, which will last about half an hour and be conducted by a three-member committee. The three-member committees, according to the provisions of par. 7 of article 7 of the Greek Citizenship Code, as in force, is composed of employees of the General Secretariat of Citizenship οf higher education, with at least five years of experience in citizenship matters. Each three-member committee should be composed of two employees working for the Regional Citizenship Directorate (Headquarters or Department) who keeps the file and an employee belonging to another Regional Citizenship Directorate or the Central Citizenship Directorate, who will participate in the interview through teleconference. The Head of each Regional Directorate, according to his territorial competence, determines the total number of employees of his Directorate that will participate in the three-member committees, depending on the number of serving employees who meet the formal requirements provided by law. The General Directorate of Citizenship, taking into account the above-mentioned data, determines the exact number and composition of the three-member committees that will conduct the interviews per Regional Directorate for the next month in the whole territory, notifying the relevant name lists to the Heads of Citizenship. This Committee will determine the adequate integration of each applicant in the economic and social life of the country based on specific rules, common standards and a unified methodology, compiled by the National Transparency Authority (NAC), in the form of a multi-page Practical Interview Guide. The procedure of the interview is described in detail in the 738/2022 Ministerial Decision.
In practice, interviews under the new system started in October 2021 and lasted only two months. After Law 4873/2021, which reintroduced amendments to Article 5A of the Code of Citizenship, came into force in December 2021, the oral interview was abolished and the recommendation for naturalisation decision is henceforth based only on the examination of additional documents, which constitute presumptions of economic and social integration. As outlined above, the invitation to interview by the three-member committees is only granted in instances where there is doubt surrounding the requirements of the economic or social criteria. On the other hand, the possibility of participating in the political life of the country has been removed from the essential requirements for naturalisation.
In the case of a positive recommendation, the Minister of Interior will issue a decision granting the applicant Greek citizenship, which will be also published in the Government Gazette. With the aim of simplifying and accelerating the procedure, a Ministerial Decision was issued in May 2019. It provides that the naturalisation decision will be issued by the Regional Citizenship Directorates and the files will no longer be sent to the Central Citizenship Directorate of the Ministry of Interior. This should reduce the waiting period for the issuance of a positive naturalisation decision by 9-12 months.
Greek citizenship is acquired following the oath of the person, within a year from the publication of the decision. Persons with disabilities can take the oath in their house or via teleconference. If the oath is not taken during this period, the decision is revoked.
The procedure remains extremely slow. As noted by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights: ‘The naturalisation procedure is reportedly very lengthy, lasting in average 1,494 days due to a considerable backlog pending since 2010’. In January 2020, the issue of delays in the naturalisation procedure has been brought up before the Parliament through a parliamentary question submitted by the main opposition party.
According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Interior, in 201 a total of 1,882 foreigners were granted citizenship by way of naturalisation, compared to 2,528 foreigners in 2018 and 3,483 in 2017. This number is not limited to beneficiaries of international protection. Apart from naturalisation of foreign nationals (αλλογενείς), in 2019, Greece also granted citizenship to 1,117 non-nationals of Greek origin (ομογενείς), 12,868 second-generation children i.e. foreign children born in Greece or successfully completing school in Greece, 382 persons through ‘citizenship determination procedure (birth/ recognition etc) and 585 ‘unmarried/minor children of parents recently acquiring Greek citizenship’.
The authorities provided no similar data for the years 2020 and 2022.
As mentioned above, Articles 5A, 6 and 7 of Citizenship Code, as amended by L.4604/2019, were recently replaced by Articles 3, 5 and 6 L. 4735/2020. The new articles 5A, 6 and 7 of the Citizenship Code came into force on 1 April 2021.
GCR noticed that during 2022 the competent Directorates of Citizenship of the Prefectures accepted applications for naturalisation and additional documents mainly by post. Afterwards, the protocol numbers were sent to the beneficiaries of international protection via email after 15 days to a month and only after numerous interventions.
 L. 3284/2004, Gov. Gazette A’ 217/10-11-2004.
 See inter alia Law 4604/2019 (Gov. Gazette 50/A/26-03-2019), Law 4674/2020 (Gov. Gazette 53/Α/11-03-2020), Law 4735/2020 (Gov. Gazette Α’ 197/12-10-2020).
 L. 4674/2020.
 Article 5(1)(d) Code of Citizenship as amended by L. 4674/2020.
 L.4873/2021 Gov. Gazette A 248/16.12.2021.
 Article 5(1) Citizenship Code.
 Article 5(1)(e) Citizenship Code, as amended by Ministerial Decision 130181/6353/2018, Gov. Gazette B/3142/02.04.2018.
 Article 37 L.4873/2021.
 Article 38 L.4873/2021.
 Ministerial Decision 29845/16.4.2021 Gov.Gazette 1652/B/22.4.2021.
 Article 5A (1) Citizenship Code.
 Article 5A (3) Citizenship Code as amended by Article 32 L.4604/2019.
 Article 5A Citizenship Code as amended by Article 32 L.4604/2019.
 Article 5A (3),(4), (5), (6) Citizenship Code as amended by Article 32 L.4604/2019.
 Circular of the Ministry of Interior, No 151/25-05-2020.
 For more information on the new Law, see also Generation 2.0, ‘Naturalization becomes a “privilege” for a few’, 10 September 2020, available at https://bit.ly/3avpiBj and Generation 2.0, ‘Generation 2.0 RED on the new naturalization law’, 20 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3xc2mR3.
 Article 6 (3) (g) Citizenship Code as amended by Article 33 L. 4604/2019.
 Article 2 par.2 Ministerial Decision 28881 – Gov. Gazette B’ 1535/15.04.2021.
 Article 6 (1) Citizenship Code.
 Article 1 Ministerial Decision 738/2022 Gov. Gazette B 121/19.1.2022.
 Ministerial Decision 738/2022 Gov. Gazette B 121/19.1.2022.
 Ministerial Decision 34226/06.05.2019, published in the Government Gazette Β΄1603/10.05.2019.
 Ministry of Interiors, First Conclusions with regards the transfer of the competence to sign a naturalization decision from the Minister of Interiors to the Prefectural Directorates of Naturalization, 27 June 2019, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/2vSb2RN.
 Article 9(5) Citizenship Code.
 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Dunja Mijatović following her visit to Greece from 25 to 29 June 2018, CommDH(2018)24, 6 November 2018, available at: https://bit.ly/2Opvm05, para 74.
 General Secretariat for Citizenship, Central Citizenship Directorate, Statistics and IIS management Department, Acquisitions of Greek Citizenship by category and Regional Citizenship Directorates in 2019, posted in 19/11/200, available at https://bit.ly/3tEXNNd.