Conditions for citizenship
The Citizenship Code has been amended in March 2020. Prior to the amendment, 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 naturalization of refugees” and “in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings”.
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 under the conditions of a 3 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: (1) sufficient knowledge of the Greek language; (2) be normally integrated in the economic and social life of the country; and (3) 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 have also been released by the Ministry of Interior.
While a refugee can apply for the acquisition of citizenship 3 years after recognition, its acquisition 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 will no longer be oral. Candidates will 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., which have not yet been published. The sufficient knowledge of the Greek language will also be tested through a language test.
A fee of €100 is required for the submission of the application for refugees. In the case of beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, the fee has been reduced in 2019 from €700 to €550. A €200 fee is required for the re-examination of the case.
The naturalisation procedure requires a statement to be submitted before the Municipal Authority of the place of permanent residence, and an application for naturalisation to the authorities of the Prefecture. The statement for naturalisation is submitted to the Mayor of the city of permanent residence, in the presence of two Greek citizens acting as witnesses. After having collected all the required documents, the applicant must submit an application before the Decentralised Administration competent Prefecture.
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. An appeal can be lodged before the Minister of Interior, within 30 days of the notification of the rejection decision.
In case 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. The security services are required to respond 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 before the Naturalisation Committee. He/she must undergo a written test under the new procedure. However, the Ministerial Decision which is necessary for the establishment of the new procedure has not yet been issued. Hence, the old procedure is still taking place and the applicants are invited for an interview.
In case of a positive recommendation by the Naturalisation Committee, 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 given while this period, the decision is revoked.
In case of a negative recommendation of the Naturalisation Committee, an appeal can be lodged within 15 days. A decision of the Minister of Interior will be issued, in case that the appeal is accepted. In case of rejection of the appeal, an application for annulment (αίτηση ακύρωσης) can been lodged before the Administrative Court of Appeals within 60 days of the notification of that decision.
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, delays in the naturalization procedure have been raised in the Parliament, by a parliamentary question.
As of 30 June 2019, a total of 2,530 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. Bearing in mind the main nationalities of beneficiaries of international protection in Greece, it appears therefore that the number of beneficiaries of international protection acquiring citizenship in 2019 is quite low.
Apart from naturalisation of foreign nationals (αλλογενείς), in 2019, Greece also granted citizenship to 2,747 non-nationals of Greek origin (ομογενείς), 21,559 second-generation children i.e. foreign children born in Greece or successfully completing school in Greece, and 501 unmarried minor children of parents recently acquiring Greek citizenship.
 Article 36, L. 4674/2020
 Article 5 L 3284/2004 (Citizenship Code).
 Article 5(1)(e) Citizenship Code, as amended by Ministerial Decision 130181/6353/2018, Gov. Gazette B/3142/02.04.2018.
 Article 5A Citizenship Code.
 Article 32 Law 4604/2019.
 Article 32 Law 4604/2019
 Article 33 L. 4604/2019.
 Article 6 Citizenship Code.
 Article 7 Citizenship Code, as amended by L. 4604/2019.
 Generation 2.0, What about citizenship?, 8 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2vmtBgK.
 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
 Ministry of Interior, Naturalisation statistics 2018 updated 30.6.2019, available in Greek at: https://bit.ly/38TMLZU.