Conditions for citizenship
The Citizenship Code has been subject to numerous amendments during the last 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 naturalization of refugees” and “in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization 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.
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 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.
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, is due to the fact that 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, the Article 5A of Citizenship Code, as amended by L.4604/2019, was lately 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 Naturalization (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 the 15 April 2021.
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.
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. 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 procedure introduced by L.4604/2019. However, as it was mentioned above, the Ministerial Decision which was necessary for the establishment of the new procedure was not issued by the end of 2020.
In 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 given during 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 Parliament, by a parliamentary question.
According to the official statistics of the Ministry of Interior, in 2019 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”..
However, the aforementioned data is not available for 2020. As reported by Generation 2.0 on 30 November 2020 “For more than a year now, we have repeatedly sent letters to the Central Citizenship Directorate requesting data on pending requests, the average waiting times for the processing of applications, the number of decisions and staff per citizenship directorate. However, we did not receive any response to our consecutive requests, which were sent on 03.06.2019, 11.07.2019 and 06.01.2020. An exception is the reply to our last letter dated 27.08.2020. The answer to this, however, is incomplete, because the most important data are not disclosed, such as the number of pending requests and the time of application’s processing.”
As mentioned above, Articles 5A, 6 and 7 of Citizenship Code, as amended by L.4604/2019, were lately replaced by Articles 3, 5 and 6 L. 4735/2020. The new articles 5A, 6 and 7 of Citizenship Code came into force in 1 April 2021.
 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
 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 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, 10/09/2020, available at https://bit.ly/3avpiBj and Generation 2.0, Generation 2.0 RED on the new naturalization law, 20/10/2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3xc2mR3
 Article 6 (3) (g) Citizenship Code as amended by Article 33 L. 4604/2019.
 Article 6 (1) Citizenship Code
 Article 7 Citizenship Code, as amended by L. 4604/2019.
 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
 Generation 2.0, What’s up with citizenship statistics?, 30/11/2020, available at: https://g2red.org/what-s-up-with-citizenship-statistics/