Up to the end of 2019, asylum seekers had access to the labour market as employees or service or work providers from the moment an asylum application had been formally lodged and they had obtained an asylum seeker’s card. Applicants who had not yet completed the full registration and lodged their application (i.e. applicants who were pre-registered), did not have access to the labour market. As noted in Registration, the average time period between pre-registration and full registration across mainland Greece (registration via Skype) was 44 days in 2019. Relevant data on the time between pre- and full registration for 2022 is not available at the time of writing.
Following the entry into force of the IPA on 1 January 2020, a 6-month time limit for asylum seekers’ access to the labour market has been introduced. This right is granted if no first instance decision has been taken by the Asylum Service within 6 months of the lodging of the application, through no fault of the applicant. The right is automatically withdrawn upon issuance of a negative decision which is not subject to an automatically suspensive appeal.
This 6-month time limit continues with the new Asylum Code which entered into force on 10 of June 2022. The new law specifies that access to employment shall be “effective”. As observed, in 2018, by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, access to the labour market is seriously hampered by the economic conditions prevailing in Greece, the high unemployment rate, further obstacles posed by competition with Greek-speaking employees, and administrative obstacles to obtain necessary document, which may lead to undeclared employment with severe repercussions on the enjoyment of the basic social rights.
Unemployment rates remain high in 2022 in Greece- despite a slight improvement with a minimal decrease in recent years- compared to other EU Member States (13% in the third quarter of 2021 compared to the EU average of 6,2%). Based on data collected through a survey conducted under UNHCR between February 2022 and April 2023, 29% of asylum seekers (registered, pre-registered and unregistered) who were at the time working or had been able to work occasionally during the period had done so without any type of formal contract. Of the total respondents, the vast majority (73%) were not working at the time the survey was conducted. The lack of knowledge for the language, lack of documentation and the inability to find legal employment were noted as the main three challenges with respect to finding work in Greece.
In another survey conducted by GCR, IRC, and Diotima between November 2021 and April 2022, which reached more than 180 respondents to referred to the lack of Greek and/or English courses, the lack of a social network and connection with the Greek labour, insufficient explanation of procedures, obstacles in recognising their qualifications and skills, prolonged displacement, secluded accommodation, or restriction of movement imposed, delays in access to the asylum system on mainland Greece, and racism and discrimination.
Based on the same survey, the main obstacle in finding employment for both applicants and beneficiaries of international protection was correlated with the lack of Greek and/or English language competence, a prerequisite for any job in the Greek labour market. Lack of access to sponsored or free workshops by the Greek Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED), according to the social service of the GCR, and a gap in Greek language programs, which, however, is covered, as far as possible, free of charge by non-governmental organisations. The sole exception is the HELIOS programme, which, however, is addressed to beneficiaries of international protection, providing integration courses, including 280 hours of the Greek language. Also, according to the data provided by UNHCR, the primary problem in accessing the labour market identified by the respondents-asylum seekers (61, 76%) is Greek language competence.
Difficulties in accessing the labour market continued being marked for applicants residing in mainland camps and/or informal accommodation due to the prolonged displacement, the secluded accommodation structures, the movement restrictions, and the long distance from the urban centres. In addition to the secluded accommodation facilities hindering the connection with the local community, the absence of a social network impedes asylum seekers from contacting potential employers. Also, difficulties in accessing the labour market for international protection applicants residing in ESTIA accommodation program that ceased end of 2022 and also persons residing in Elaionas camp in Attica that was evacuated the 30 of November 2022. These persons were obliged to leave their home and were transferred to camps far from urban areas and lost their jobs because of this forced transfer.
Also, the documentation is identified by asylum seekers as an impediment to their entry into Greece’s workforce, as is also confirmed by the data collected by the UNHCR. Based on the latter, 35.29% of the respondent-asylum seekers classified documentation as the biggest challenge. According to the last information available in March 2022, 50,88% of the total adult population of 12,239 people residing in camps had managed to obtain an AFM (the number was almost the same as in December 2021, which was 50%). According to the report implemented by the GCR, out of a total of 66 asylum seekers who completed the questionnaire, 20 had an insurance registration number (AMKA), 20 had a Temporary Insurance and Health Care Number (PAAYPA), 6 did not issue any of the two, and 3 did not wish to answer. Applicants’ access to the labour market is still hindered by obstacles connected with the temporary social security number (PAAYPA, see healthcare), which is a requirement for employment, albeit at a reduced rate compared to 2020. “According to the law, PAAYPA is registered on the social security e-government service (IDIKA), which is interconnected with the online employment platform, ERGANI, where employers are required to notify the hiring, termination and declaration of employment terms.” In October 2022, a new Ministerial Decision was issued regarding access for international protection applicants to health care services, medical and pharmaceutical care, social security, the labour market, and the acquisition of a PAAYPA. number. Regarding the labour market, the Ministerial Decision states that the System of the Social Security e-governance updates the information regarding the PAAYPA of international protection applicants with the indication “access to the labour market” so that this information can be used by other systems related to work and social security. However, in practice, the ERGANI platform does not recognise PAAYPA. Consequently, access to the labour market is possible for asylum seekers only if they physically present themselves to a tax office with a certificate of employment issued by the prospective employer, so that their recruitment can progress. This requires that the employer and the applicant know the process as stated in the GCR’s report.
As further noted by the Greek National Commission for Human Rights since September 2020, ‘In practice, it is ascertained that asylum seekers cannot benefit from the right to work, as the documents of ERGANI have not yet been adapted so that PAAYPA holders can be included, while due the coronavirus and the difficulty in renewing international protection applicants’ cards, employers are reluctant to employ staff with an expired card’.
Also, according to the GCR’s report, out of the 183 participants, 138 issued a VAT verification number (AFM), while 30 did not. Also, based on the UNHCR data, 56% of the respondents did not have an insurance registration number (AMKA), as they did not even know the procedure for its issuance. Relevant data for those residing under the ESTIA II accommodation scheme has not been published and included in the project’s updates issued by the MoMA in November 2022.
In addition, both asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection have continued to face significant obstacles in opening bank accounts, including those dedicated for the payment of salaries, which are a precondition for payment in the private sector.The four major banks in Greece have repeatedly refused to open bank accounts to asylum seekers, even in cases where the employer submitted a certification of recruitment, while they have asked for a national passport as a certificate of identification, unaware that the asylum seekers have to submit it to the Asylum Service, as the GCR’s report mentions. In the absence of a passport before and upon recognition of their status as applicants and beneficiaries of international protection they could submit the residence permit, which, however, this is not accepted. ‘In fact, this policy offends against the spirit and the letter of the law, excluding thus the asylum seekers from the labour market. At the same time, employers willing to recruit asylum seekers are discouraged because of this significant barrier or, even when hiring them, face the risk of penalties’, as highlighted by the civil society organisation Generation 2.0. Moreover, according to article 15 (non-discrimination) the Directive 2014/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 July 2014 on the comparability of fees related to payment accounts, payment account switching and access to payment accounts with basic features (as incorporated with L. 4465/2017): ‘Member States shall ensure that credit institutions do not discriminate against consumers legally resident in the Union by reason of their nationality or place of residence or by reason of any other ground as referred to in Article 21 of the Charter, when those consumers apply for or access a payment account within the Union. The conditions applicable to holding a payment account with basic features shall be in no way discriminatory’.
By December 2020, only 3% of eligible residents of ESTIA II had managed to open a bank account, highlighting the magnitude of the challenges applicants and beneficiaries face in accessing the labour market. Τhe situation was again more pronounced for asylum seekers (2% with a bank account), when compared to recognised refugees (6% with bank account), though the difference is practically negligible and even more concerning for the latter, considering the severely restricted time (30 days) during which they can remain in reception-based accommodation post-recognition, and that they need a bank account, to be able to access the solely accessible rent subsidy, under the Helios II integration programme. Relevant statistics are not published since the MoMA is in charge of issuing the updates on ESTIA II. Nevertheless, out of the 188 aforementioned asylum seekers and refugees interviewed by GCR, Diotima Centre and IRC as of 1 March 2022, access to bank accounts seems to remain an ongoing barrier, as 62% of them did not have a bank account.
Another obstacle hindering the employment procedure for asylum seekers is their inability to prove and recognise existing education and training qualifications, as, due to the circumstances they may not have the original documents with them, nor can they issue copies in Greece, despite the European Qualification Passport for Refugees (EQPR), which could be used to recognise studies from third countries outside the EU. Also, there is neither a training certification system nor a degree recognition mechanism which can provide the equivalent documents without providing the originals from the country of origin.
As regards vocational training, Article 17(1) L 4540/2018 provides that applicants can have access to vocational training programmes under the same conditions and prerequisites as foreseen for Greek nationals. The same is reiterated in Article 58 (1) of L. 4939/2022. However, the condition of enrolment “under the same conditions and prerequisites as foreseen for Greek nationals” does not take into consideration the significantly different position of asylum seekers, and in particular, the fact that they may not be in a position to provide the necessary documentation. Article 58 (2) of L. 4939/2022 provides that the conditions for the assessment of applicants’ skills who do not have the necessary documentation will be set by a Joint Ministerial Decision of the Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs, Education and Religious Affairs and Migration and Asylum. As far as GCR is aware such a decision had not been issued by the end of 2022.
In April and May 2021, UNHCR conducted a pilot registration of the educational background and professional skills of asylum applicants and beneficiaries of international protection residing in the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos, Leros, Rhodes and Tilos. The exercise, which was based on individuals’ declarations with respect to their educational background and skills, highlights a significant range of skills amongst the population of concern. The pilot scheme participants resulted in having skills in 20 different sectors, including in the fields of trade, engineering, manufacturing and social work. Only a fraction of participants (7%) stated they had no previous occupations or skills. Likewise, in what concerned their educational background, the majority (78%) of those interviewed had at least some level of formal education, including from a university institution (8%).
Refugee and asylum-seeking women face several additional barriers in the labour market. They have difficulties in coping with professional and family obligations, especially in cases where they face an increased vulnerability being a single mother, or a survivor of gender-based violence. Indeed, as the UNHCR data show, the lack of day care for children is classified by asylum-seekers as the main barrier to finding employment (23, 53%). Also, the gender division of professions into “masculine” and “feminine”, leading to unequal pay and precariousness, hinders to a great extent asylum-seeking women’s entry to the country’s labour market. This, combined with the racism, discrimination and hostility that the asylum-seekers and refugees are facing, further impedes women’s employment.
Access to the labour market is the means for applicants and beneficiaries of international protection to integrate into the social environment regain their autonomy and self-esteem and feel empowered.
 Article 71 L 4375/2016, as previously in force; Article 15 L 4540/2018 as previously in force.
 Information provided by the Greek Asylum Service on 17 February 2020.
 Information provided by the Office of Analysis and Studies of the MoMA on 31 March 2021.
 Article 53(1) IPA (replaced by article 57(3) of L 4939/2022); Article 71 L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 116(10) IPA.
 Article 53(2) IPA (replaced by article 57(3) of L 4939/2022).
 Article 57 (1) Asylum Code.
 Council of Europe, 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/2IwG4EG, paras 54-55.
 JMD 26034/695/2019 regarding ‘Mandatory payment by employers of the salaries of employees in the private sector, as well as their severance pay, through a payment account, Gov. Gazette Β’ 2362/18.06.2019.
 UNHCR, Population breakdown in ESTIA II Accommodation Scheme (as of 28 December 2020), op.cit. Data on residents of mainalnd camps/sites is not available.
 Article 109 para. 1 Asylum Code.
 The transition of the accommodation scheme for asylum-seekers ‘ESTIA’, managed by UNHCR, to the MoMA began on 1 September 2020 and was completed in early 2021. ESTIA programme was officially terminated by the Ministry of Migration end of 2022.
 The data have been collected through a questionnaire drafted as part of an ongoing joint research carried by GCR, Diotima Centre and IRC in the context of the joint project ‘Do the human right thing–Raising our Voice for Refugee Rights’. The project is implemented under the Active citizens fund program, which is supported through a € 12m grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as part of the EEA Grants 2014 -2021, and is operated in Greece by the Bodossaki Foundation in consortium with SolidarityNow.