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.
Following the entry into force of the IPA on 1 of 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 The right is automatically withdrawn upon issuance of a negative decision which is not subject to an automatically suspensive appeal.
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 obstacle in order to obtain necessary document, which may lead to undeclared employment with severe repercussions on the enjoyment of basic social rights. These findings remain valid, even though the unemployment rate dropped from 19.1% in July 2018 to 16.9% in July 2019. Higher rates were reported for persons aged up to 34 years old: 22.8% for age group 25-34 and 32.9% for age group 15-24.
In 2017, in order to reduce administrative obstacles to the access of asylum seekers to the labour market, and more precisely obstacles with regards the provision of the Tax Registration Number (Αριθμός Φορολογικού Μητρώου, AFM), without which one cannot legally work, the General Secretary of Migration Policy addressed a letter to the competent authorities, giving instructions for a proper implementation of the law. Moreover, in February 2018, following a decision of the Hellenic Manpower Employment Organisation, (Οργανισμός Απασχόλησης Εργατικού Δυναμικού, OAED) the possibility to provide a certification from the reception facility has been added for asylum seekers willing to register themselves at the OAED registry.
Despite these positive developments, difficulties in obtaining an AFM number and unemployment cards from OAED are still reported. In October 2018, UNHCR issued the findings of a participatory assessment in which a sample of 1,436 asylum seekers and refugees participated. According to this survey:
“Most participants reported difficulties in accessing the labour market. They attributed this to a lack of information, high unemployment rates, lack of required documentation (e.g. residency permits, passport), language barriers, the remoteness of some sites from cities, and lack of job advise and placement support… Participants found the programmes on self-reliance and employment limited and unstructured… The remote location of some sites and RICs from cities were noted as notable obstacles to self-reliance, integration and co-existence… The lack of Greek language classes, which most perceive to be required for integration, was a commonly referenced issue. While most participants [had] social security numbers (AMKA), they [had] difficulty obtaining other documents such as AFM and unemployment cards from OAED.”
These difficulties are more marked for applicants residing in open mainland camps and/or informal accommodation. As of the end of 2019, of the 24,110 persons residing in the 30 open mainland sites, only 1 in 4 had managed to obtain an AFM (28.62%) and even less were able to obtain unemployment cards from OAED (6.57%). For those residing in ESTIA apartments, though the situation was reported relatively better, similar challenges were highlighted, with 79% of beneficiaries having managed to obtain an AFM, 37% being registered with OAED, despite the additional support provided under the scheme.
In addition, asylum seekers have continued facing significant obstacles to opening bank accounts, including those dedicated for the payment of the salary, 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 a certification of recruitment is submitted by the employer. “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.
In December 2019, only 8% of those living in ESTIA apartments had managed to open a bank account, highlighting the magnitude of the challenge applicants and beneficiaries face in accessing the labour market.
Lastly, applicants’ access to the labour market has been further hindered by obstacles in acquiring a social security number (AMKA, see healthcare), which is a requirement for employment. Throughout 2019, GCR’s Social Unit had several cases of applicants who had found employment but were then unable to proceed with signing contracts due to the lack of AMKA. In December 2019, furthermore, the Greek Ombudsman intervened in the case of a Turkish asylum applicant, who was similarly able to find employment but was unable to legally work due to the ongoing barriers in obtaining a social security number. To be noted, in his case the competent services justified the refusal of issuing the applicant with an AMKA on the basis of the IPA, which, at the time, was still not in force.
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 54(1) IPA. 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 17(2) L 4540/2018, 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. The same is reiterated in Article 54(2) IPA. Such a decision had not been issued by the end of 2019.
 Article 71 L 4375/2016, as previously in force; Article 15 L 4540/2018.
 Information provided by the Greek Asylum Service on 17 February 2020.
 Article 53(1) IPA; Article 71 L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 116(10) IPA.
 Article 53(2) IPA.
 Article 53(1) IPA.
 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.
 IOM, Improving the Greek Reception System through Site Management Support and Targeted. Interventions in Long-Term Accommodation Sites: factsheet December 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/393lR1x.
 JMD 22528/430/2017, Gov. Gazette Β' 1721/18.5.2017.
 UNHCR, ibid.
 Intervention of the Greek Ombudsman on the “Non issuance of AMKA to asylum seeker applicant of international protection – immediate need of hospitalisation of cancer patient” on 6 December 2019.