Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 30/05/22


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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.[1] 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.[2] Relevant data on the time between pre- and full registration for 2020 are not available up to the time of writing.[3]

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within 6 months of the lodging of the application, through no fault of the applicant.[4] The right is automatically withdrawn upon issuance of a negative decision which is not subject to an automatically suspensive appeal.[5

The new law specifies that access to employment shall be “effective”.[6] 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.[7] These findings remain valid,  amid a minimal decrease in the unemployment rate in Greece from16.8% in Q4 2019 to 16.2% in Q4 2020. Higher unemployment rates were reported for persons aged up to 29 years old (29.6% for age group 25-29, 34.3% for age group 20-24 and 44.7% for age group 15-19), while overall the highest unemployment rate was recorded amongst women (19.9% as opposed to 13.3% for men).[8]

Difficulties in accessing the labour market continued being marked for applicants residing in mainland camps and/or informal accommodation[9]. As of the end of 2021, less than 50% of the resident adult population (9,707 out of 15,793) had managed to obtain an AFM, and even less of the residents above 15 years of age had managed to obtain an unemployment card from OAED (9.97%).[10]  Relevant data for those residing under the ESTIA II accommodation scheme have not been published in the project’s updates issued by the MoMA since February 2021.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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)[14], though the difference is practically negligible and even more concerning for the latter, inter alia considering the severely restricted time (1 month) during which they can remain in reception-based accommodation post-recognition, following the 2020 legislative amendments[15], and that they need a bank account, in order to be able to access the sole 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 aforementioned 188 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.[16]

Lastly, applicants’ access to the labour market has continued being hindered by obstacles connected with the temporary social security number (PAAYPA, see healthcare), which is a requirement for employment, albeit to a reduced rate compared to 2020. As highlighted by HumanRights360 in June 2020, “access to healthcare and to the labor market is nearly impossible due to the severe delays in acquiring a PAAYPA. The framework under which PAAYPA is granted remains vague, while the transition from AMKA to PAAYPA proved particularly time-consuming (already in many cases it reaches a year!) and hindered even more access of this population to the labor market and to healthcare”.[17]

As further noted by the Greek National Commission for Human Rights in 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”.[18]

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.[19] 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. As far as GCR is aware such a decision had not been issued by the end of 2021.

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 in April and May 2021. 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 to have 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%).[20]


[1] Article 71 L 4375/2016, as previously in force; Article 15 L 4540/2018.

[2] Information provided by the Greek Asylum Service on 17 February 2020.

[3] Information provided by the Office of Analysis and Studies of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum on 31 March 2021.

[4] Article 53(1) IPA; Article 71 L 4375/2016, as amended by Article 116(10) IPA.

[5] Article 53(2) IPA.

[6] Article 53(1) IPA.

[7] 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:, paras 54-55.

[8] Hellenic Statistical Authority, Labor force survey: Fourth quarter 2020 (Έρευνα εργατικού δυναμικού: Δ΄ τρίμηνο 2020), 24 March 2021, available in Greek at:

[9] See AIDA, Country Report for Greece: 2019 update

[10] IOM, Supporting the Greek Authorities in Managing the National Reception System for Asylum Seekers and Vulnerable Migrants (SMS), December 2021, available at:

[11] ESTIA updates can be found (in Greek) on the webpage of the MoMA, under “Fact Sheet για το Πρόγραμμα ESTIA 2021” at:

[12] JMD 22528/430/2017, Gov. Gazette Β’ 1721/18.5.2017.  

[13] Generation 2.0, ‘When the Greek banks deprive asylum seekers of their right to work’, 16 January 2019, available at:

[14] UNHCR, Population breakdown in ESTIA II Accommodation Scheme (as of 28 December 2020), op.cit. Data on residents of mainland camps/sites is not available.

[15] Article 114 IPA, as amended by article 111 L.4674/2020 in March 2020.

[16] 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.

[17] HumanRights360, Υπόμνημα για την ακρόαση φορέων στο πλαίσιο του Γ΄ Τμήματος της Εθνικής Επιτροπής για τα Δικαιώματα του Ανθρώπου (ΕΕΔΑ) για ζητήματα μεταναστών και προσφύγων, June 2020, available in Greek at:, 3.

[18] GNCHR, Annual Report on the Refugee and Migration Issue: Part B, September 2020, available in Greek at:, 124.

[19] GCR, Observations on the Draft Law transposing the Reception Directive, 31 October 2016, available in Greek at:

[20] UNHCR, The talent behind the numbers: Introducing refugees on the Greek islands, June 2021, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation