The Greek Nationality Code (Law 3284/2004), as amended and in force, is the basic legal instrument covering the process through which one acquires the Greek citizenship. The primary principle applied is the ius sanguinis – meaning that a child of Greek mother and/or father acquires the Greek citizenship by birth. For third-country nationals to acquire citizenship the main path is naturalization, which provides for essential conditions to be met and formal procedures to be followed.
Citizenship through naturalization: requirements
Articles 5-9 of the Greek Nationality Code set the framework for the acquisition of citizenship by naturalization.
The formal requirements are: 1) the interested party must be at least 18 years old; 2) there should be no penal impediment and irrevocable sentences for crimes specifically mentioned in the law (e.g. crimes against life, offences against the state, terrorism, involvement in criminal organization); 3) no ordered expulsion for him/her or pending procedures regarding his/her legal residence status; 4) to reside legally and permanently in Greece for a specified continuous period, which is dependent on the category he/she belongs to and the residence permit he/she holds at the date of submission of the naturalization application; 5) to hold a definitive residence permit of a certain type. An alternative provided is that if requirements 1-3 are satisfied and the individual is equipped with a valid residence permit and has resided in Greece for 12 continuous years, he/she can apply for citizenship.
Law 4735/2020 has amended the scope of the provision regarding the essential requirements set out in Article 5A of the Greek Nationality Code. As of 1st April 2020, the interested party must: 1) have sufficient knowledge of the Greek language, in order to fulfil the obligations arising from being a Greek citizen; 2) have sufficient knowledge of the Greek history, geography, civilization, tradition as well as the function of the state’s institutions; 3) have the capability to actively participate in the economic and social life of Greece, respecting the fundamental principles that govern it; and 4) have been smoothly integrated into the economic and social life of the country.
As to the latter, the Ministerial Decision complementing the provision, already published and in force, specifies the presumptions to be taken into account. As conditions related to the financial situation of the individual are set the following: proof of annual income that ensures for him/her an adequate standard of living that does not burden the welfare system, stable and multi-annual employment and/or ownership of property for housing, maintenance of bank accounts to Greek Credit Institutions, constant fulfilment of his/her tax obligations as well as his/her obligations to social security funds. Regarding social integration, the following presumptions are to be taken into account: related bond and/or marriage with Greek citizen, potential studies at Greek educational institutions, vocational training, and participation in social organizations or collective bodies whose members are Greek citizens.
The administration fee for the application for naturalization is €550.
Residency status and citizenship
As mentioned before, a formal prerequisite is the permanent and legal residency in the country. The permanence of the stay for the critical period can be evidenced by the presentation of tax declaration statements, insurance carrier certificate, any employment contract, residence proofs of rental, tax certificates, Public Utility and Organization bills, certificates of attendance of educational institutions in Greece, passport/s etc. Legal residency is linked with the type of residence permit the applicant holds and depending on the category to which the applicant belongs, he/she may apply for naturalization after a residence of 3 to 12 years. It is proved by the possession by the applicant of continuous residence permits for the corresponding period.
A residence permit is any documentation issued by the Greek authorities, according to which a third-country citizen is given the right to reside legally within Greek territory. A Ministerial Decision (130181/6353/27.3.2018) has added the residence permits of Real Estate Owners and of Investors as eligible titles for the submission of an application for the acquisition of Greek citizenship. Real estate owners and investors – whose residence permit has a 5-year duration- need to legally reside in Greece for 7 years in order for their application for naturalization to be valid. It is evident that there is a deviation between the duration of the residence permit and the residence time required under the Greek Nationality Code. A combined reading of the relevant provisions suggests that the visa holders will be required to renew their residence permits at least once in order to be able to apply for citizenship.
The recent amendment of the Greek Nationality Code introduced a new procedural step for the acquisition of citizenship: for a foreigner to be granted the Greek citizenship, he/she needs to successfully pass written and oral exams in order to certify that he/she has an adequate knowledge of the Greek language (level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) as well as written exams on the following subjects: geography, history, civilization, political institutions. In the same provision, cases are mentioned, where the applicant is exempted from the language test or where the test level varies (for instance, if he/she is a graduate of Greek school/university).
For candidates to become accustomed with the type of the exam and the content of the questions, the Ministry of Interior has launched a site where the interested party can find the list of the exam questions he/she may be called to answer (https://exetaseis-ithageneia.ypes.gr). To participate in the exams, the submission of an electronic application and the payment of a fee of €150 is required. The exams will be held twice a year and there is no limit as to the number of times a candidate can participate in case of failure.
After successfully passing the exams, the candidate is called for a personal interview before the competent Naturalization Committee, in order to determine his adequate integration into the economic and social life of the country and his participation as a citizen in it. Failure to appear in front of the Committee would result in the rejection of the application.
The administrative process of naturalization is completed with the individual’s oath, as a Greek Citizen. The foreigner’s oath must take place within one year from the publication of the naturalization decision in the Government Gazette, otherwise the naturalization decision is revoked. The oath given is as follows: “I swear to keep my faith in the homeland, obey the Constitution and the laws of the State and to conscientiously fulfill my duties as a Greek citizen.”
Due to the fact that citizenship of an EU member state implies the acquisition of European citizenship which entails the enjoyment of rights under European Law, above all the right to free movement and establishment for Union citizens, there is a strong debate within the EU over the rules governing citizenship. Through the granting of citizenship, the number and the mix of EU citizens changes and by extent, the introduction of new social issues is unavoidable. The increase of immigrant investment programs that provide for a beneficiary status on the path for citizenship have raised questions within the EU as to the checks ’n’ balances of the procedures, especially regarding the control over the source of the income invested.