ATHENS – It can take years to get Greek citizenship, even if you have all the papers you need proving your family's heritage, and now it will require taking a written exam testing your knowledge of language, history and geography.
The standard is being raised for foreign nationals in Greece, including from the Diaspora, under an Interior Ministry bill that has been submitted for public consultation until Sept. 10.
There are about 30,000 pending applications for citizenship, some going back years in the country's notorious bureaucracy where papers can sit unattended and citizenship applicants are grilled over even picayune items.
It will also cost 250 euros ($295.39) but those over 67 or who have diagnosed writing difficulties will be able to have oral exams instead. Graduates from Greek senior high schools or universities will be exempt from the exam.
The final decision on whether citizenship is granted will be made following an interview with two officials from the ministry’s General Secretariat for Citizenship, and will be subject to an additional administrative fee of 550 euros ($649.85) as well.
Rich foreigners can get around it by buying so-called Golden Visas that give them residency permits and an EU passport, most of them being scooped up by Chinese applicants in a program much criticized for improperly vetting for criminals and money laundering in some countries with the scheme.
Greece has a low bar, requiring only that they invest at least 250,000 Euros ($295366.75) in purchasing real estate or other methods like stocks and bonds.
Going past the sale of Golden Visas that come with a residency permit, Greece’s new ruling New Democracy said in September 2019 it wanted to lure rich foreigners by offering them citizenship if they invest at least 2 million euros ($2.36 million) for permanent residence.
While the visas allow wealthy foreigners to buy property but not live in it - which has seen those from China, Russia and other countries buying Greek apartments and turning them into short-term rentals - citizenship gives investors a Greek passport.
To get it though, part of their investment must be buying a home that costs at least 500,000 euros ($590,890) and paying at least 50,000 euros ($59,089) in annual maintenance costs, apparently whether it's needed or not.
While Greece doesn't automatically grant citizenship to resident migrants, the COVID-19 pandemic debacle in the United States is seeing many of all nationalities seek dual citizenship in their family's homelands, the New York Ties reported in a feature.
“I see how European people have really stepped up to take a collective problem and work together toward achieving the goal, i.e. of getting rid of the virus,” said Susan Periharos, who began her application process for Greek citizenship about four weeks ago. “The pandemic pretty much clinched it for me.”
She is not giving up her US citizenship nor fleeing the country but told the paper there are advantages in having dual citizenship, allowing her and her husband to travel to Greece as American citizens are barred during the pandemic.
With a passport from a country in the Schengen zone, her children will be able to live and work in most of Europe.
Andreas Politis, who works as a Managing Associate for Christina Mantas & Associates, which is helping Periharos with her case, said that the firm has seen about a 300 percent increase in the number of people who want to apply for a Greek passport.
“A lot of it is people who come back to Greece almost every year, and they want to make sure they can come back to their families in the future,” Politis said. “Traveling to Greece with a U.S. passport is usually very easy. Before, it didn’t make sense to apply for a Greek passport. Now it does.”
Politis said the firm charges clients seeking Greek citizenship 600 euros, or $700, to 2,000 euros ($2,362.93) for its help, although it can take can take from three months to three years.
As part of a heritage-based application, people usually have to submit birth certificates, naturalization records from the United States, and marriage and divorce records. The process takes time and patience, the report noted.
With the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union, wealthy foreigners and investors are looking for other alternatives in Europe, said Kathimerini in a report on the scheme that also includes steps to vet applicants for fraud.
To get citizenship, proof of purchase of buying the required limit of real estate must be shown, paid in full with crossed check or bank transfer into the account of the beneficiary through an account with a Greek bank or a credit institution supervised by the Bank of Greece.
Without explaining why, if it could turn out to be a cash cow, the government reportedly will set a cap on the sale of citizenships at 200 annually while even Greeks in the Diaspora will continue to have to wait up to two years and longer to get dual citizenship even if their grandparents were born in Greece.
The government is also examining the prospect of offering incentives to individuals and legal entities to choose Greece as where their income will be taxed instead of their home countries and as New Democracy is trying to roll back taxes hiked by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.