Athens: How to Be a Long-term Resident

Posted on April 14, 2006



photo via people in pixels 

by melinda elliott

For once, I think the Greek government has gotten it right.

Almost a year ago to the day, I blogged about the need for culture immersion courses for all new immigrants in their new country. I felt (and still feel) that courses teaching immigrants the law, language and culture of their host country will benefit not only them but their new country as well. In order to get the coveted long-term resident status, the interior ministry has issued a presidential decree requiring immigrants to complete 125 hours of formal instruction in the Greek language and culture.

The decree was drafted in response to an EU directive compelling member states to outline the procedure necessary to obtain long term resident status to immigrants. Even though the deadline for implementation was three months ago, it is nonetheless welcome news to know that it has finally been completed.

The lessons will cost 900€ and will probably take about 3 months to pass and obtain the certificate needed to apply for the resident permit. The money is non-refundable. I’m sure many people will complain about the price and the time needed to complete the courses but I think their complaints are unfounded for several reasons. The benefits outweigh the cost and time factor.

Knowing the language will do a lot to ensure their integration into the new society. It will become easier for them to get employment, navigate through the endless channels of Greek bureacracy and most of all…allow them to communicate with everyone around them–not just immediate family members. Social isolation will be reduced and they will be better equipped to help their children once they enroll in school. At my son’s school, foreign children often lag behind their classmates to the point where not only do they receive failing grades but they become socially excluded.

Knowing the culture will further advance their integration because it enables them to find common ground with the rest of the population and understand and possibly appreciate Greek customs which seem so foreign to them.

I wish this law was in effect when I received my long-term resident status in Greece. I wouldn’t have felt like a fish out of water at the supermarket, social events and at my son’s school. Knowing English further hampered my efforts in Greek because I could still watch movies, listen to songs and read my newspapers in my native language. I became lazy when it came to integration much to my own detriment. I did learn to write the language on my own but if you can’t speak the language, it’s pointless. I ended up paying 900€ for a 3 month introductory course to Greek over 7 years ago and immediately, I didn’t feel like an outsider anymore. I didn’t avoid answering the phone. I could go to the doctor by myself and accomplish dozens of routine tasks outside the house without a Greek babysitter. I could hold my ground with civil servants at government offices.

Learning the language was independence to me. Learning the culture meant I no longer sent my son to school on national holidays because I didn’t know any better. It meant remembering friends’ Name Days, buying red eggs and lambadas (candles) for easter and saying phone numbers the Greek way (55-55-123 and not 555-5123) and to stop waiting for cabs on the wrong side of the road. I’m sure these all sound like trivial things but if only I could tell you how much time was wasted and the embarrassment and frustration I felt for not knowing them…that would be a book unto itself.

This law is a necessity and I can only hope that immigrants will not try to circumvent it by bribing corrupt officials as has been the case with past resident/work permits and driving licences. They will do a great disservice to themselves and their new country. Considering the benefits and increased opportunities for immigrants, 900€ and 125 hours is a small price to pay for them.