It has been about six months since Bangladesh and Greece signed an agreement to grant temporary work visas for Greece to 4,000 Bangladeshi nationals every year. Under the same program, up to 15,000 undocumented Bangladeshis already working in Greece will have their status legalized.
In an exclusive interview with InfoMigrants in Athens, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the program, which will begin this fall, will provide legal pathways for people to come to Greece without depending on smugglers.
A “strict but fair” migration policy
As many as 30,000 Bangladeshis currently live in Greece, according to the Bangladesh Embassy in Athens. About half of them would be without legal status.
The deal aims to prevent Bangladeshi migrants from making risky sea journeys to the Greek islands or trying to cross the land border with Turkey in the northeast region of Evros.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey over migration have escalated in recent weeks, with Athens claiming Turkish security forces are pushing migrants into Greek territory and accusing Turkey of using them as a political weapon.
Greece has argued that it has the right to decide who is allowed to come to the country, and the visa regime for seasonal workers, which is currently limited to the agricultural sector, would be in line with the policy that Athens describes as “strict but fair.”
“Greece does not accept illegal migration,” Mitarachi told InfoMigrants. “We protect our borders. We don’t allow smugglers to choose who comes to Europe.”
“The visa offers dignity”
The minister said the program will allow migrants from Bangladesh to come to Greece to work and earn money to support their families. Bangladeshi migrants are currently sending home around 100 million euros in remittances from Greece.
4,000 new seasonal permits will be issued each year, allowing the visa holder to work in Greece for five consecutive years, up to nine months per year. This means that the migrant must leave the country for three months.
The conditions will be the same for undocumented Bangladeshi migrants who receive regular status. They will be allowed to stay in Greece for five years as seasonal workers, performing agricultural work for up to nine months.
Mitarachi says Greece is the first European country to provide a long-term seasonal visa, offering migrants safety and “dignity”.
“(The visa) allows both the employer to invest in the training of people, and also the employee to have the certainty that, for a period of five years, he is in the same job with the same employer in the same country,” Mitarachi said.
No permanent move
After five years, migrants must leave Greece and there are no plans to extend the deadline. The minister said it was important that this “human capital” returned to their country of origin – he did not mention the possibility that they could go to third countries of the European Union.
“It is a program for people who want to leave Bangladesh legally, come to the European Union, gain experience, earn money, work in a different environment, but maintain their family social ties with the country. of origin and possibly return to their country,” Mitarachi said, adding, “This is not a permanent relocation program.
This has raised concerns among some Bangladeshi migrants in Greece, who told InfoMigrants the deal does not provide for a secure future.
Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi told InfoMigrants that a program to offer seasonal worker visas to thousands of Bangladeshis will begin this fall.
After 22 years in the country, Jamal Uddin still has no papers. Now living in Athens, he sees the deal as a good move, “but in the end you don’t get a permanent residence permit. So we’re tense about our future.”
Another Bangladeshi migrant, Azizur Rahman, works on an agricultural farm in Varda. “We left the family for the future. If you have to leave the country after five years according to the contract, it will not bring us any benefit. I have worked so hard to come here to establish my life,” he said. he declares. .
According to the terms of the agreement, to apply for a seasonal worker visa, the worker will need to obtain a work contract in Bangladesh. Undocumented migrants already in Greece will also need to provide proof of employment in order to obtain a five-year visa.
Mitarachi said there would be an administrative fee of around €120 for the visa application, a figure he said is a fraction of what people pay smugglers. But other seasonal worker schemes in Europe have resulted in migrants paying thousands of euros to recruitment agents in their home countries and then being exploited by gangmasters once they arrive.
Asked about safeguards against illegal practices, Mitarachi said the government was working with employers in Greece and trying to ensure costs for migrants in Bangladesh were kept to a minimum.
“Unrealistic and expensive”
InfoMigrants has been told by some Bangladeshi migrants in Greece that the program is unrealistic: in particular, returning home for three months every year would be too costly. Azizur said returning to Bangladesh after nine months of work would drain all of his savings.
If they are not forced to return to Bangladesh, working for three months of the year in another European country would require migrants to have a visa from that country, which they are unlikely to obtain.
Any overstay will have their visa revoked, and if the problem becomes systemic the whole deal will be put in jeopardy, “so hopefully everyone plays by the rules,” Mitarachi said.
The minister also confirmed that not all undocumented Bangladeshi migrants in Greece will benefit from the agreement. Persons in administrative detention, awaiting deportation, will not be eligible for regularization.
Others have already decided that even if they could, they would not accept Greece’s offer. “It is better not to take this paper,” Salam told InfoMigrants. “We came to Europe to settle here and for the safety of our lives. I will not take the paper offered to me for five years. Instead, I will move to Italy or France.”
InfoMigrants is a news and information site for migrants to counter misinformation at every stage of their journey. This is a collaboration led by France Médias Monde, Deutsche Welle and the Italian press agency ANSA.