Greek crisis may threaten free movement of migrants

30 Jun 15

EUROPEAN UNION

IMPACT – LOW

The Greek debt crisis that may force the country to exit the Euro single currency and the European Union as a political entity would have serious consequences for the free movement of Greek nationals, throwing into confusion the status of Greek migrants looking to travel and work within the Eurozone, and for Greek nationals already working in Europe.

As EU members, Greek nationals and their family members currently have the right to free movement into any country within the EU for work, study or to live as self-sponsored individuals, without being subject to work permits or visas. After five years of residency in another EU member state, Greek nationals automatically become permanent residents.

These freedoms are now under threat.

Tonight at midnight, Greece’s €1.6 billion loan repayment to the International Monetary Fund became due and the bailout from the EU expired. Barring a last-minute deal, Greeks are set to vote in a referendum on Sunday as to whether to accept another EU bail-out and the austerity measures that the money is conditioned upon. EU leaders have warned voters that a “no” vote would constitute a rejection of membership in the single currency and would mean Greece would be the first member state to leave the EU. Meanwhile, Greek banks have closed for the week and ATMs have limited how much money can be withdrawn. Visitors to Greece have been warned to carry cash and take out travel insurance in case their flights or accommodations are canceled. While foreign bank accounts are not affected, travelers should be aware that the availability of ATM and credit services is now limited.

Should the “Grexit” take place, each EU member state will decide its own policy on Greek migrants. In the past, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said Greek nationals may be prevented from entering the U.K. should the Greek economy collapse. In 2012, Cameron told MPs that he is prepared to exercise legal powers to abandon existing EU obligations and stop potential mass migration of Greek nationals into the U.K.

At this stage, it is unclear whether member states possess legal grounds to remove Greek nationals and their family members who are already exercising rights of free movement in EU member states, particularly those who do not have settled status. Greek nationals could be vulnerable to differing political and legal attitudes throughout the EU and cannot assume their current basis for working or living in another EU country would be maintained.

BAL Analysis: While the impact on migration is speculative, the situation is in flux and BAL recommends employers consider immigration implications for Greek national employees if the Grexit occurs.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact uk@balglobal.com.

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