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Thousands of Greek-Americans Seek Greek Citizenship During Pandemic

Greek-Americans are flocking to consulates in the United States and applying for Greek citizenship — even during the pandemic — in hopes that they can more easily travel there in the future.

The understandable emotional upset this past year over not being able to visit the homeland of their ancestors seems to have spurred the recent spate of applications, since no American tourists who did not have Greek citizenship were allowed to visit the country in 2020.

Even those who may not have had firm plans to visit relatives there were perhaps frightened by the prospect of not being able to go again in the future, deciding to go for the dual citizenship that would allow them free access to the country — and of course, to the entire EU.

The Greek Consul General in Chicago, Ekaterina Dimakis, stated that applications for the dual citizenship are up sharply this year, as much as 400% for the last three months, compared with the same months in 2019. There have been a total of 1,300 applications in a recent three month period compared to 700 all last year, according to reports.

Greek Americans travel to Greece
Thousands of Greek Americans have applied for Greek citizenship in hopes to obtain Greek passports that will make traveling to Greece easier. Credit: Anastasios Papapostolou / Greek Reporter

The Hon. Konstantinos Koutras, the Consul General at the Greek consulate in New York City, affirmed that there has been what he terms a “huge increase” in the numbers of those trying to obtain Geek passports and citizenship in the past months. There are many thousands of people who are Greek citizens in the US who until recently have simply not gotten around to obtaining a Greek passport — but that situation changed this past year.

The exact numbers are confidential, he states; however, it is a marked trend, reflected as well in the numbers of those dual citizens who already found themselves in Greece when the pandemic broke out who simply decided to stay there since they believed it was safer than returning to the New York area.

This may be only on a provisional basis, he says, but that alone is a sizable number of people.

One metric the Consul General can share is that his New York Consulate alone is still issuing 25 passports every single day. This would amount to 6,500 for one year if the trend continues at this pace.

New York, he states, was of course such a hotbed for coronavirus infections that an exodus took place in the Spring, with people fanning out from Manhattan to places as far afield as Pennsylvania, upstate New York, Long Island and Connecticut to live in order to get away from the ravages of the pandemic as much as possible.

Americans rush to apply for European passports

However, it isn’t only Greek-Americans — but Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans as well — who are applying in record numbers for passports to their ancestral homelands. All these nations, along with most others in the EU, had strict travel requirements barring Americans from going there this past year.

The Hon. Stratos Efthymiou, the Consul General at the Greek consulate in Boston, has observed this happening firsthand.

“The general trend is that yes, there is a very considerable increase in the number of Greek citizenship requests for US citizens of Greek ancestry,” he tells Greek Reporter.

“Passport requests for Greek citizens who up to now used only their US passport, and an increase of requests for registration of birth certificates (which lead to citizenship)” are being applied for at an accelerated rate, he explains.

However, Efthymiou notes, “This is not only a Greek trend. The same trend is being observed in the other European consulates with considerable diasporas here in Boston.

Before the Covid crisis, every day we would receive 5-10 requests related to citizenships,” Efthymiou tells Greek Reporter. “Right now, every day, we are receiving around 30-50 citizenship related emails.

“Not all of these, of course, are necessarily new application requests. We often need to exchange emails to ask form clarifications or more documents.” Still, that is a marked increase from the number of public requests that the consulate had to deal with in the past.

From 10 applications per month — to 200

The trend became especially noticeable in May, the Consul General states, when it appeared certain that Greece and other European countries would institute travel bans. When people panicked, realizing they may not be able to visit family or take that annual Greek vacation in the summer, the result was a tidal wave of applications at the Boston consulate.

Efthymiou states “We usually had gotten ten applications per month prior to that. And we got 200 in May. It was really tough to bring down the backlog,” he related with a great deal of understatement. But this was finally accomplished for the most part, and now, after clearing those, and working on emergency authorizations, which by themselves constituted what Efthymiou calls an “unprecedented crisis,” things are going much smoother these days at the consulate.

Registering babies an easy first step

There was no backlog as of September 2020 for death certificates and other official papers that people need, he says. However, it is vital for people to realize they must register their children soon after birth, which makes it a great deal easier down the road.

This is not difficult, he says, and like anything else received in life, along with the benefits, there are always obligations. “For years,” he stated, “I have been telling people to register their babies. And many have not done this for years.”

For those who would like to register their newborn babies, he says, the child needs to be with the parents when they appear at the Consulate. However, bringing the child to the Consulate should not be a difficult procedure, and it is vital in establishing that link later on when that all-important passport is needed.

Acquiring Greek citizenship, Efthymiou acknowledges, can sometimes be a “lengthy process.” He adds that “All sorts of documents are needed — often for as many as three generations of people in the United States,” going back to the initial immigrant generation.

The entire undertaking of establishing citizenship, naturally, becomes more complicated after a parent passes away as well.

Ellis Island in New York City. Credit: Px fuel

Textile mills drew millions of Europeans to New England

There is a long history of Greek immigration to New England, Efthymiou notes, starting with those who went to work in the great textile mills of Worcester and Lowell, Massachusetts, in the nineteenth century, with more going to other states with textile and paper mills.

The actual number of Greek-Americans now, he says interestingly, is a great deal larger than the official number — and this translates, of course, to an extraordinarily high number of dual citizenship applicants now.

Add to that the fact that hundreds of scientists have come from Europe every year for decades to study and work at MIT, Harvard and all the many research centers in New England, and it makes for a great many first-generation Americans who are now interested in dual citizenship.

Other European consulates in the US also inundated with applications

This situation applies to other countries who have large diasporas in New England as well — whose members began applying en masse for dual citizenship last Spring.

Efthymiou states that he has met regularly this past year with his colleagues from other nations’ consulates in Boston, and they have shared information on how best to go about dealing with the tsunami of citizenship applications. The other European consulates were also inundated with applicants during 2020, with so many worrying that they might not be able to take that treasured family vacation in the old country as they are used to doing every Summer.

With much less of a time crunch now, Efthymiou says, after what he calls the “dramatic context” of what took place last May, June and July, it is much easier to apply. He encourages prospective applicants to book an appointment now to start the process. When it comes to simply reissuing a passport, it can take as little as two weeks, as long as the necessary papers and official stamps from the Greek government are in order.

The island of Skopelos. Credit: Patricia Claus/Greek Reporter

Working in Greece as a “Digital Nomad”

Asked if he noticed a trend of Americans moving back there permanently, versus just going for work or just having the passport, Efthymiou stated that he had indeed noticed that there are many more people working from Greece. This is due, he believes, to what he calls the “change of atmosphere” in Greece recently. “Thanks to the tax incentives from the Greek government, stability, the change in business context, things are improving,” he notes with pride.

He explains that Greece’s 7% tax rate, which was designed specifically to attract retirees to the country, is beginning to be noticed abroad. He has received many requests for information from what he says are “top-level” business executives who are very interested in this proposition. The sunny weather in Greece in the summertime, he acknowledges, is a big factor in drawing such individuals as well. But it’s not everything.

Athens now business, innovation hub

This is becoming a real trend, Efthymiou states, especially now that Athens is increasingly being seen as a business hub, and a “much more vibrant city” than it had ever been before. “It’s not difficult to see the change in mood,” he explains, with the likes of Microsoft, Pfizer and others opening up major centers in the country.

Of course, he adds, this is linked to the Golden Visa program, in which Greek residency (and therefore EU residency) is granted to individuals who invest up to $300,000 in the country. In addition, the “digital nomad” phenomenon is real, he states, and it is growing. When you can work from anywhere, he says, why not let it be Greece?

“Most optimistic atmosphere in the last decade”

Efthymiou is part of the Hellenic Innovation Network, which hosts seminars and webinars to help facilitate innovative business growth and networking in Greece. For those who are interested in moving there, he has found, the knowledge that Greece is one of the first three countries in the EU to have 5G capability is a game-changer. Most of the early issues related to its rollout, he explains, have been solved, and yet more incentives are on the way for digital nomads.

“This is the most optimistic atmosphere in the last decade” regarding innovation, major business investment and people moving to Greece to work and retire, Efthymiou states.

Although the process to acquire citizenship can be daunting, many Americans of Greek heritage believe it is worth it, even to the point of hiring lawyers who can help them through the maze of paperwork that is needed to be granted a Greek passport.

Being able to travel to a sunny Mediterranean vacation destination isn’t the only plus, of course — any Greek passport holder is also able to work anywhere in the European Union — an important option in these days when travel for any reason has become so difficult.

Efthymiou says that the end of the pandemic will mean that the Greek consulates and embassies won’t be completely inundated with applications any longer, as they were in 2020 — but now would be a good time to apply for that all-important second passport, just in case.

The island of Lefkada. Credit: Px fuel

LA advertising man moves to Greece to “make a new start”

Spiros Kafarakis, a Greek-American advertising executive, moved from Los Angeles to the land of his ancestors, the island of Lefkada, in November of 2020.

“This is my home,” he tells Greek Reporter now. He says he moved to Greece not because of Covid but simply because he always wanted to make a new start on the island of his parents.

“I may be 60 years old — but I still feel young and want to do new things in Greece,” he relates. Kafarakis says that it didn’t go like clockwork, and it took him four years to get his Greek passport. “It requires lots of patience to collect all the paperwork,” he admits.

Spiros Kafarakis. Photo courtesy Spiros Karafakis.

The people at the Greek consulate in Los Angeles were very helpful, however, Karafakis adds. “They were phenomenal, professional and incredibly patient.

“With patience and respect you can get things done,” he cautions. “If you go with an attitude you can achieve very little.”

Consulates and Embassies going digital will help applicants

For Greek Americans and other members of the Greek diaspora, things may soon change for the better in this regard. Greek consulates all over the world will soon become digital — offering the Diaspora a fast and easy way to communicate with officials and apply online for documents and certificates.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was briefed on the first steps of the digitization of consular services available to Greeks abroad, through the myConsulLive platform, at an e-meeting he held recently with the Greek Consulate General in New York.

“Through this platform citizens would be able to talk to a consulate official through a video-call,” Mitsotakis said.

“This is a first step in the plan to digitize the consular services, aiming to offer a better service and less hassle for Greeks abroad,” he added.

The shift of services online — which would otherwise require physical presence — is expected to be completed in 2021.

However, a pilot version of myConsulLive, the platform name of this digital project, will be launched imminently by the Greek Embassy in London and its Consulates General in New York and Toronto, Canada.

These will soon be followed by Greece’s Consulates General in Boston, Istanbul, Dusseldorf and Perth.

Another relevant tool already running in pilot mode is Virtual Assistant, currently offered by the Greek Embassy in London and the Greek Consulate General in New York.

This platform offers the ability to apply online for documents and certificates requested by Greeks who live abroad.

“No regrets”

Kafarakis’ belongings are one month late in arriving from LA, but the Greek-American is taking it in his stride. “I have no regrets deciding to move permanently to Greece,” he tells Greek Reporter.

Of course, due to the pandemic, the country is not exactly as he knew it from his past travels.

“Coffee shops and tavernas are closed, travel is limited. But I know that when the lockdown ends, I will experience the Greece I always knew,” he says with certainty.

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