Greece Emigration and Immigration
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
The long tradition of emigration from the Greek mainland began in the eighth century B.C., when Greeks began to colonize the shores of the eastern and western Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Overpopulation, foreign trade, and self-improvement have remained the primary incentives for emigration through the last 2,700 years, although specific political and economic factors have varied.
The Greek diaspora, or dispersion of Greeks to other parts of the world, occurred in phases determined by historical events. In the fifteenth century, the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks triggered large-scale emigration to avoid foreign domination. In the later centuries of Ottoman rule, however, Greeks moved around the Mediterranean to take advantage of favorable trading conditions that became available as far away as Odessa and Marseilles (see The Ottoman Era , ch. 1). Later waves of emigration followed the appearance of new markets in Egypt and Asia Minor in the nineteenth century, the destruction caused by World War II and the Civil War of 1946-49, and the economic woes of the mid-1960s. Conversely, major immigrations occurred after independence was won in 1832, with the population exchange of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, and when the restriction of minority rights drove out the Greek émigré communities in twentieth-century Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Egypt.
Before 1890 Greek emigrants went mostly to other areas of the Mediterranean. In the twentieth century, however, the favored destinations have been Australia, Canada, and the United States, in all of which sizeable Greek communities have developed. The number of United States citizens with Greek ancestry has been estimated as between 1 million and 3 million.
Between 1944 and 1974, nearly 1 million persons emigrated from Greece, a far higher number than those who immigrated. Beginning in the 1960s, over two-thirds of long-term Greek emigrants went to Western Europe, mainly as guest workers. As many as 80 percent of those workers went to the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in the 1960s and the early 1970s. In 1973 about 430,000 Greeks were working in West Germany. After 1974, however, emigration began dropping sharply, finally stabilizing at a rate of a few thousand persons annually. After a flurry of immigration in the late seventies, due mainly to the return of Civil War political refugees and most of the West European guest workers, the return of Greeks to their homeland from western Europe also stabilized at a rate of 3,000 and 5,000 persons per year.
In the early 1990s, about 500,000 foreign citizens were living in Greece, of whom about 300,000 were working or seeking employment. Thus nearly 5 percent of the total population and 7.5 percent of the workforce was foreign. Substantial portions of some national groups, especially Albanians and Egyptians, were in the country illegally. Since 1987 about 37,000 persons of Greek origin who formerly lived in the Soviet Union entered Greece. An estimated 500,000 ethnic Greeks remain in the former Soviet Union, returning to their homeland at a rate of 2,000 to 5,000 per year in the early 1990s.
Since the early 1970s, the population of legal foreign workers in Greece has remained steady at about 30,000. Until the mid-1980s, illegal employment of foreigners was confined mainly to seasonal work in agriculture and tourism; after sharp increases in the last decade, however, the number of illegal foreign workers is estimated to be almost ten times greater than that of legal foreign workers. Little social conflict has resulted from this change, however, because illegal workers most often solve seasonal and unskilled labor shortages rather than competing with Greeks for more desirable jobs.
Current government policy is to aid Greek citizens to return from abroad and to accept Greek immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In general, Greece does not encourage naturalization of immigrants, however. It cooperates with other EU countries to develop common migration policies and to reduce illegal immigration.
The case of Albania presents unique problems for the makers of migration policy. Under Albanian communist regimes, the status of the Greek minority in Albania, estimated variously between 59,000 and 400,000 in 1989, was a troublesome issue between the two countries. The chief disputes concerned the number of Greeks in Albania and the extent of their freedom of expression, religion, and culture. Although tension lessened in the late 1980s, the large-scale flight of Greeks (and Albanians) from postcommunist Albania into Greece presented a new version of the previous ethnic tension.
Data as of December 1994
NOTE: The information regarding Greece on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Greece Emigration and Immigration information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Greece Emigration and Immigration should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.