A draft amendment aimed to legalize approximately 30,000 foreign nationals currently residing and working in Greece – albeit in a presently illicit manner – was passed by a wide Parliament majority on Tuesday, after first generating controversy when former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras expressed opposition and, in fact, voted against the legislation.

Samaras’ criticism of the draft amendment also resonated amongst a handful of other ruling New Democracy (ND) deputies, however, in the end, all of the latter “toed the party line”.

Samaras charged that the measure would send a signal that Greece was “open” to illegal migration, especially from non-European countries. Conversely, a bevy of ministers very publicly countered that the legislative relief was meant to legalize third country nationals who already worked and lived in the country for years and who previously held legal status. The government also said most of the eligible beneficiaries were citizens of Albania, Georgia and the Philippines.

The center-right Mitsotakis government also went to great lengths to clarify that the measure does not foresee a “naturalization route” or affect the vast majority of third country nationals who have illegally entered Greece, regardless if they are would-be asylum seekers or economic migrants.

Specifically, 262 MPs voted in favor, with ND MPs joined by opposition deputies from SYRIZA, PASOK, KKE and New Left parties. Deputies of the right-of-center Elliniki Lysi (Hellenic Solution), Niki and Spartiates parties voted against it.

“What I had an obligation to say, I said. Whoever wants to understand, understood,” was Samaras’ laconic statement after the vote.

Previously, a government spokesman warned that any ND deputy voting against the draft amendment would be expelled from the party, with the exception of Samaras, as he said, who enjoys the status of an ex-prime minister.