On May 19, 2020 the Italian government approved the so-called “Relaunch” decree. After several weeks of debate, the measures that were presented have a very wide scope, spanning across several fields and sectors with a foreseen cost of 55 billion euros.
The 256 articles of the decree also include article 103, with the norms regarding the “regularisation of working relationships”: a much-expected opportunity to regularise hundreds of thousands of migrants who have been living and working in Italy for years without a valid residence permit.
This article marks a fundamental step forward, which was not to be taken for granted considering how much the government shies away from talks on migration (further proof is the current applicability of the Salvini decrees and the block of NGO ships engaging in search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean). However, more could and should be done.
The estimated number of migrant workers who could be regularised was as high as 600,000 people, if all economic sectors were taken into account. However, this possibility was de-facto already discarded in the first draft of the new law, which restricted regularisation only to farm labourers. Appeals and pressure from civil society managed to have the field of action expanded to include people working as house helpers or caregivers. Something more, yet not enough.
The impression many gathered is that the decree was mostly focused on “us” and our needs (fruit and vegetables that risk to rot unpicked in the crops, the elderly and the sick who risk being left without assistance when the people they live with go back to work), than on “them” and their right to dignity.
According to some sources, the group of potential beneficiaries eventually decreased to 200,000 people. However, this data will have to be verified as well; impediments and limitations were introduced, which apart from generating doubts and questions, might have an impact on the number of workers to be regularised.
One of the controversial points is the introduction of drug dealing among the crimes that forbid any request for regularisation, which include aiding and abetting illegal migration, recruitment of people for prostitution and exploitation of prostitution, and recruitment of minors for illegal activities.
It is unclear why drug dealing, the only offence not against the person among those included, was added to the list. We acknowledge that violation of the consolidated law on drugs is a crime that many foreigners commit, and the majority of them is arrested for distribution, while only few are prosecuted for the much more serious crime of international drug trafficking. So, it is easy to understand that dealing is attributable to social exclusion and lack of work opportunities, further amplified by an illegal status, rather than belonging to criminal organisations. In this perspective, regularisation would help these people to avoid becoming easy targets for criminal groups. It is even more worrisome that, in these cases, the application for regularisation can be rejected even without a final sentence by the judge.
As far as limitations are concerned, those regarding the issuance of residence permits to job-seekers are the most obvious. The decree envisages two cases: one of amnesty and one of issuance of the permit. The former applies to all those who were in Italy before March 8, 2020 and whose employer submits a request for regularisation. The latter applies to all those owning a residence permit expired after October 31, 2019, who worked in previous years in the activities included in the decree, even just for a day. These people will obtain a residence permit for job-seekers with a six-month validity. The date of October 31, 2019 is precisely where more could have been done. We know that many foreigners became illegal when the first Salvini decree cancelled the residence permit for humanitarian reasons. From this point of view, the date of October 4, 2018 would have been more significant. Those who do not fall in this timeframe will now desperately look for someone willing to offer them a contract, a predicament that could lead to exploitation and blackmailing of workers.
Stricter controls on what will happen will be needed, also with regards to the amounts paid for regularisations. The decree states that each employer will need to pay €500 for the regularisation, while the foreign worker will have to pay €130 to obtain the job-seeking permit. The risk is that some employers will get back at the workers, who will stay exposed to their arbitrariness. In fact requests can be rejected if employers do not sign the residence contract at the Immigration Desk (“Sportello unico per l’immigrazione”) or fail to hire the foreign worker afterwards.
Further doubts, more general in this case, also arise about the sectors to which the decree applies: agriculture, farming and zootechnics, fisheries and aquaculture, and connected activities. Those connected activities will probably only be defined in implementing provisions, but in some cases they could include processing and sale activities as well.
These are the main elements of the decree that will unfortunately limit the effects and the scope that a more extensive regularisation could have, even on the economic side. As reminded by the Leone Moressa Foundation, total regularisation of all migrant workers could produce tax revenue for approximately 2.6 billion euros. Those funds could be invested on welfare, as well as improving living conditions precisely for some of those workers.
It is important to highlight that even the best possible decree would not suffice on its own to act on exploitation. Throughout the years, forms of illegal and grey labour have emerged, affecting legal foreign workers and Italian workers as well. Just a few days ago in Catanzaro there was a session of the trial for the murder of Soumalia Sacko, a farm labourer with a legal residence permit, shot to death while he was collecting metal sheets to build a shed where to live during the harvest of oranges in the area of Reggio Calabria.
Strong stances and resources are needed to stem this phenomenon. Regularisation would just be a first step: very much needed, but not sufficient.
The “Relaunch” decree will have to be examined and approved by the Parliament to be converted into law. Taking into account past history, it is easy to imagine that it will undergo a confidence vote, but there will likely be the possibility to incorporate some changes in a maxi-amendment. We can just hope that the critical points raised by civil society on this matter will be adopted to widen the scope of article 103.
Cover: farm labourer in a greenhouse in Pianoro, in the province of Bologna (April 2020). Photo by Arianna Pagani