The recent regularisation of migrants residing in Italy, ordered by the Conte Government with art. 103 of Decree 34/2020, converted with amendments into Law 77/2020, was requested and hailed as necessary and useful by trade unions, experts and the most qualified associations. It has been repeatedly stated that it would have allowed migrants living in conditions of exploitation and severe marginalisation – such as those living in informal settlements – to overcome the pandemic’s further dramatic effects and enter the sphere of law by leaving the sphere of agro-criminals and illegal street-hiring.
In reality, regularisation was limited because it concerned only three employment sectors: agriculture, domestic work and personal assistance. One could say ‘better than nothing’. About nine months after the deadline set by the Government for the submission of applications (i.e. 15 August 2020), the time has probably come for some balances. One of the first to reflect on this is labour law researcher William Chiaromonte, from the University of Florence, who discusses the issue in the Labour Law Community, highlighting critical points and contradictions.
The recent regularisation of migrants residing in Italy: procedure
Chiaromonte correctly points out that the emersion and regularisation procedure provided for was based on two distinct paths. The first allowed employers to submit an application for the conclusion of a subordinate employment contract with a migrant already present in Italy before 8 March 2020 or to bring to light an irregular employment relationship existing on 19 May 2020 with a migrant already living in Italy before 8 March 2020 (but also with an Italian or EU citizen). The second path allowed migrants with a residence permit that expired after 31 October 2019 – and who had already worked in one of the three sectors identified – to apply for a six-month residence permit for work, which could be converted into a residence permit for work if, within the term of the temporary permit, they managed to find employment (always in one of the three sectors mentioned). Therefore, to understand the outcome of these procedures, it is necessary to consider the official data available so far.
In this respect, according to data provided by the Ministry of the Interior, between 1 June 2020 (date of launch of the procedure) and 15 August of the same year, 207,542 applications were submitted through the first channel, mainly in the domestic work and personal assistance sector (about 85% of the total applications transmitted, equal to 176. 848), and considerably fewer than to the emersion of other forms of subordinate work (15% of the total, equal to 30,694), of which only about 29,500 were in agriculture (the remainder concerned fishing and other related sectors involved). This result suggests a less than flattering reflection on the success of the amnesty. To these data, we must add the applications for temporary residence permits submitted in relation to the second regularisation channel (12,986).
What is striking at first glance, according to the researcher of labour law in Florence, is not so much the overall number of applications – 54% higher than that of the 2012 amnesty – as the evident prevalence of applications submitted by employers in the domestic and care work sector and not, as one would have expected, in the agricultural industry, where an absolute “flop” was recorded. The agricultural sector has widespread contradictions within it, including the use of labour – often migrant and illegally recruited – employed in exploitative and severely exploitative conditions, poor housing, peripheral segregation, endemic poverty and the structural absence of locally organised social services to overcome these problems. Added to this is the stable presence of various mafia organisations, the predominant weight of large-scale distribution, which often operates through illegal practices such as double auctions at the highest price, and a commercial system that links this sector to a particularly complex global dimension.
Actually, this data that really makes us reflect and denounces a severe failure of the public administrative system emerges from the survey carried out about the progress of the examination of applications for regularisation and emersion that the promoters of the campaign “Ero straniero. L’umanità che fa bene” (“I was a foreigner. The humanity that does good”) campaign promoters released on 4 March. These data give us pause for thought, to the point of emerging a deep discouragement for the structural inefficiency of the State to provide specific and rapid answers to the requests for legality made, at its own proposal, by thousands of people who have been living for years in conditions of marginalisation.
On 31 December 2020, in fact, of the 207,542 applications submitted through the first regularisation channel, only 1,480 residence permits had been issued in Italy, i.e. 0.71% of the total; which is a ridiculous figure for an advanced and modern State like ours. On 16 February 2021, however, only 5% of applications had reached the final stage of the procedure (a percentage that has risen in the meantime, according to journalistic sources, to 12.7%), while 6% were still in the previous stage of the convocation of the parties for the signing of the work contract in the Prefecture and the subsequent issuance of the residence permit. In about 40 Prefectures – according to Chiaromonte – the convocations had not yet started, and the files were in the initial phase of the investigation. Equally dramatic are the data collected by the single Prefectures. In Florence, for example, compared to 4,483 applications received, at the end of January, 3,000 files were being processed, 100 summonses had been made, and 90 permits had been issued. According to an easy calculation, 300 working days will be needed to complete all the applications at this rate. In Rome, on the other hand, compared to 16,187 applications received, at the end of January, there were still 900 files being processed, but no call for applications had been made and no residence permit issued. Forget 300 days, in this situation, it will take more than five years to conclude the emersion procedures underway for a regularisation that has barely scratched the overall number of migrant workers employed without a regular contract. Finally, in Milan, out of approximately 26,000 applications received, only 289 files were being processed. In this case, too, no summons had been issued, and no permit had been given. How long will it take to process all the applications submitted at this rate? Over 30 years. An infinite amount of time for those who want to be regularised immediately.
Moreover, if we look at the second regularisation channel, the situation would appear to be different. On 31 December last year, 8,887 residence permits had been issued against 12,986 applications submitted, i.e. 68% of the total, of which 346 were subsequently converted into residence permits for work purposes. As Chiaramonte points out, the criteria for access to this procedure immediately proved to be markedly restrictive (and the few applications submitted for this purpose were the most explicit demonstration of this), being scarcely able to affect the high rates of irregularity that characterise our country.
The response of the Ministry of the Interior to a dramatic and disheartening situation has been directed to the recruitment of temporary workers to support the staff of the Single Desk for Immigration in the management of the preliminary investigation of administrative procedures concerning the emergence of irregular labour relations, the acquisition of additional documentation and the conclusion of the procedure with the convening of the interested parties. In fact, between March and April, 499 new staff members entered the service. This number is probably insufficient. According to journalistic sources, the number of new recruits is estimated at 676, to which further recruits will be added shortly to soon reach the total number of 800.
The circular of 21 April 2021
But the contradictions of this process do not end here. We seem to be living in a dream that is destined to become a nightmare and, at the same time, the mirror of a country that is struggling to take responsibility for its actions. The Ministry of the Interior itself issued the Circular of 21 April 2021, which seems to insert new (and further) obstacles on the path leading to the emergence from exploitation and irregularity. The Circular states that it is impossible to obtain a residence permit for awaiting employment if, during the regularisation procedure, the fixed-term employment relationship previously stipulated ceases. This is a very likely condition, considering the specific modalities of employment in the agricultural sector and the current and manifest procedural delays. According to the Ministry, the procedure could be continued only if “the employer expresses the will to extend the previous relationship, or even re-employ the worker”. At the same time, it would not be possible to issue a permit to wait for employment if “the employer does not intend to extend the relationship, nor to re-employ the worker”. Such a reading is in contrast with what is stated in art. 103 of Law Decree 34/2020, according to which, in case of loss of employment, even in the case of a seasonal contract, a permit for those waiting for work must be issued, which allows the person concerned to seek new employment.
Once again, in contrast with what is stated in the circular, categorical limits cannot even be placed on access to possible new employment with a different employer, given the reference to applying the guarantees set out in art. 22 of the Consolidation Act on Immigration (Legislative Decree no. 286/1998), which should ensure, following registration with the Employment Centre, full access to the entire labour market.
The circular, therefore, expresses a will that goes in the opposite direction to that of regularisation and emersion from conditions of blackmail and marginalisation. Suppose the rule of law still has any meaning. In that case, this must concern the determined commitment to overcome any form of exploitation and not to alienate or oppose the regularisation paths that the Italian State itself has undertaken to develop. Currently, many migrants working in the Italian countryside, from North to South, are now wondering whether the Italian State is consistent with what it says or whether it prefers to keep men and women in conditions of severe marginalisation according to a discriminatory and anti-law approach. In all this, racists, mafiosi, corporals and bosses are smiling and thanking.
*Marco Omizzolo, Eurispes reasercher.