Italy to grant residence to undocumented migrant workers during coronavirus crisis

Italy to grant residence to undocumented migrant workers during coronavirus crisis
People demonstrate for migrant farm workers' rights in Puglia in 2018. Photo: Roberto D'Agostino/AFP
The Italian government on Wednesday decided to temporarily regularize undocumented migrants working in the agricultural sector or as domestic helpers, to fill key jobs and allow workers health coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have reached an important result… in the fight against crime and in putting an end to the black market in jobs,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told a news conference.

The migrant workers will be guaranteed “an adequate level of health care” in the face of “this exceptional health crisis”, Conte said.

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The new rules allow foreign citizens to claim a residency permit if they are agricultural or domestic labourers and had entered Italy by March 8th 2020, giving them the right to live and work legally in Italy with access to public services including health care.

Italy's agriculture minister, Teresa Bellanova, cried as she announced the decision. 

“From today the invisible will become less invisible,” said Bellanova, a former farm worker and long-time campaigner for labourers' rights. “From today the state wins, because it's stronger than crime and exploitation.” 

Every summer, thousands of African workers, as well as Bulgarians and Romanians, come to Italy to harvest fruit and vegetables.

They are often poorly paid for long hours and housed in unsanitary camps. Many are exploited by mafia groups.

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To benefit from the new scheme, applicants will have to prove that they have experience working in the agricultural or domestic sectors.

Those already in Italy without valid papers can apply for a six-month residency permit that allows them to look for employment and, if they're hired during that time, they can convert it to a regular work permit.

If they are already working “al nero” or under the table, their employer can apply to regularize their contract. The same applies to Italian nationals with an undeclared job.  

Applicants should not have left Italy since at least March 8th and must submit their application between June 1st and July 15th 2020.

The government decree also calls for urgent measures to guarantee the security and cleanliness of the workers' accommodation.

A number of NGOs and political parties — including Oxfam Italy and church organizations — called the move “an important first step… towards recognizing the rights and defence of the dignity of hundreds of thousands of foreigners present” in Italy.

Bellanova had threatened to resign unless the government passed the measure, which was supported by her own centre-left Democratic Party (PD) but opposed by its coalition partner, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S).


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