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Italian bureaucracy: What is the 'patronato' and how can they help you?

John Last
John Last - [email protected]
Italian bureaucracy: What is the 'patronato' and how can they help you?
Italian bureaucracy: What is the 'patronato' and how can they help you?Photo by Romain Dancre on Unsplash

Ever wondered how Italians deal with Italy's complex bureaucracy? The patronato is one of the country's best-kept secrets, but they can be a big help to non-Italians too. Here's what this organisation is and what it can do for you.

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Interacting with Italy’s vast bureaucracy can be daunting, even for those who have lived in Italy their whole lives.

Something as apparently simple as renewing a permit or applying for a pension can involve dozens of complex forms and a lengthy application process.

But for decades, one of Italy’s best-kept secrets has been its patronati: publicly-funded but non-governmental organisations dedicated to helping residents in all their interactions with the Italian state.

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Born from the workers’ rights movement, today these publicly funded organisations have expanded to provide a wide array of free services to both Italian citizens and foreigners.

The first patronato was founded in 1917, when a group of farmers got together to form and fund an organisation that would support them if they were injured at work.

Gradually, these organisations grew, until in 1925 dictator Benito Mussolini created a single national patronato to handle social assistance for all Italian workers. But this was short-lived — before long, the patronati were absorbed into Fascist syndicates, which were in turn dismantled after the war.

New patronati emerged in the late 1940s, mostly under the banner of Christian workers’ associations and, later, national union CGIL.

These organisations had a mandate to assist workers and the unemployed, from job matching to applying for government benefits to helping them if they were injured at work.

Over time, patronati expanded their mandate to securing the rights of any citizen, both inside and outside the country. Patronati exist today in New York, London, Toronto, and countless other cities, where they provide assistance to Italians abroad.

Where do non-citizens fit in?

When the mandate of patronati was redefined in the law in 2001, it was expanded to encompass the protection of workers’ and pensioners’ rights in general, including immigrants and non-citizens.

In practice, patronati have long offered their services to foreigners in Italy, who face some of the most daunting bureaucratic hurdles of anyone.

Patronati also play a key role in the acculturation process, offering the civics classes and language exams and assisting with the paperwork that is necessary to becoming a full citizen of Italy.

What can a patronato help with?

In short, if it involves complicated government paperwork, patronati will probably be able to help.

The funding for patronati comes from employees’ wages, where roughly 20 cents from every €100 is redistributed to the patronati based on how many people each assists.

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The upside of this is that many services at patronati are provided free of charge.

That includes assistance with the notoriously complex permesso di soggiorno, family reunification and work permit applications and renewals.

Once you’re settled, they can also help with work placement, CILS language exams, and applications for citizenship.

They can also assist with family allowance applications, paperwork to receive maternity leave and benefits, disability applications, medical reimbursements, and unemployment claims.

If you’ve been injured or had an accident at your job, they can also assist with the necessary paperwork, and offer legal assistance if you need to take your employer to court.

If you need to file tax paperwork or get an official household income assessment (ISEE) for another application, patronati can help with that too.

And when you’re ready to retire, they can help you file your pension application.

A number of these services may require a nominal contribution or fee — the result of government budget cuts since 2018. But by law, this is capped at a maximum of €24, which is far less than you would expect to pay with a private service.

How do I find a patronato?

There are two dozen nationally recognized patronati, which operate with various degrees of coverage across the country. A full list is available on the INPS website.

Among the largest is the Istituto Nazionale Confederale di Assistenza (INCA), the patronato of the national union, CGIL.

INAS, the Instituto Nazionale di Assistenza Sociale, is another large patronato from a different national union, CISL.

The Associazioni Cristiane Lavoratori Italiani (ACLI) is another large patronato with its origins in the Christian workers’ movements that emerged after the war.

Lastly, the Istituto di tutela e assistenza dei lavoratori (ITAL) rounds out the biggest of the national groups.

Of course, if you belong to a specific group of workers — like a farmworker, skilled craftsperson or entrepreneur — there are smaller patronati that may be better suited to assist you.

INAPA was founded for self-employed workers; INAPI for entrepreneurs. ANMIL is focused on helping disabled and injured workers, while Sozialer Beratungsring works with German speakers in South Tyrol.

The best thing to do is find one close to you, visit in person, and ask if they are able to assist you or if they would recommend someone who can.

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