Migrant workers regularisation puts strain on Italy’s ruling coalition

The debate over the regularisation of illegal migrant workers has turned sour in Italy, with the farming sector and the Catholic church crying out for these measures, while the opposition, led by the anti-migrant party Lega, is firmly against it. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

A standoff between Italy’s ruling parties on the regularisation of illegal migrants working as agricultural labourers is slowing down the adoption of the latest aid package aimed at supporting families and companies during the lockdown.

The new stimulus package, dubbed Rilancia Italia (Relaunch Italy), is worth €55 billion and was expected to be issued already in late April but its approval is still blocked.

The bone of contention is the mass regularisation of hundreds of thousands of migrants who are mostly working in the agricultural sector and whose stay in Italy not formally legalised.

Italy’s Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri denied on Monday (11 May) that the issue was causing tension in the ruling coalition, adding that the government is only searching for the best solution.

He also announced that there will certainly be a regularisation, which will be “necessary not just because there’s a shortage of labour, but also because it will help to bring out undeclared work.”

However, sources from the ruling Five Star Movement (M5S) told news agency ANSA that, although the text has now been improved, an agreement on the matter has not yet been reached.

The M5S rejected the latest proposal put forward by Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese and Agriculture Minister Teresa Bellanova which would have provided an automatic regularisation for illegal migrants who have worked in Italy before 8 March, just by paying a grant of €400.

Last week, Teresa Bellanova threatened to resign if the government did not regularise the stay of over 600,000 illegal migrants working on Italian farms.

According to Bellanova’s centrist party Italia Viva, those migrants risk being exploited by criminal organisations if the state does not give them legal recognition. The other leftist parties in the ruling coalition – the centre-left Partito Democratico and left-wing Liberi e Uguali –  are backing the same stance.

However, the M5S is split. Its current leader, Vito Crimi, is against mass regularisations and even the party’s former leader Luigi Di Maio seems sceptical, saying the farming sector needs help but not amnesty. On the other hand, leading party figures who are leaning towards leftist positions seem in favour – such as Roberto Fico, the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.

The debate over the regularisation of illegal migrant workers has turned sour in Italy. While the farming sector and the Catholic church are both crying out for such measures, the right-wing opposition, led by the anti-migrant party Lega, is firmly against.

Lega leader Matteo Salvini warned his party was ready to take to the streets if a mass regularisation occurs. According to him, regularisations can act as a pull factor for more illegal  migrants to land in Italy.

Every year, Italy regularises selected migrant workers through the so-called Decreto Flussi (‘flows-decree’) which set the quota of non-EU citizens allowed to enter the country for work. It is issued by the Interior Ministry concomitantly with the start of harvest season.

Last year the quota was set at 30,850 workers, of which 18,000 were earmarked for seasonal work. When Matteo Salvini was Interior Minister in 2019, the publication of Decreto Flussi was delayed until the end of April, causing anger among farmers.

This year the decree is expected in Autumn, while the current debate is on regularising migrants through the emergency decree to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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