Posted on May 23, 2006

Italy Considers Immigrant Amnesty

Christian Fraser, BBC News, May 22, 2006

The new minister in charge of immigration in Italy plans to overhaul tough policies and relax the criteria required for being a legal immigrant.

Paolo Ferrero says he intends to normalise the position of immigrants already in Italy, if they have jobs.

Italy has a growing number of illegal immigrant workers arriving in the south of the country from Africa.

Mr Ferrero was appointed by Romano Prodi, whose centre-left coalition came to power after winning April elections.

Italy has had several amnesties for illegal immigrants and on each occasion, the number of residency permits available has been far exceeded by the number of people applying.

Two months ago, more than 500,000 people queued for just 180,000 permits. The numbers applying show there are far more illegal immigrants living in Italy than official statistics suggest.

Shadow economy

Mr Ferrero, a member of the Communist Refoundation Party, blames the immigration law passed by the previous centre-right government, which only granted access to immigrants who could demonstrate they had a regular job.

It has made it impossible, he said, to migrate to Italy legally. And most politicians accept that thousands of small businesses in the country now employ illegal migrant workers.

There is a huge black economy particularly in the north of the country. Some did come to Italy legally, but it can often take over 18 months to get an annual work permit renewed and most do not bother.

While surveys show most Italians would like to see illegal immigrants expelled, two-thirds say they are willing to legalise those who have jobs.