Rome—The Italian cabinet will discuss on Thursday a key draft law that will overhaul the country’s restrictive citizenship rules. Under the proposed legislation, immigrants applying for citizenship would have to wait six rather than approximately 15 years before becoming Italian and their children born on Italian soil would automatically be citizens. Today, the offspring of immigrants have to wait until they turn 18 before being allowed to apply. The measure would concern approximately one million immigrants.
Italy has the strictest citizenship legislation in Europe. In Germany, immigrants need about eight years before they can become citizens, three more years than in France and Britain.
Indeed rules are so strict that the number of new citizens has decreased despite a hike in immigration. According to the most recent interior ministry data available, new citizens in 2002 were around 500 compared to the 1,800 in 1999 while immigration more than doubled over the same period.
Mario Marazziti, a member of the Catholic charity group Sant’Egidio which first proposed the bill, told Turin-daily La Stampa that the law is in Italy’s interest as well as in the interest of immigrants.
“There are today 130,000 elderly compared to 100,000 minors in the country and by 2050 there will be twice as many deaths than births,” under Italy’s current demographic trend, he said. The population’s growth “depends on foreigners.”
Marazziti also noted that out of Italy’s 2.5 million legal immigrants “two million were granted residence papers thanks to amnesties for illegal foreigners.” Meanwhile, he said, though Italy’s standing immigration law provides for the cabinet to establish a yearly quota of new residence permits according to labour market needs, “entrepreneurs are demanding threefold quotas compared to the ones issued so far and legal immigrants are paying 1.7 billion euros in taxes.”
Italy’s immigration law was passed by the previous conservative cabinet to crack down on illegal immigration. The new centre-left government of Romano Prodi, which was sworn in earlier this month, has said it will ease immigration rules and give an additional 480,000 residence permits to immigrants this year. This year’s quota provided for only 170,000 to be granted this request.
The new citizenship rules would concern 550,000 children born in Italy or whose parents become citizens and 480,000 foreigners who have lived in Italy for the past ten years—the minimum period required under the current legislation to apply for citizenship
Italy currently spends more in expatriation than in integration measures. Authorities spend approximately 180 million euros a year to send illegal immigrants back home and only 40 million on integration policies.