AFP, July 22, 2006
Rome: Italy is to grant legal residency to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants working in the country and will open its job market to thousands more from new European Union states, the Italian government said yesterday.
The government’s executive Council of Ministers adopted a decree to scrap annual quotas on the number of citizens of the newest EU members allowed to enter Italy — currently set at 170,000 under a law passed by the last government.
Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said he intended to change the disputed 2002 law, introduced by the government of the former centre-right prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
“At last it is possible to be Italian in Poland and Polish in Italy while being European citizens with the same rights,” Amato said yesterday.
Ten new countries, most of them central and eastern European states of the former Soviet Union, joined the European bloc in 2004.
Italy is now the eighth of the 15 older EU members to have lifted restrictions on workers from these countries. The other seven are supposed to do so by 2011.
Italy also gave the go-ahead for a new annual quota of 350,000 for immigrant workers coming to Italy from outside the EU, and said it would regularise more than 500,000 such immigrant workers already in the country.
The government of pro-European Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who beat Berlusconi in an April election, had previously indicated plans to regularise the non-EU workers, but the announcement on new EU countries came as a surprise.
Amato said the regularisations would take place under the existing law, which allows quotas to be exceeded when necessary, but added that the law — which also sets strict terms for workers’ residency permits — would be changed.
The EU welcomed the announcement about workers from the eastern EU states.
“Opening up its job market to citizens from all EU Member States will bring benefits to Italy’s economy and the country as a whole,” said Vladimir Spidla, the EU commissioner in charge of employment and equal opportunities.
The law of Berlusconi’s government obliged foreign workers to apply for an Italian residency permit while still in their home country, while also requiring them to provide a job contract from an employer in Italy.
It also tightened up existing immigration quotas, prompting calls from employers in sectors such as agriculture that the new quotas were too tight and claims from the left that the rules favoured illegal labour.
Amato recently announced plans to change the terms of renewal of residency permits, to make it easier to gain Italian citizenship and to review conditions in reception centres for illegal immigrants.
Yesterday’s decree, meanwhile, also restored the right of immigrant families to a 1,000-euro ($1,270) bonus for the birth of a child, an allowance which Berlusconi had reserved for Italian citizens.