I Was a Foreigner & You Welcomed Me: A New Campaign for Immigration Reform in Italy

The campaign, which is supported by many NGOs and civil society actors, proposes concrete solutions to overcome the infamous Bossi-Fini law and foster integration.
On the same day as the approval of the immigration law designed by Interior Minister Marco Minniti - April 12 - the campaign “Ero Straniero - L’Umanità che fa bene” (literally, “I was a foreigner. The good humanity”) was launched.

The campaign's aim is to counter the widespread perception of immigration as a security threat in need of an emergency response, and to promote the idea that a successful reception system could expand on the concept of citizenship.

In order to face these challenges, not just at the cultural level but also at the legislative level, a popular initiative has been proposed to overcome the “Bossi-Fini” law and to guarantee better living conditions to migrants willing to settle in Italy.

The popular initiative "New rules for the promotion of regular residence permits and for the social and employment integration of non-EU citizens" was filed in the Italian Court of Cassation on April 13 by the promoters (Radicali Italiani, Fondazione Casa della carità “Angelo Abriani”, Acli, Arci, Asgi, Centro Astalli, Cnca, A Buon Diritto, Coalizione Italiana per le Libertà e i Diritti civili), and the call for signatures was officially opened.

Bossi-Fini law

Introduced in 2002, the Bossi-Fini law introduced criminal sanctions for persons caught illegally entering the country. Removing the Bossi-Fini law would thus imply the removal of the original source of illegality and insecurity.

As underlined by one of the promoters of the initiative, Emma Bonino, "The crime of illegal migration is not a solution to the problem of irregular migration. Inclusion and integration, as well as the decrease of illegality, are the way for security."

Bonino recalled that in Italy, there are half a million illegal migrants:

"It is clear that 500,000 people cannot be deported, and it is equally clear that this figure is going to increase, since around 60 percent of asylum requests are currently rejected and the law does not provide for any other legal entry channel to Italy. The growth of this figure is against any morality and against any logic, since the more there are irregular migrants, the more there are potential victims of crime."

The same idea was shared by Patrizio Gonnella, president of the Italian Liberal and Civil Rights Coalition:

"The initiative is an instrument against illegality. A simple cost-benefit calculation suggests that if an irregular migrant has to be charged just by virtue of its existence, he will be pushed to break the law. With this instruments, migrants will be able to work and to have a source of income, at least."

Proposals on legal migration

Legal labor migration is one of the few areas of migration not subject to EU-wide agreements, being thus open to the discretion of the member states. It is exactly in this framework that the initiative has to be contextualized, along with the recommendations of the European Commission inviting MS to take advantage of the opportunities offered by migrants in the context of a growing demographic crisis in Europe.

The initiative foresees the creation of legal entry channels into the Italian soil, the promotion of inclusion through work as well as the regularization of non-EU citizens who are already in Italy and who have already acquired a working experience. The following proposals thus lie at the heart of the initiative:

  • Introduction of a temporary residence permit (12 months) to facilitate the job search and the encounter between Italian employers and non-EU citizens through brokering activities - carried out by all public and private entities already foreseen by the Biagi law and the Jobs Act.
  • Reintroduction of the sponsor management system, as provided by the Turco-Napolitano law, also by private individuals for entering the job market of a foreign national, with guarantees of adequate housing and financial resources throughout the period of permanence.
  • Granting of legal status to all those migrants socially integrated in Italy, i.e. irregular migrants able to demonstrate that they are or have been working in Italy, or that have strong family ties, or that lack concrete links with the country of origin. The system should be extended to asylum seekers, thereby transforming their humanitarian permits into work permits, even in case of asylum seekers who have received a denial but have had a fruitful integration path. This residence permit should be renewable even in case of loss of job.

Proposals on granting rights and guarantees

"Security cannot be achieved and is unthinkable without rights," says Patrizio Gonnella. In addition to legal entry channels and mechanisms for regularization, the initiative introduces further rights and guarantees for migrants, such as:

  • Social security and pension rights, which must be granted to non-EU workers who decide to return to their country of origin permanently. The law foresees the possibility for non-EU workers to withdraw 80 percent of the duties, so that "wealth and development are enhanced in the country of origin, whilst taxes are paid to the Italian state," as explained by Giulia Perin from Asgi.
  • Equal social security benefits for non-EU citizens, thus eliminating all the required provisions for access to many social security benefits (birth certificate, basic maternity allowance, support for active inclusion, long-term residence permit, etc.).
  • Right to the health for foreign nationals, which has to be granted through legislative action at national level. Coherent implementation of the current rules granting access to healthcare for foreigners who cannot be registered into the National Health System.
  • Effective participation in democratic life, i.e. right to vote and participate to administrative elections for holders of a long-term residence permit.