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Migration Policies | Italy |

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Migration Policies

Dr. Giorgia Di Muzio

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Until the late 1980s, Italy - still lacking the experience of having to deal with large numbers of immigrants – did not limit immigration. Yet, the transformation from being a country of emigration to becoming a receiving country led to the need to adopt specific and targeted political measures.

1980s and early 1990s

In 1986, Act 943, Italy's first law on immigration, was passed which, in addition to introducing regularization for irregular immigrants, declared total parity of treatment between Italian and foreign workers, though this was principally a declaration of intent since the law itself did not foresee the adoption of concrete integration policies. In 1990, partly due to external pressure imposed on Italy by other European countries engaged in the Schengen process and worried by the excessive permeability of the Italian border, the government passed Law 39, the so-called "Martelli law" (Legge Martelli). As a result, border controls increased, citizens of the principal sending countries were required to apply for a visa, and the expulsion of illegal immigrants was enforced. Furthermore, the law provided for setting up a yearly quota for legal entries. Thus, for the first time, Italy adopted measures to discipline immigration flows. Yet, these regulations did not result in effective border control or hindering illegal migrants from entering the country. On the contrary, illegal immigration even increased. As a result of the sudden and unexpected influx of about 50,000 Albanian refugees on March 7 and August 8, 1991 (cf. "Recent Developments"), the issue of migration entered political center stage. In 1992, Law 91 modified criteria for naturalization and citizenship, making these easier accessible for descendants of Italian emigrants abroad and more difficult to obtain for non-EU immigrants (cf. "Citizenship").

Late 1990s

In 1998, the center-left coalition led by Prime Minister Romano Prodi passed the "Turco-Napolitano" law (Act 40), Italy's first systematic migration law. Again, irregular migration was at the center of attention. The law aimed at reducing the number of clandestine entries and adopting more effective repatriation measures. Also, Centers for Temporary Detention ("Centri di permanenza temporanea" - CPT) for migrants soon to be deported were established. At the same time, the law granted access to education and the national health system for all immigrants regardless of their legal status (including irregular migrants). It placed legal migrants on an equal footing with Italians regarding social rights, allowed for family reunification, and introduced permanent residence permits ("Carta di soggiorno") that foreigners can apply for after legally residing in Italy for a period of at least five years. A Fund for Migration Policies was introduced in order to finance initiatives supporting the integration of immigrants into Italian majority society.

After the turn of the millennium: the "Bossi-Fini" law and its repercussions

In 2002 the Italian government – a center-right coalition under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that took office after elections in 2001 – approved the "Bossi-Fini" law (Act 189) which (re)established restrictive positions on immigration by limiting legal entries and by focusing on the introduction of more effective tools to fight irregular migration.

As a consequence, third-country nationals must now have a job contract prior to immigration. Temporary visas to search for work are no longer available. Also, temporary immigration is privileged over permanent settlement: the maximum duration of a residence permit issued to immigrants who hold a fixed-term work contract has been reduced to one year while immigrants with unlimited employment contracts are issued a two-year residence permit. In case of dismissal, the time allowed to search for a new job has been reduced from 12 to six months.

In terms of fighting illegal migration, the law provides for the immediate expulsion of clandestine immigrants who are accompanied to the country's borders by the police. Furthermore, suspected illegal immigrants are taken to Temporary Detention Centers, in order to be identified. If the police fail to discover the identity, the immigrant will be detained for between six months and up to a year, or deported. The law also provides for the engagement of neighboring countries into the prevention of illegal immigration to Italy. Ships of illegal immigrants can be stopped at sea where the identification of those entitled to political asylum takes place. This clause has provoked concerns in the international community about the right to asylum. Especially human rights organizations suspect that some immigrants who meet the requirements to be granted asylum status are sent back to their countries of origin where their lives are at risk. Yet, despite this restrictive stance on immigration, between 2002 and 2003 the center-right coalition also granted regularization to about 634,700 people and thus ran Europe's largest amnesty program.

To date, the "Bossi-Fini" law is still the main legislation concerning migration in Italy, although, over the years, there have been many proposals for reform. These proposals especially target the provision of the law that third-country immigrants in order to enter the country legally must already have a job contract. Paradoxically, this rule leads people to enter the country illegally in order to search for a job, then to return to their home country where they apply for legal admission. In summary, the law is highly controversial because it considers migration a social danger that needs to be contained, even at the cost of severely cutting down on immigrants' rights.

"Pacchetto Sicurezza"

In 2007, Giuliano Amato and Paolo Ferrero, ministers of the center-left coalition - back in office since 2006 and led once again by Romano Prodi - pushed for a legislative reform with regard to immigration. They introduced a bill which aimed to change the most controversial clauses of the "Bossi-Fini" law. Due to a change in government in 2008, their attempt was, however, not successful.

In 2008 a center-right coalition under prime minister Silvio Berlusconi took office. Interior Minister Maroni introduced the so-called "Pacchetto Sicurezza" ("Security Package", law 125/2008, amended the following year by the same government with the law 94/2009). These laws present migration as a threat because they draw a connection between illegal immigration, security and organized crime. The main provisions of the laws constituting the "Security Package" are the following:

  • Illegal entry and stay are declared a crime and are punished with a fine reaching from 5,000 to 10,000 euros [law 94/2009];

  • Imprisonment from six months to three years and confiscation of the apartment of those who rent to clandestine immigrants [law 125/2008].

  • The consequences for employers who employ irregular foreigners are aggravated [law 125/2008].

  • It is now possible to keep illegal immigrants up to 180 days in so-called Identification and Expulsion Centres ("Centri di identificazione ed espulsione" - CIE) in order to discover their identity and prepare subsequent repatriation [law 94/2009].

As can be seen from the development of Italian immigration policies, the "fight" against illegal immigration has, from the beginning, been at the heart of the political debate on immigration and respective legislation (cf. "Irregular Migration").



  1. Pastore (2009).

  2. Rusconi (2010).

  3. With the law 125/2008, the "Temporary Detention Centers" (CPT), established in 1998, adopt the name "Identification and Expulsion Centres" (CIE).

Weitere Inhalte

Dr. Giorgia Di Muzio studied political science and sociology at the University of Bologna. She wrote her doctoral thesis on Eastern European women in the household and care market in Italy.

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