As crops ripen, Italy’s cabinet urgently debates offering legal documentation to 200,000 migrants to support the country’s desperate agricultural sector.
Rabat – Italy is preparing to offer legal documentation to approximately 200,000 undocumented migrants through the form of employment contracts in essential sectors.
The Italian cabinet is debating the issue, which is coming to a head as the COVID-19 pandemic seriously stains Italy’s economy and causes a concerning labor shortage in some sectors.
Italy’s regular flow of seasonal workers in the agricultural sector has been especially disrupted. Annually, Italian farms employ approximately 200,000 seasonal workers, most coming from Eastern Europe and Africa. Now there is a desperate need to fill the gap caused by repatriations and travel restrictions.
As crops ripen, farmers plead for government support in acquiring much-needed laborers in time for the upcoming harvest. Without urgent action, farms risk losing at least 25% of their crops and this threatens the country with a food shortage.
While other European countries facing a similar crisis have flown Eastern Europeans into their borders to take on such vital jobs, Italy is drawing on its population of 600,000 undocumented migrants, most of whom are from North Africa.
The decision, backed by Pope Francis and contested by Italian right-wing politicians, will provide employment contracts to migrants, temporarily legalizing their stay in the country.
Immigration policy considerations
Of the 400,000 migrant workers already employed by farms in Italy, officials estimate that thousands are undocumented. The step towards legalization could aid already-employed workers in gaining benefits and improving their living situations.
Last September, Luciana Lamorgese was sworn in as the country’s new minister of interior, marking a shift towards more liberal immigration policies. In a radio interview earlier this week, Lamorgese commented on the need to bring undocumented migrants into Italy’s legal workforce. “We need to bring these workers out, not just to guarantee their rights but also because of the health security requirements at this time,” she said.
Legalizing migrant workers could reduce potential health risks and save the upcoming harvest. It could also lessen the possibility of migrant workers experiencing exploitation, although some believe this situation will prove to be inevitable.
Farmworker trade unions in Italy report that more than 38% of black market farm laborers earn wages below collective bargaining agreements. Over 16% do not enjoy legal labor rights.
Irrespective of attaining legal contracts, concerns still stand as to whether or not workers will receive dignified salaries.
Moroccans have been immigrating to Italy on a relatively large scale since the 1980s and make up one of the largest immigrant populations in Italy. According to Italian press agency ANSA, approximately half a million Moroccans reside in Italy. Just over 64% are reported to possess long-term residency permits.
In 2019, Italy deported 783 undocumented Moroccan migrants from its country and recent decrees have expedited the asylum-seeking process for Moroccans. Officials presume that Moroccans will be among the beneficiaries of the foreseeable employment contracts.