Bossi-Fini law and migrant citizens’ rights: pros and cons

The following is the speech held by Dr. Marco Paggi, legal advisor, during the meeting on the enlargement to non-EU citizens of the right to vote to administrative elections. The Council of Venice promoted this meeting.

The following is a brief report on Bossi-Fini law and on changes lawmakers have recently introduced. We shall see how important is to introduce the right to vote and how difficult real integration, such an ambiguous and disagreeable noun, would be in case this is not enforced.

We should not forget that during the preparation of former immigration law (the Turco-Napolitano law) migrant citizens comments on the right to vote proposal, which was then taken away from law, were very tepid/unenthusiastic “This right to vote is ok but I’d rather have the Italian government issue real rights to migrants, such lodgings or eatable things instead”, foreign citizens used to say. It is in fact very hard that foreigners, in spite of the fact that they have been living in Italy for years, can truly feel to belong to this community if there is systematic rejection towards them.
On the other hand, as Prof. Vigneri also stated, the right to vote cannot be anymore linked to Italian citizenship.

Naturalisation takes long: at least three years (in case someone marries an Italian citizen).
We also need to study another aspect: the Ministry of Interior affairs has not so far published data on citizenship, the ministry only published the numbers of foreigners that were naturalised Italian but it does not say how many people applied to naturalisation. Understanding the relation between naturalised citizens and applicants would be very interesting. Only conjectures can be made and this fact is probably convenient to someone. The network of lawyers of which I am part, Associazione Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione, represents quite a large observatory, therefore despite the lack of official data I think I can easily say that the most of applications to naturalisation are rejected. This happens even if foreign citizens, who have been living in Italy for years and who produce economic and cultural wealth, apply to naturalisation. Denials usually come on a pre-printed letter that holds the same motivation; I could repeat it by heart myself. Understanding ethnical or national composition of the subjects who were denied naturalisation would also be interesting because we could state, in spite of the lack of data, that Arab-Muslim citizens’ naturalisation application forms have been in the last few years rejected more in comparison to other ethnical groups.

We shall now return to the study of Bossi-Fini law innovations and we shall start right from the weakest parts.
The weakest part of actual immigration law lays in the recognition of asylum rights. Asylum right principles have been turned upside down. We could say that they were cancelled because Local Commissions will evaluate application forms via a “quick” procedure. This procedure is hasty: the commission takes few days to decide on asylum seekers future and the same board can restrict citizens’ individual liberties. Some countries chose to enforce more refined rules, for instance in Sweden there is no limitation to personal freedom but identifications centre are set so far away from civilisation that in case a person is willing to go out, he/she will only find wolves and snow. These centres are well equipped and confortable and asylum seekers are formally allowed to get out in the middle of nowhere.
New Italian rules on asylum, I believe, will be considered as contradictory to Italian constitution and to the European human rights convention, as well. Constitutional court has been asked to express its own opinion on such rules.

Detention centres: detention centres were opened before Bossi-Fini law, but this new law doubled the period of detention (60 days instead of 30). Immediate repatriation and criminalization of the ones who do not leave Italy after being ordered expulsion was also introduced. Lawmakers have not yet introduced the crime of “illegal stay” in Italian territory but they introduced the crime of not compliance with the order of leaving Italy.
This kind of warning is often used because it is the easiest way of making foreigners invisible: they become excluded from civil and human rights.
Associazione Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione has a monolithic position on detention centres: it is against them because they are useless. A recent scientific research run by Medici Senza Frontiere inside all Italian detention centres proved that the most of the detainees are set free at the end of the 60 days of detention without being taken to borders. Detention centres are also used after foreign citizens are released from prisons. It would sometimes take years before documents, that are necessary to repatriation, are issued by consular representatives therefore citizens’ detention is extended and they are taken to cpts. In most cases these citizens are then set free. When expulsion can be easily pursued, detention centres are useless. Repatriations, in such cases, can occur without limiting individual liberties.
We need to go back in years to find reference in Italian and European codes to provisions restricting human liberties that are not connected to to criminal behaviour: we need to go back to debts imprisonment.

Management of immigration flows: the system of sponsors, which alone guaranteed the right to regular entries, was abolished; now a great hypocrisy has become law. Foreign citizens are told that they need to find employers willing to regularly employ them when they are still in their own country of origin. Employers would employ someone they’ve never met. We well know that the most of foreigners, who managed to apply and regularise their position via flows, decree quota, were already living in Italy. They were very lucky: they found employers that decided to apply to a long bureaucratic procedure.

Flows decree innovation is the following. Workers used to be able to apply to flows decree quota right at the beginning of the working year, today none knows when the decree is to be published: applying to it has become a lottery.
Bossi-Fini law states that application forms can be given in from the day the decree is published on. The “who gets first” competition was implemented by the “who gets first to know the date flows decree is published”. The ones who get first to know the date flows decree is published manage to give their application form and documents in. In fact we cannot forget that flows decree are the only chance people have to be finally regularly living in Italy.
What we have so far described produces as a consequence irregularities, violation of laws, tax evasion and poverty.
The real “qualifying” issue of Bossi-Fini law is the contract of residence. During the government electoral campaign, before Bossi-Fini law enforcement, this contract was the slogan to say, “Foreigners won’t be allowed to stay here more than labour contracts length”. International conventions do luckily exist and Italy adhered to them. These international conventions restricted the implications to such a slogan: citizens that find themselves unemployed have the chance of remaining in Italy for a temporary looking for a job stay. The looking for a job period of stay was reduced from one year to six months, which usually expire while waiting for permit to be released. When foreign citizens finally have the permit in their hands they find out that their issuing date is the day the gave application forms in not the day the document was actually issued.

Each time a citizen changes job (don’t forget that migrant workers are usually employed in the most marginal areas of employment and their contracts are limited in time and precarious) he/she needs to go back to Prefecture to sign the residence contract. Prefecture become everyday more filled with people, personnel is of coarse missing since the law has no additional funding. In addition to this, workers need to prove that they have a place where to stay, their lodgings must be suitable and qualified authorities need to release a document that says that the place can is liveable. Regional laws on public housing establish parameters.
As usual parameters were established in such a way that the laws aims were never reached. The most of citizens that have public lodgings assigned live in houses that rarely respect Regional laws standards, lodgings are very few and applicants are too may, etc.

The state and public bureau have never managed to respect such standards, how can possibly migrants manage to find adequate lodgings especially if referring to private market?
There are no laws that change reality; laws should be adequate to reality. The situation we have just described produces as a consequence a huge market of false counterfeited hospitality declarations, etc.

A clear example of this situation occurred in Arzignano (Vi) where 500 citizens used a former tannery as a house, all of them held regular residence papers and regular employment as well. Each week police would go to this factory and check each citizen’s papers, which of coarse showed different addresses. Police headquarters pretended that they did not know that these people had to give a false address in order to have their papers renewed.
This example shows that the idoneous-lodging certificate will increase exploitation logic and it will take more and more people to clandestinity. People whose only guilt is to be poor and not to be able to afford to pay for a place where to stay, as it happens to many Italians.

Family rejoining: family rejoining was deeply restricted by Bossi-Fini law. The release of visas allowing to family rejoining takes too much time. When interested people go the the Italian embassy to have visas issued they already hold all required Authenticode documents and visas should be immediately prepared. Unfortunately it sometimes takes years before visas are issued. The Italian embassy in Casablanca (Morocco) has closed its offices and hung a note that says “Do not even apply to family rejoining visas, we are actually proceeding past three years applications”.
This increases clandestinely and criminal exploitation, people cannot stay far away from their own beloved ones just because of proceedings.
We should also talk about social and civil rights, which were euphemistically restricted. This is a process that has started under Turcu-Napolitano law. Migrants, who hold normal residence papers, are excluded from social assistance and benefits. Carta di soggiorno (stable residence papers) holders have the right to social benefits. The excuse the government used to deny stable residence papers was that no application forms were printed, therefore for years none managed to obtain them.
Today the situation is everyday worsening: foreign women, even if holding stable papers, cannot benefit from maternity aids. Only EU citizens can take advantage of them.

Another serious consequence of Bossi-Fini law is the fact that residence papers last half the time they used to before. This of coarse increased queues at police headquarters offices. In Venice people usually have to wait for at least 10 months before their papers are renewed.
One positive issue: Bossi-Fini law made it clear (it wasn’t before) that in case of renewal of permits foreigners can keep on working or change job. Unfortunately this right from a practical point of view does not bring to anything: the most of employers tell migrants to come back when their papers are renewed when looking for a new employment. Many employers find it risky to employ workers who may not have their papers renewed. This system shows substantial refuse of foreigners, it searches diversification and discrimination.
Citizens coming from new EU countries will suffer from this as well.
May 1st new EU countries could benefit from freedom of movement and stay but the original EU countries have the chance to adopt a sort of “moratoria”, this means that these countries citizens will need to wait for two, three years before being entitled to freely move around EU. The excuse to this is the so-called necessity of stopping law-cost workers movements.
If this is the general will, measures should be completely different. In fact all citizens coming from soon to be EU countries can enter Schengen area without the need of visas, they are free to be tourists through out EU but they cannot regularly work here. Concealed work is to increase. The so-called necessity of stopping law-cost workers movements makes things work the opposite in everyday life.
These rules are the effect of wrong choices within lawmaking.

All we have said is self evident in our society and in our administration work as well. Also trade unions have serious problems in the management relations between Italian and foreign workers, they try but things are not easy and cannot be solved by law experts. The fact is that we are facing a huge and difficult cultural battle, in which the right to vote is an extremely important topic.