31 May 2020
Irene Ponzo and Ferruccio Pastore (FIERI)
New obstacles (and some opportunities) for migrant integration. The pandemic generates both new risks and opportunities for migrant integration. Higher-than-natives propensity to mobility (both across and within national borders) is a key resource for many migrant workers.
Hence, mobility restrictions are likely to affect migrants more than the more sedentary strata of the population. Irregular status of a share of the migrant population may create further difficulties in moving across localities and in accessing health services and social benefits. Living in poor housing conditions, informal settlements, squatted buildings or collective accommodations is more frequent among migrants than among natives, thus exposing the first to comparatively higher risks of contagion.
On the other hand, new integration opportunities can open up, as it is here and there with more or less extensive regularisation procedures that were hardly imaginable until just a few months ago. This is the case of Italy where, to cope with labour shortages, an amnesty of irregular agricultural, domestic and care workers was adopted at mid-May . Regularisation applications can be submitted by employers or irregular foreigners. In the first case, the employer can regularise Italian and regular foreign persons employed on irregular basis or recruit irregular foreigners already present in Italy before March 8 2020 by paying 400 euro for the bureaucratic procedures and an additional amount to be defined as a compensation for evaded taxes. In the second case, foreigners whose residence permits expired before October 31 2019 and who, while still regular, had worked in one of the sectors targeted by the amnesty, can apply for a job seeking permit by paying 190 euros. This type of permit will last 6 months and will have to be converted into a work permit within this time span, otherwise the person will fall back into an irregular status. Around 200,000 migrants are expected to be regularised through one of these two channels, far less than the estimated 500-600,000 irregular migrants living in Italy. This is the result of the amnesty’s exclusive focus agriculture, breeding and fishery, domestic work and care work. Moreover, the amnesty could not offer a good value for money in agriculture where a large share of workers are hired for just a few weeks or months.
A further positive side-effect could be a mitigation in the level of exploitation of migrant (and native) workers due to the strengthen controls over working conditions to ensure the respect of safety rules could produce.
Finally, if domiciliary care will become a key component of the public health systems to contrast the pandemic, care workers, a large share of which, especially in southern Europe, are immigrants, may gain recognition by assuming a pivotal role in connecting the health services with families. Such role might result even more crucial in peripheral non-urban areas more difficult to reach and monitor on regular basis for the public health services.
Migrants as pioneers of revitalisation of shrinking communities? Covid-19 has turned proximity into an economic and social asset, much more than it used to be. Creatively exploiting proximity (for instance to shorten food supply chains, and or touristic trajectories) is becoming a key condition for recovery, especially in countries, such as Italy, where agriculture and tourism are crucial sectors.
If rural shrinking areas have to become tourist destinations and large-scale production sites for zero-kilometer food (i.e. produced, sold and eaten locally), migrants may turn out to be a critical resource for them. In fact, if such a productive upgrade of inner, peripheral and shrinking areas is adopted as a strategic goal, we can hardly expect that the necessary workforce will come from young natives flocking out of the cities . An example of this kind of development is Barikama, a cooperative of young African migrants in Campagnano di Roma, that is growing, packing, and delivering boxes of fresh food to the residents of Rome during the Covid-19 outbreak. This kind of initiatives are multiplying in Italy. The current pandemic could turn them from praised small avant-garde experiments into mainstream solutions for a post-Covid-19 proximity society.
Unfortunately, the outlook is still very bleak and no positive outcome is to be expected unless it is painstakingly and strategically pursued. Opposite scenarios are all too plausible: the massive asymmetrical crisis unleashed by Covid-19 could give a final blow to shrinking, economically and demographically fragile areas by further reinforcing urbanisation trends. In the meantime, there are clear symptoms that it could widen gaps and deepen inequalities between (less protected) migrants and (more sheltered) natives. Much will depend on politics and policies, on whether and how they will be able to steer a rethinking of our modes of production and our way of living together.
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