Setting the boundaries

Proposed reforms ease immigration restrictions

Editorial Staff
April 19, 2007

European Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini recently expressed concerns about a new government bill on immigration. During a conference in Rome, Frattini said he was worried about plans to facilitate foreigners access to residency permits. He particularly objected to a policy which would allow would-be immigrants to sponsor themselves. Under the current system, only people with an Italian work contract are allowed a residency permit, and if they lose their job before the document expires, they are required to leave the country.Welfare Minister Paolo Ferrero co-drafted the proposed legislation with Interior Minister Giuliano Amato after the centre left promised a comprehensive overhaul of Italys immigration legislation as part of its electoral platform. The bill, which seeks to ease restrictions on foreigners, is expected to propose changes in a variety of areas. It grants certain immigrants the right to vote and makes it easier for them to gain citizenship. In addition, it gives immigrants the automatic right to bring family members into the country, including children under the age of 18, dependent parents and disabled or sick relatives.Another controvesial aspect of the plan reduces the number of Italys immigrant holding centres from fourteen to five. Critics say the centres are esentially prisons, where immigrants are kept in overcrowded structures without fundamental rights. The centre-right opposition has described the planned reduction as a publicity stunt, accusing the government of failing to organize suitable alternatives for accommodating newly arrived immigrants.A report released by the Welfare Ministry last week showed that over three million foreigners are currently living in Italy. At least 350,000 of these are here illegally; most either  entered without permission or remained in the country once their permits have expired.

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