Italy will give 600,000 illegal migrants the right to stay in the country after the government said they proved essential by caring for the elderly and picking crops during the coronavirus crisis.
Unregistered migrants have worked in fields across the country to protect food supplies, all whilst risking being arrested if caught by police.
‘The food on our table comes from these fields. Now we must hand over those rights which have been denied to those who work in them,’ Peppe Provenzano, minister for the south of Italy, said.
The permits – which won’t give migrants the right to vote – will be valid for six months and will be renewable. They were proposed by the agricultural minister Teresa Bellanova.
The measure could be inserted into a temporary government decree with immediate effect but will be voted on in parliament after 60 days, according to The Times.
Ms Bellanova said that forcing migrants to hide could mean outbreaks of the disease go unchecked.
For example one shanty town near Foggia is home to 3,000 farm pickers – but there’s no social distancing, hand sanitiser or masks.
The Pope also seemed to back the message when he condemned the ‘harsh exploitation’ of migrant farm workers in Italy.
He said: ‘May the crisis give us the opportunity to make the dignity of the person and of work the centre of our concern.’
There are also practical advantages to the new measure as 100,000 Romanian pickers who usually travel to Italy every year cannot fly over due to coronavirus travel bans.
‘Italy needs the Indians, Pakistanis and Africans who are here now to fill that gap, and making them legal helps that,’ a government source told The Times.
The measure would also legalise around 100,000 illegal migrants who work as home carers. Many lost their jobs during lockdown and their permits are dependent on employment.