Italy is set to grant 500,000 undocumented migrants work permits, a move that follows Portugal’s decision to grant citizenship rights to asylum seekers and migrants.
The Italian government plans to grant half a million undocumented migrants temporary work permits amid the global coronavirus crisis.
Italy is one of the hardest hit countries in the world, with more than 31,000 deaths from Covid-19, second only to the US and UK.
The country has been under lockdown since March and the economic fallout from the pandemic is compounded by its ageing population.
As part of a stimulus package pushed through by the government, it is hoped the addition of the migrants to the workforce will help stimulate economic growth.
Migrants are needed to both care for the elderly and in industries, such as the agricultural sector.
Experts are warning that without enough workers to harvest crops, the country could find itself confronted by food shortages.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants currently make a living working on farms without proper papers, the move would therefore remove legal obstacles standing in their way.
"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," Italy’s minister for the south of the country, Peppe Provenzano, said, according to CBS news.
By formalising their employment and residential status, the Italian government is also mitigating the likelihood of Covid-19 spread among migrants. The country does not offer free access to medical services for those without proper documentation.
By formalising their status, health care benefits would be extended to those in need and encourage those with Covid-19 symptoms to come forward.
The Italian amnesty for undocumented migrants is set to last six months to begin with. Human rights groups have criticised that decision, arguing that it prioritises “production over dignity”.
The move by Italy follows Portugal’s decision to give citizenship rights to asylum seekers and migrants so that they can access health care services. Like Italy, the move announced in April is temporary until at least July 1st.
Portuguese officials framed the decision in humanitarian terms, clarifying that they want to ensure no one in the country was left without help during the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is a duty of a society of solidarity in times of crisis to ensure that immigrant citizens have access to health and social security," said the country’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, further describing the decision as an “important to guarantee the rights of the most fragile.”
The moves by Italy and Portugal come amid a spike in far-right activism, as ideologues try to capitalise on the ruptures caused by the crisis.
Observers have noticed an uptick in hate targeting minorities, including the Jewish community, as white supremacists latch on to conspiracy theories that try to explain the origins of the virus.
The US-based Southern Policy Law Center, which monitors far-right extremism in the US, has warned white nationalist groups are trying to take advantage of the confusion surrounding the coronavirus crisis to further their anti-immigration agenda.
In a number of countries, such as the US, some political actors have attempted to frame the infections as a consequence of immigration policies.