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Country Update 2021: ITALY

Contributed by: Ettore Berretta

June 2019 to May 2021

1. Country Overview

Italian immigration legislation is mainly contained in the Immigration and Security Decree of December 2020, which substantially lightened many of the provisions of the previous 2018 Security Decree, of the previous Lega-5 stelle government, introducing a series of changes to the so-called decree Salvini of 2018, which had introduced a series of limitations on the issuing of residence permits and raised a series of parameters for the issuance of citizenship as well as starting from 2018, have radically changed the Italian legislation on asylum, rescue at sea, reception of foreigners and citizenship. The abolition of the decrees had been requested by a broad front of associations, civil society organizations and activists, especially since the summer of 2019, when the Democratic Party joined the government together with the 5-star Movement.

In addition, action was taken on immigration with a series of provisions, contained in the various subsequent decrees regarding the epidemiological emergency.

2. Legislative Changes:


A residence permit for humanitarian reasons was reinstated, which was provided for by the 1998 Consolidated Law on immigration, but is called "special protection". This type of permit will be granted to foreigners who have serious reasons, in particular of a humanitarian nature or "resulting from constitutional or international obligations of the Italian state". The protection will last for two years and will not be a mere extension of the permits for special cases introduced by the first security decree (Salvini law decree 132/2018).

It is important to point out that residence permits for special protection, for calamity, for elective residence, for acquisition of citizenship or for the status of stateless persons, sporting activity, for artistic work, for religious reasons, and for assistance to minors, now are convertible into residence permits for work reasons, "where the qualifications are met".

Deportation. Article 1 of the 2020 decree also introduces a new principle of non-rejection or repatriation to a country in which human rights are systematically violated and also prevents repatriation of those who have a consolidated life in Italy. "The expulsion or extradition of a person to a state is not allowed if there are reasonable grounds to believe that he or she risks being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment. In evaluating these reasons, the existence, in that country, of systematic and serious violations of human rights is also taken into account", is written in the text. "Rejection or expulsion or extradition of a person to a state is also not permitted if there are reasonable grounds for believing that expulsion from the national territory involves a violation of the right to respect for one's private and family life, unless that it is not necessary for reasons of national security or public order and security".

Sea rescue. Article 1 of the new decree also addresses the most critical and divisive point for the government: rescue at sea. The principle remains that the Home Office, in agreement with the Minister of Defence and Transport, by informing the Prime Minister, can prohibit non-military ships from entering and passing through Italian waters. However, if these ships have carried out rescue according to international conventions, have communicated the operations to the competent authorities (and in the case of foreign ships to their flag state), this paragraph cannot be applied. Furthermore, if the violation occurs, a magistrate must intervene to ascertain it and at the end of a criminal trial, fines ranging from 10 thousand to 50 thousand euros can be imposed. The administrative fine, which amounted to up to one million euros for those who rescued migrants at sea, became a fine applicable only at the end of a criminal trial. The seizure of the ship is no longer foreseen.

Municipal registry registration. In addition, the ban on registering asylum seekers in the municipal registry offices is eliminated, and an identity document valid for three years will be issued. The Court of Cassation also intervened on this point, which in July had defined the rule that prohibited the registration of asylum seekers from being unconstitutional, following appeals presented by many asylum seekers throughout Italy.

Cpr (repatriation centres). Foreigners who are detained in the detention centres for repatriation (Cpr), formerly Cie, waiting to be repatriated, with the new decree can be detained for up to 90 days (previously they could be held for a maximum of 180 days), with a possible extension of a further thirty days for those coming from countries with which Italy has repatriation agreements.


The law decree of 25 March 2020, n. 18 ("Cura Italia"), which introduces various measures to deal with the epidemiological emergency from COVID-19, has also some provisions relating to the protection of the health of immigrants in consideration of the needs related to the state of emergency, also introducing a number of exceptions on ongoing procedures and new procedures during the epidemiological emergency.

It is established that foreigners can lawfully remain - until the end of the state of emergency - in the reception centres that host them (first and second reception centres and CAS - Extraordinary reception centres), even if the conditions for their stay are no longer valid, provided by the current rules, in the same facilities. Unaccompanied foreign minors will be able to remain in reception centres even after reaching the age of majority.

The applicants for international protection and the holders of humanitarian protection subjected to the quarantine period with active surveillance or in permanent fiduciary home with active surveillance can be hosted (at the disposal of the prefect) in the SIPROIMI facilities, ordinarily intended only for refugees and unaccompanied minors.

The decree also intervenes on residence permits by extending the validity of residence permits in Italy until 31 August 2020 (with subsequent measures, this extension was extended until July 31, 2021). Furthermore, it extends the terms for the conversion of residence permits from study to subordinate work and from seasonal work to non-seasonal subordinate work. Also, the law 18/2020, notwithstanding the discipline of public work, allowed public administrations, until 31 March 2021, to hire non-EU citizens in health facilities, who are holders of a residence permit for work. The D.L. 183/2020 extended this provision until 31 December 2021. In addition, it provides for the possibility of hiring citizens of countries outside the European Union even at authorized or accredited private health facilities, as long as they are involved in the COVID-19 emergency.

The decree-law of 19 May 2020, n. 34 ("Rilancio-Relaunch") provided for further interventions on the subject, such as the introduction of a procedure for the emersion of irregular work for foreign citizens employed in the agriculture, domestic work and personal care sectors. However, it should be added that the procedure and the requirements are really many and complicated, with countless and demanding requirements and burdens especially for employers. On the basis of the available data, approximately 180,000 applications would have been submitted.


Based on the provisions of art. 18 of the Withdrawal Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, British citizens who will be resident in Italy as of 31 December 2020, will be able to request an identity document in digital format at the police headquarters. The new digital document ensures easy recognition of the rights under the Withdrawal Agreement granted to British citizens who have established their residence in Italy before 31 December 2020.

However, a number of practical problems must be reported. Italy has implemented the Withdrawal Agreement through a "declarative" system. This means that, for Brits residing in Italy before 31 December, the rights were automatically granted. The British citizens covered by the Withdrawal Agreement do not have a residence permit, as they fall into a different category from other immigrants. They have the right to have a residence card, but so far very few have been issued, and the appointments to receive them have been moved towards the summer. Although there is no residence permit for them, without it people cannot have a job / health card / buy a house etc. In some cases, since Italy has not adapted computerized systems taking this category into account, a worker who registers a contract (and can only do it online) is faced with an insurmountable obstacle, because the system asks for the card number of the stay permit and there is no way to go further or to “cheat the system”.

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