Integration paths and individual perception of barriers and enablers of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Italy

Individual level labour market constraints and opportunities: the case of Italy

Mattia Collini

To identify the main barriers and enablers that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (MRAs) face about their integration in the Italian labour market and society, as part of the SIRIUS project, in this report we focused on evidence emanating from individual biographical narratives with MRAs themselves.

We reached a composite sample of MRAs, with different geographical, socio-economic, and cultural backgrounds, comprising economic migrants – including former irregular migrants – family reunifications, refugees, and asylum seekers. Among our interviewees, we have the story of a former irregular migrant from the Caucasus who works in domestic care and successfully integrated in Italy. Other interviewees are an asylum seeker who survived the Libyan route and experienced in the Italian first line reception system (the so-called Centri di Accoglienza Straordinaria-CAS), and a high skilled economic migrant who was later disenchanted by her experience with the Italian labour market but remained determined to keep trying to find her own way in.

The methods (in depth biographical interviews) and techniques used for the analysis of our data provided valuable information that we grouped around a few main themes, which emerged as the most relevant turning points for the integration MRAs in the Italian labour market: migratory channels and legal status; entrance to the labour-market; resilience; trauma and vulnerabilities; skills and agency.

Through the accumulate experiences of our interviewees, we could observe structural differences among different categories of migrants, which allowed us to identify a range of migrants with different needs. These differences are primarily linked to migration channels, the related legal status, migration cohorts and generations, and the expectations of MRAs (dreamers vs disenchanted). The most evident differences are between economic migrants and asylum seekers and refugees who upon arrival are placed into the national reception system. Further differences among asylum seekers and refugees emerge whether they have been hosted in first or second tier reception system. The first line reception system, which hosts most of the migrants, is largely comprised by CAS and only offer basic accommodation and assistance services, while the second-tier reception facilities (known through their acronyms of SPRAR/SIPROIMI) provide more support for the beneficiaries of humanitarian protection, including ensuring labour-oriented integration.

For economic migrants the reasons behind their decision to leave their home countries are often linked to a desire to improve their economic situation, have a more ‘secure life’ and in some case they keep the idea to go back to the home country after some years. They are also more conscious about their rights and obligations, but at the same time they present a large degree of ‘adaptability’ in this regard. They are also more prone to disenchantment, particularly if they are high skilled. Refugees and asylum seekers on the other hand have less defined expectations besides the generic aim ‘to have a better life’, or knowledge of the local environment. Their reasons to move to Italy are more often motivated with the necessity to leave their home countries, with no intention to return.

The entrance into the labour market is also generally linked to the migration channels and legal status, with an additional difference between economic migrants that, with few exceptions, are relying on ethnic or other informal networks to find their first employment and others who are ‘on their own’ and thus have to rely more heavily on agency and resilience. Regular economic migrants and family reunifications are largely left unsupported if they cannot count on existing ethnic networks or local contacts, with few dedicated services beyond those provided to the general resident population such as welfare provisions, job placement and orientation, trainings. This is also reported by asylum seekers and refugees who successfully exited the reception system (those who have been granted a residence permit and found a regular job).

Comparing the experience of our interviewees, the main barriers we identified are linked to the legal status, lack of language skills, situations of vulnerability such as discrimination and prejudice, the risks of exploitation (both for regular and irregular jobs). On the other hand, the main enablers that we have identified through our analysis of the biographical narratives are almost symmetrical to the barriers and linked to the themes of resilience (motivation, resistance and, above all, adaptability) and the broad concept of skills, including agency. We can also note how several themes, such as migration channels, entrance into the labour market or skills, can present themselves as both barriers and enablers, according to the perspective adopted.
More specifically, the main barriers of economic migrants are linked with migration channels, legal status, and language; while the major enablers are resilience, agency, skills and, above all, networks. The main barriers for asylum seekers and refugees are generally comparable to those of irregular economic migrants, while the main enablers are represented by agency (including the ability to create
ex novo a network of contacts), resilience and skill building (professional formation).

In general, the Italian context does not constitute a favourable environment for the integration of MRAs in the labour market. We can summarize the main critical issues as being linked to a very complex and unfavourable legal framework, lack of widespread and structural policies for the integration of MRAs, where civil society organisations cannot fully fill the gaps left by the State, and an environment that often sees inadequately developed business ethics and culture of inclusion (on some workplaces).

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