Labour market integration in Italy: Policy Barriers and Enablers


In Italy, the share of foreign national employees in the country’s labour markets exceeds the countries’ overall share of foreign national. This means that MRAs are very active components of Italian economy rather than being passive recipients of benefits or support. The labour market of migrants is characterized by the complementarity with the labour market of Italians, which consider unattractive the so-called ddd – dirty, dangerous and demeaning – jobs. Despite this evidence, SIRIUS analysed stakeholders’ discourses do not necessarily frame the integration of MRAs into the Italian labour market into a utilitarian frame, opening the door to a positive evaluation of immigration.

The increasingly harsh political discourse and the negative media representation of migration have contributed to hinder or slow down the implementation of integration policies. Indeed, more than migration and labour market integration policies in the strict sense of the concept, the Italian experience has been characterized by an inconsistent set of multiple measures and actions in the broader policy domain of immigration, neither supported by a unitary strategy and governance nor by sufficient financial resources. Moreover, the Italian authorities have never fully implemented the legislative provisions concerning the integration in the labour market. This is the case, for example, of the art. 3 D.Lgs. No. 286/1998, which requires the Government to develop “long-term programme on immigration policy and foreigners on State territory”. This programmatic document should have a strategic relevance to align the quota working permits to Italian effective labour needs. The absence of a long-term programme strongly undermines any implementation of effective coherent integration policies and measures.

SIRIUS analysis has identified 4 main areas of intervention which could facilitate the integration in the labour market:

  • - The immigration policies: in order to foster a swift integration in the labour market, the Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR) promoted the role of the SPRAR centres in the second level reception system. The services ensured by these centres go beyond the simple distribution of food and housing, providing social and legal guidance, promoting the labour inclusion through individual strategies as well as special training and internship programmes. Therefore, the SPRAR system has been considered as a “best practice” (see in particular Italian Roadmap 2015). The more MRAs can access the SPRAR centres, the more MRAs can profit from better opportunities to integrate into the labour market.
  • - Education related policies: in case of permit to stay of minimum one year, the foreigners have to sign an “integration agreement” with the State that includes the attendance of free compulsory language courses. Language is a crucial asset to integrate into the labour market.
  • - Employment related policies: with the aim to contrast irregular labour market and exploitation, the most recent legislation has strengthened the criminal and administrative sanctions against the phenomenon of “caporalato” (that is: illicit intermediation and exploitation of labour). Also some tax incentives for social cooperatives, which recruit beneficiaries of international protection, have been established. The registration to Public Employment Service allows migrants the access to all job-related Public Employment. More working opportunities and fairer working conditions favour integration.
  • - Welfare related policies: with regard to healthcare, the access to urgent and essential health-care services is guaranteed. Instead, the access to social housing is reserved to documented resident migrants who are temporarily unable to provide on their own for their living and subsistence needs. Granting people the respect of fundamental rights through welfare services is crucial for integration.

Discourse and meta-analysis and interviews with stakeholders and past beneficiaries have revealed several flaws of past and current policies. First, the Italian migration and labour market integration policies are still characterized by the difficulty of coordination among several (private and public) actors and levels of government. Therefore, the fragmentation of the Italian policies and the difficulty of coordination among the several actors involved in the governance of the migration and integration process represents a problematic aspect, as well as the poor functioning of public employment centres (this latter point affects also Italian citizens).

Second, the positive or negative trend of the economic cycle has been identified as one of the most relevant facilitator or barrier in the integration into the labour market. Third, after the economic crisis, the strong anti-immigrant narrative has hindered the integration in the labour market. Especially during the pre-electoral periods, “Italians first” attitude has slowed down the implementation of the measures of integration, as for example the strategies contained in the Italian Roadmap 2015 and the National Plan for Integration. Eventually, after the election of 2018, the formation of a populist Government coalition with securitarian and anti-immigration stances has further slowed down the implementation of the integration policies planned by the previous Government. This is best exemplified by the recent decree-law no. 113/2018 abolishing the humanitarian protection and depriving many immigrants of important services and reception measures, by downsizing and radically changing the SPRAR system.

Fourth, the empirical analysis of the Italian experience highlights the relevant asymmetry among the several categories of migrants, with a more pervasive difficulty to integrate in the labour market the asylum seekers in comparison with the economic migrants. In particular, the Italian legislation recognizes to the asylum seekers the possibility to work, but at the same time it conditions the right to stay in reception centres to a yearly a wage not exceeding 4.800 euro, which discourages asylum seekers to fully integrate into the labour market.

Finally, skills and qualifications acquired in the country of origin are difficult to be recognized in Italy, since complicated and long procedures are usually required: this definitely represents a further barrier to MRAs full integration in the labour market.

In the last few years, Italy has faced increasing difficulties in addressing MRAs needs and in enforcing their rights while accommodating natives’ fears. There is much space for sound, effective policy making and policy implementing to favour MRAs integration in the labour markets that can benefit both foreign and native workers.

If you want to know more about the Italian policy barriers and enablers for the integration of migrants, refugees and asylum applicants into labour markets, please have a look here at our Chapter on Italy in our WP3 Report (396-462).

Authors of the Italian Report are Nicola Maggini and Renato Ibrido, University of Florence.