Chinese Restaurant Italyby Bin Wu.

A friend in Italy rang me yesterday as a reminder that another round of “Amnesty” (regularisation of irregular migrants) is effective from 15th September to 15th October 2012. Generally, this is good news for Italian society which is struggling to cope with the “Euro Crisis” whilst this event could lead to a significant increase in the government’s tax revenue.

It is also good news for many irregular migrant workers who can depart from their shadowy life of the past: poor working conditions and no access to social welfare and labour protection. I note, in particular, that this Amnesty has attracted heavy attention from local Chinese media not only in Italy but also in many European countries, and most of them have showed their support towards the government’s policy and made positive comments about the impact on the Chinese community. Nonetheless, a large number of irregular Chinese migrants in neighbouring countries such as Spain, France and Germany have tried to cross boundaries in order to catch such a unique opportunity in Italy.

In contrast to increasing demand and high expectation of the Amnesty, perhaps, only a small proportion of irregular Chinese migrants could be lucky enough to gain a valid resident paper in the end. This is because the application must be submitted by their employers who, alongside meeting other conditions, have to acknowledge that they have recruited an irregular migrant worker for more than three months at least and must be prepared to submit a fine (of 1000 euros) to the government as well.

Neither do all Chinese entrepreneurs in Italy meet government conditions nor are they willing to acknowledge that they have broken the law or regulation (by recruiting irregular migrant workers). Even if they are willing to do so, each employer can submit an application for one irregular migrant only, a far distance from the real needs in some of the Chinese owned garment factories or restaurants which may be dependent upon a number of irregular migrant workers for some unskilled and low paid posts.

Based upon my research experience in Italy six years ago, furthermore, I would like to make a point about the limitations or negative impacts of the “Amnesty” on Chinese migrant workers. It would be misleading to assume that an “Amnesty” or regularisation of irregular migrant workers can be beneficial to all or some of the irregular migrants without any negative impacts on them. The major beneficiaries from each Amnesty in Italy, according to local informants, were not irregular migrant workers but Chinese entrepreneurs.

Not only can the latter earn extra money from this process including the various documentations (e.g. employment, accommodation, reference for Chinese passport, etc), but more importantly, it can lead to an enhancement of their power or control over migrant workers. The empowerment of Chinese entrepreneurs rather than Chinese migrant workers from the Amnesty, according to my fieldwork in Italy, is related to the attachment of Chinese migrant workers and in particular those irregular migrants, who have no other choice but to depend upon their employers to deliver their promise in due course.

As a result, it is quite easy for an employer to tie up a number of new immigrants without a legal status for three or four years under poor working conditions and low pay. Given the strong demand for legal status from new Chinese immigrants and limited information about their employers, unsurprisingly, there are a great many cases of cheating and abuse, leading to a big loss for those vulnerable people during the period of the Amnesty. I am not sure whether the Italian government and Chinese community as well can learn some lessons from the “Amnesties” from the past two decades.

Bin Wu is Senior Research Fellow of the China Policy Institute.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

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