“Immigration laws are the basis for measuring the degree of democracy of a country.” - Gaetano Campo Magistrato
During the second half of the 1970s, Italy became a country of immigration, reversing its previous tendency. This phenomenon is evidenced in our immigration laws, in particular one related to citizenship aimed at protecting our immigrants. In Italy, the Jus Sanguinis (right of blood) is still in force, therefore only a person who descends from an Italian citizen is an Italian citizen. The children of immigrants born and raised in the country are considered foreigners and can only request citizenship between the ages of 18 and 19. In order to understand what we are discussing, here is some current data regarding the number of citizenships granted: 0.9% (less than 70,000 per year) compared to 3.5% in France and 4.5% in the UK.
Immigration laws have always been issued for exceptional reasons aimed at controlling public order, and even though fundamentally they are supposed to protect the rights of a foreigner, forbidding discrimination and promoting cultural integration, in practice this is not always the case. The system of entry quotas, for instance, is completely inadequate, as are the bureaucratic procedures for anything from a simple application for an entry visa to that for a residency permit, a family reunification, a citizenship request, and any other documentation necessary in order to live legally in Italy. The latest modifications are decontextualized and generally camouflaged behind other laws that have nothing to do with immigration. They are also almost always approved when Italians are distracted (during the religious holiday of Ferragosto, on Christmas, etc.), and they are presented covertly, without any media coverage; only “authorized personnel” are able to know the changes, and that with great effort.
Instead of trying to comprehend the phenomena through reportage and investigations, the Italian media has always limited itself to accepting the institutional “veline” (unofficial communications). In the long run, this lack of interrogation has turned immigration into an easy target - a realm of prejudice, stereotyping and rumormongering. On one side there has always been a difficulty in understanding the complex and muddled mechanisms of immigration law, and on the other the incapacity to contrdict false news with fact. Only those working in government offices, unions and volunteers associations have been privy to the true plight of immigrants in Italy. An immediate consequence of this situation has been the emergence and proliferation of private immigration agencies that, for very high fees, reopen visa cases stuck in various offices. Confusion surrounding residency permits and work contracts has opened immigrants up to a variety of frauds, from the "opportunity" to purchase a residency permit from alleged lawyers and accountants for profuse amounts of money to false work contacts and rent leases by which many Italians bilk foreigners.
The result is a chronic precariousness in which immigrants live to this day: the impossibility of planning their lives in Italy, especially amid the difficulties of the present economic crisis. There are immigrants who have taken thirty-year mortgages, convinced that they will be able to stay in Italy forever, despite the fact that they have not been able to ever renew their residency permits, while others will have to return to countries in the midst of wars.
I have worked for fifteen years behind the desk of the main immigration office in Vicenza, a rich province that has always been able to provide jobs, even through the beginning of the economic crisis. Many immigrants came to Vicenza and the Veneto region to find work. Of the total population - 873,772 at the beginning of 2011 - some 96,478 were foreigners. In Vicenza, some 18,617 foreigners were counted among 115,655 residents (American soldiers at the military base in Ederle are not included). The paradox is that, in a province where immigrants come to work knowing there are jobs, heavy control is enforced, the regulations applied precisely to the letter, to the point that a few years ago, immigration offices would release residency permits allowing only six days for people with temporary jobs slated for a week's work. The stories I have gathered in my book, Next: Stories Suspended Between Bureaucracy and Immigration, are stories written by immigrants themselves. I felt compelled to pull together these accounts of paradoxical and unnecessary bureaucracy, oppression, abuse, long delays and continuous uncertainty. I put this in the context of the management of immigration in Vicenza since the 1990s, when the unions formed an association to support immigrants and to act as “filters” between them and government, in particular police headquarters. I have also tried to create a space to explain technical immigration terms and the changes in legislation over time. Ultimately, Next is a collection of 65 stories about the absurdity of bureaucracy. These stories are brief flashes highlighting the most simple and common aspects of the lives of immigrants.
THE RESIDENCY PERMIT CARD
Fees per person or member of family older than 18 years of age:
153.42 Euros for validity between three months to one year
173.42 Euros for validity between one to two years
273.42 Euros for the official Residency Card CE which has long-term validity
My name is Omar and I am from Morocco. I have been in Italy since 1986, and my wife and children have lived with me since 1995.
In November 2000, I applied for a residency card because the laws at the time allowed me to do so. I went to the city office to get some information. They gave me a form to fill out and told me to prepare the documents for the criminal records certificate, and I did so for both myself and my wife. After two weeks, with one more application for the court, I received the certificates and I was given an appointment scheduled two months later. At the police headquarters, I was told that the certificates were expired (they are valid for only 20 days), and so I had to request them once again. When I went to have another appointment, I was told that in order to apply, I had to have six months left in my original residency permit, and I only had two, so I had to renew that first. After renewing the permit, I went back to apply for the card and they told me that they had finished the application forms and that I needed to wait for them to arrive from the Ministery office.
After six months, my permit was still valid for another year, but the rules had changed at police headquarters and now, in order to apply for a card, my permit had to be expired. So I waited some more.
At the beginning of this year, I was able to receive an appointment for my card. Finally! I proudly studied my beautiful, pink, sturdy card for a long time. Now I no longer had to go to the police headquarters and continue to fill out forms.
Last week, I received a letter from the police headquarters. It said that I had to go immediately to their office so that they could revoke my residency card "because the requirements under the law were not in force at the time it was issued.”
I had bought a house with my brother, whose family had finally received permission to join him. At police headquarters, they told me that the house is inadequate since it is for three people and we are four. In the meantime, the company I worked for went bankrupt, and now I work for a company that can only give me temporary work permits. Yesterday, my wife and I received a residency permit in place of our residency card for the same length as my work contract: 6 days.
NORMAL DAY OF ADMINISTRATION (2004)
At the immigration window:
“Miss, take my permit. It expired a month ago. I came four times. My boss is getting mad because I keep asking him for the permit, and now he no longer believes me. Miss, why do you keep saying that those without an appointment will be assisted first? I arrived before them. I have been here since 7 am. Why do you say that you don’t believe me? How do you know? You were not here at 7 am. I know what I went through in order to be here. I know at what time I left, and at what time I arrived. I know how drenched I was because I could not find cover from the rain.”
“Miss, please call the next person, if you only listen to him. How long will we have to wait?”
“Miss, at the end of the month I have the driving test. If I don’t take the exam, I will have to pay the school fee again.”
“Miss, please, I have come here five times. If you don’t give me an appointment for our family reunification permint now, all my documents will expire and I will have to go back to Morocco to start everything all over again.”
“Miss, I need the list of documents necessary for the residency card. I called the operator and he told me to come here. Why are you now saying that you cannot help me?”
“Miss, look, I just received a fax from Senegal. My mother has passed away. They are waiting for me for the identification of the body, but my permit has expired. I need an urgent appointment. What do you mean there are no appointments available before June? That’s three months from now! Give me an appointment right away!”
“Miss I am coming from Rome, where they will not renew my permit because now I have residency in Vicenza. My permit has expired. I went to the police headquarters and they told me to come here.”
“Miss I need an appointment right away. I transport goods abroad, and if I don’t renew my permit, my company will fire me.”
“Miss, I plan to be married in August. I already have my ticket for India. I am leaving on August 5th and will be back on September 5th. How can I have an appointment? What is the list of documents? When can I come?”
“Miss, read this paper. The police headquarters told me I need an appointment from you. Does it mean that this paper is the appointment? They pushed me away and told me to come here. Please read it!”
“Miss, where should I sign?”
“Miss, only one question, please, one question...!”
The firefighters: “Miss, this is unacceptable. You are creating confusion. You need to keep them under control!”
“Miss, I need to go to the hospital next week. I will have a surgery on my belly, a bad surgery, Miss. I have to have my husband. Can you give me the appointment for the family reunification? I don’t have anyone who can help me while I recover in the hospital. It’s urgent!”
“Miss, I haven’t worked in 8 months. Why do you say that I cannot renew my permit after 6 months of unemployment? Do you see my hand? Who will hire me with this hand? A doctor’s note? Are you sure he will give me one?”
“Miss, I am Italian! Do I still need to wait? The permit of my mother’s caregiver is expiring in a month - what do I need to do? Can you give me an appointment? What do you mean by, ‘She has to come herself - we give priority to those whose permit has already expired?’ I am Italian! You are not going to have me come back among these people. I am Italian, do you understand?”
“Miss, how long do we need to wait? Why are you still talking to those people and wasting time? Look at our papers - we came first!”
“Miss, please, only one favor, please, give me an appointment. With an expired permit my company will not renew my job contract.”
“With an expired permit, I cannot renew my passport, the consulate will not accept me.”
“With an expired permit, I cannot register at the registry office.”
“With an expired permit, I cannot have my child placed on my passport”
“Miss, give us an appointment! We cannot do anything with an expired permit!”
120 people. 15 minutes per person. Up until last Tuesday, only one person was working in the office. Hours of operation: Tuesday afternoon from 2:30-6:30. Every week is like this.
These are only small examples of how the Italian bureaucracy sucks the life from immigrants, preventing them from finding peace in our country. Those who work in immigration believe that the undue complexity was created for the purpose of making immigrants' lives precarious, full of uncertainty - to make them feel constantly under surveillance.
Excerpted from the book Next: Stories Suspended Between Bureaucracy and Immigration (Avanti il prossimo, storie sospese tra burocrazia e immigrazione) published by Edizione la Meridiana, Italy, 2009.
Maria Rosaria Baldin has worked for fifteen years in immigration services in Vicenza. She has collaborated with “Migra” an online agency that provides information about immigration. In 2005, her short story "The Race" (La gara) was published in the book "Migrantemente," and in 2009, the Italian publishing house La Meridiana collected her writings from fifteen years of experience with immigrants in the book "Next: Stories Suspended Between Bureaucracy and Immigration" (Avanti il prossimo, storie sospese tra burocrazia e immigrazione). Since 2003, Maria Rosaria is part of the Committee for Autobiographical Readings at the University of Anghiari where she teaches workshops ofnautobiographical writing. She participates in the Theatre of the Oppressed and collaborates with various online magazines.