Connect to share and comment

When out of work means out of Italy

Jobless migrants are being kicked out of Italy under a tightening of immigration laws.

Moreover, the construction sector, where illegal immigrants are most in demand, has been hit hard by the financial crisis.

“I am not that worried about the permit,” Agim said. “The problem is the crisis: it is much worse than they say. I have looked everywhere, and there are no jobs and no money.” He is still formally an employee of the social cooperative, but he is paid only when he works. This month, he said, he worked 50 hours in total; the one before, he did not work any hours at all.

In his former company, most of the workers were foreigners just like him. They were the first ones to be shed, while the few Italians were luckier. For Gulia, "small businesses prefer to lay off immigrants first."

"It's not discrimination but rather a social necessity: the foreigners will leave, eventually, while the Italians stay, and you don't want to be pointed at in the community as 'the one who fired the Italian but kept the Cameroonian in,'" Gulia said.

For him, many of the immigrants who for now are trying to stay, making ends meet in the informal economy or with "fake jobs," will eventually leave. “Most will do this in autumn or next year, when the real impact of the crisis on the real economy will be felt.”

“We'll stay until September or October. If we don't find a job by then, we'll throw in the towel,” Agim said. "The real shock will be for my brothers' kids; they hardly speak Albanian now. Luckily, I don't have a family.”

There is a final, ironic twist in Agim's story. In his years in Italy, he has been paying pension contributions to the state worth thousands of euros. But according to Italian law, he won't be allowed to reclaim this money before he is 65, even if he leaves the country for good. According to Stuppini's analysis, the contributions of immigrants who have already left Italy are worth around 200 million euros. And this sum is bound to grow.

Agim said he didn't even know about his pension money, which is withheld automatically from his salary. "You know how it is with immigrants," he said, with calm resignation. "They take advantage of them."