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Diasporian News of Friday, 29 February 2008

Source: - Reggie Tagoe

What’s Italian Govt. up to on immigrants?

... no licence for the foreigner to drive a taxi

It would be unfair not to give any credit to Italian Government(s) about immigrants in the country. It has granted more immigrants in the country permit of stay to live and work than any country in Europe in the past two decades.

What boggles my mind is why after all these it puts stringent laws on immigrants which seems like a slammed door infront of progress demonstrating a clear case of discrimination on a national level. Ironically, the government has recently instituted an office to deal with racism and discrimination in the country.

There has been numeroous instances where the law on immigrants raises the question: What’s the future of immigrants and their children in Italy?

The story of a Tunisian national, legally resident in the country and wanted to be a taxi driver but was denied on the grounds that he’s not an Italian citizen further raises more questions.

Abdelhamid has a Permanent Resident Permit, is a father of a baby who goes to school, owns a house and has managed to save some money. He thought of leaving his job at a factory to become self-employed as a taxi driver. For the first time in 20years, the City Council where he lives made a public notice inviting those interested in becoming taxi drivers to submit application. There were 60 licences to be issued. He said, “I knew there would be many applicants but I decided to try all the same.” But he was not even admitted for the competition.

The Commision evaluating applications excluded Abdelhamid from the competition because he is neither an Italian citizen nor a citizen of European Union, as stated by the rules of the City Council.

Since he didn’t succeed he decided to go and try in another neighbouring town. There were no licences to be issued there so he went round looking for a taxi driver who wanted to sell his licence. He paid €500 to the person who helped him look for a taxi driver preparing to go on pension and wanted to sell his licence at €70,000 (seventy thousand euros). But even this the City Council blocked everything. Abdelhamid received a letter from the Council saying before a licence could be transfered to him he has to present a letter from a competent authority in Tunisia or the Tunisia Embassy in Italy declaring that Tunisia authorities grant to Italian citizens the right to be taxi drivers. At this stage he called the Tunisia Embassy in Italy to ask for the letter but was told they don’t know how to give such a letter because seemingly there there are no bilateral agreement between Italy and Tunisia on the issue.

Foreigners in Italy are not allowed to become taxi drivers unless they come from countries that have bilateral agreements with Italy allowing Italians to become taxi drivers there.

The National law serving as a point of reference for the rule of the City Council doesn’t say anything about the citizenship of taxi drivers. The Council has decided to introduce this restriction the same way they have done with restrictions on employing foreigners to work in the Italian Civil Service.

Abdelhamid, however, is not interested in finding out who is to blamed. “In my view this is discrimination,” he said. “I’m an honest person, I pay taxes and would like to start a business. I’m asking to be allowed to become a taxi driver not to be a police officer. Do you think it is right to deny me the chance,” he asked.

The story of Abdelhamid is not the only case of its nature that confronts the immigrant in Italy, it can happen to any Ghanaian in the country or for that matter any immigrant given the same circumstances. It’s true that the Italian Government has been ‘generous’ granting them the requisite documents to live and work in Italy but they should not pretend they are not making any gains on the back of immigrants in the country.

Latest information indicates that between December11, 2006 and January 9, 2008 the government has earned over €90milion (ninety million euros) from processing fees on application for renewal of foreigners staying permits. The Italian Post Office has raked in €40million out of this amount for it services and their only work was to collect the application from the applicant and forward it to the government .... nothing else. Even that, the service to the foreign national has not been satisfactory since out of 1.3 million applications only 372,000 were issued within the period. The new system of renewal of staying permit transfered from the Police to the Post Office is not working properly with a backlog of applicants waiting to have their documents. Foreigners paid heavily for the process only to receive such poor quality service.

Abdelhamid story among others also brings to mind the intentions of the government in granting immigrants the necessary documents.

In a country that is ageing faster than any other in Europe, more than half the population over 40 years (almost one in five is over 65), by 2050 expected to have one pensioner for every two of working age, a dwindling birth rate (the lowest in Europe) and a pension scheme that swallows 15 percent of its GDP, it needs more hands to contribute into its tax machine. Are immigrants in the country being used only to help this cause?

Over the years they have been widely restricted, being employed as unskilled work force (but their taxes are welcomed) without any proper plans to tap their potentials. They are contributing to the economy keeping some businesses running and deserves better than being treated as contemptible social outcasts. Working as a taxi driver in ones country is not above the ordinary. The world is changing and moving along with time and Italy’s grey-hair ‘think-tanks’ responsible for its laws must wake up and jump on board.