From the Pope down, the Church in Italy is continuing to push hard for the mass regularisation of migrant workers it says are “deprived of all rights”.

– Pope enters debate on “Relaunch Italy” coronavirus stimulus package

In his General Audience May 6, Pope Francis said that he was “particularly struck” by the “problems” being experienced by farm workers in Italy, “many” of whom, he denounced, “are very harshly exploited”.

“People’s dignity must always be respected”, the pontiff implored, adding his voice to the appeal “of all exploited workers” and urging that the coronavirus pandemic might be an “opportunity to make the dignity of the person and the dignity of work the centre of our concern”.

The Pope said he was speaking out for the day labourers after having received “several messages about the world of work and its problems” on the occasion of International Workers’ Day May 1.

And though that timeline undoubtedly had its part to play in Francis’ message, he was also speaking directly to the debate presently raging among members of Italy’s ruling coalition, which is currently considering the mass regularisation of over 600,000 ‘illegal’ migrant workers as part of its Rilancia Italia (“Relaunch Italy”) €55 billion coronavirus stimulus package.

– What’s at stake: the political debate

Although it was expected to be approved in April, the stimulus package is still blocked, primarily because of differences of opinion in which migrants should receive a regularisation in their status and how long for, Euractiv reported May 11,

Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri denied Monday that tensions would derail some kind of migrant legalisation, and explained that a regularisation is “necessary not just because there’s a shortage of labour, but also because it will help to bring out undeclared work”.

Some in the government believe that regularisation is the answer in order to protect illegal migrants from the mafia, but others think that while the farming sector especially – hard-hit as it has been by a coronavirus-induced shortage of labour – needs help, an amnesty for ‘illegal’ migrants is not the solution.

The opposition far-right populist Lega party, meanwhile – led by controversial former deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – is firmly opposed to the legalisation, believing that such a measure could create a pull effect for more ‘illegal’ migrants to enter in the country.

– Bishops’ president “demands” legalisation; Church groups speak of need for “act of indisputable justice”

But despite the political tensions, the Church in Italy has been bravely entering the fray, with Italian Bishops’ President Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti deploring soon after the papal appeal last week that the more than half-a-million ‘illegal’ migrants in Italy – many of whom work in the fields, as domestic workers or in the care professions – are “deprived of all rights”.

“We demand the regulation of their circumstances”, said the cardinal.

For his part, Oliviero Forti, of Italian Caritas, said a mass migrant legalisation by autumn would be “desirable… operation of great civilisation, of which our country has enormous need” and which moreover would have positive effects on human dignity and the country’s food supply chain.

“Until we guarantee transparency, security and regulation, crime will dominate”, added Forti, echoing the warnings against ‘illegal’ migrants falling into the hands of the mafias.

A regularisation “would not only be an act of indisputable justice… but also a decision that would help protect us from the spread of the pandemic because it makes dangerous situations emerge also at the health level”, added Church group Sant’Egidio.

Giving papers to irregular migrants in Italy “after 8 years in which there has been no regularisation… would be of great help in the fight against organised crime and illegality at a time when, so as to revive the economy, total transparency and the active participation of all the positive energies in our country are necessary”, the Church social justice organisation explained.

More on Novena on the Church’s defence of undocumented workers:

General Audience 6/5: Pope deplores plight of farm workers “very harshly exploited” in Italian countryside

Caritas Europa warns migrant farm workers “hiding in very horrible shantytowns” risk to public health, economy

30/4: Pope deplores “unacceptable conditions of exploitation” of migrant farm workers, pushes for their regularisation

COVID-19: Italian Church group founder calls for regularisation of 300,000 ‘illegal’ migrants in domestic services sector

Caritas Europa joins call for regularisation of undocumented migrant workers crucial for agricultural sector

Coronavirus: Italian Church group calls for immediate regularisation of 600,000 ‘illegal’ immigrants


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.