What role have employers had in Italian migration policy-making? A behind the scenes analysis

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Italy has changed its migration laws several times over the years. Who’s influenced the legislative process? Employers.

From the introduction of the Foschi Law in 1986 to the Bossi-Fini Law in 2002, a series of legislative measures have shaped the rights and work conditions of migrants in Italy. As the country grapples with the challenge of protecting migrants’ rights while addressing domestic concerns and societal changes, the evolution of migration laws has not been without controversy. These legislative changes have led to various debates and disputes, reflecting the different perspectives and interests of various stakeholders.

In this post, I look at the legislative evolution of migration laws in Italy and highlight the importance of employers’ roles while examining the main milestones, controversies, and arguments that have shaped the country’s approach to migration governance.

Navigating Italy’s Immigration Maze: Balancing Schengen Integration and National Challenges

Migration began to gain visibility in Italy in the 1980s, marked by a significant increase in the number of residence permits issued during this period. Previously, foreign labour had gone largely unnoticed, but the increase in street vendors and seasonal agricultural workers shed light on the precarious conditions they faced. As this phenomenon gained attention, solidarity actions and the involvement of unions and associations to protect migrants’ rights occurred. However, amid growing social concern and cases of xenophobia and racism, an urgent need arose for comprehensive regulations on migrants’ rights and living conditions

The active migration policy began in 1986 with the Foschi Law (943/1986), which aimed to regulate migration and protect the national labour force. However, controversy arose because no integration measures were even discussed and migrants were treated only as workers. In response to the shortcomings of the Foschi Law, the Martelli Law (39/1990) was enacted to address illegal entry and irregular residence and to introduce quotas for foreign workers. The law was criticized for its inadequate measures and inefficiency. The Turco-Napolitano Law (40/1998) was enacted in response to the need for a common European asylum system that included work visa quotas and a sponsorship mechanism—which allowed NGOs, regional/local administrations, and citizens to request to act as sponsors for foreign workers—for entry to seek work. However, it was the Bossi-Fini Law (189/2002) that marked a major shift in the approach as it stressed the security issues by linking legal residence to job availability and tightening regulations. Employers expressed concerns about the impact of the law on the economy and the rigid labour market conditions

Unveiling the Law’s Hidden Actors: Parliamentary Debates and Power Play

Due to the shortage of domestic labor in certain sectors, employers recognized the need for equal treatment and the rights provided for foreign workers in the Foschi Act. Employers’ commitment to an “open door” policy, driven by the needs of the labor market, was supported by the unanimous support of political parties, the active pro-Law participation of trade unions, and the influential role of the Catholic world. On the contrary, the process of passing the Martelli Law was turbulent. Ideologies clashed, as left-wing political parties criticized the law’s quota system, seeing it as restrictive to legalization efforts. Meanwhile, the right criticized the law’s “open door” policy and expressed concerns about deviating from Schengen principles for security reasons.

The Role of Confindustria: A Target of Criticism

When Confindustria—the most important industrial employers’ association in Italy—was criticized by the far-right and accused of manipulating labour costs, it allied itself with trade unions and left-wing political parties that supported the Martelli law. Confindustria’s cooperation with the government, as well as its consultations with different economic actors, showed its influence in shaping the law’s provisions. On the other hand, Christian associations went in the direction of showing their interest in protecting the rights of migrants by supporting the drafting of the law.

The 1998 Turco Napolitano Law differed significantly from the Martelli law in its approach to managing immigration in Italy. While Martelli debates were politically polarized and criticized by both left and right sides, the research reveals that Turco Napolitano witnessed a more balanced landscape with employers’ organizations, including Confindustria, and center-left parties supporting the sponsorship system.

Unlike its predecessors, the Bossi-Fini Law faced strong criticism from small and medium-sized companies, entrepreneurs, and the artisan sector due to its restrictive nature and lack of consideration for their interests. The exclusion of these economic actors from the law’s drafting process and the removal of the sponsorship option raised concerns among the left-wing political parties and highlighted the negative impact on Italian companies. The law’s focus on public order rather than addressing the needs and concerns of employers drew further criticism. Confindustria received preferential treatment from the government, creating a discrepancy in how different sectors were handled under the law. This differential treatment further fueled criticism from entrepreneurs and companies in sectors such as artisans, who felt their voices were not being heard.

Who Holds the Key to Influence?

The results of this research demonstrate that trade unions, employers’ associations, and religious groups all played their parts (directly or indirectly) in shaping the migration legislative landscape. As policy-makers look at current reforms to migration policy, it is crucial to take into account the complex and historical role that employers have played. From political debates to strategic negotiations, these actors left their mark on the trajectory of migration policy in Italy. The analysis, which highlights the paradox of employers working closely with trade unions and Catholic associations while being targeted by the far-right, underscores the need to understand the multi-layered dynamics surrounding migration policy-making in Italy and the involvement of various actors.


Diego Caballero Vélez is a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw. His research focuses on the politics of migration governance in the European Union, with a special focus on the Southern and Central Eastern European regions. He is currently working at the E-Factor project: “Employer interests as an underrated factor in labour migration – an institutional approach” funded by the National Science Centre of Poland (OPUS-20). The project aims at understanding employers’ influence over public policies in labour migration through the lens of the New Institutional Economics (NIE) theory. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn 

Funding: the information contained in this post is the result of data analysed within the E-Factor project “Employer interests as an underrated factor in labour migration – an institutional approach” (funded by the National Science Centre of Poland (OPUS-20))


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