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Residence permits for Ukrainian refugees expire: the Italian government must step forward in the EU

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Residence permits for Ukrainian refugees expire: the Italian government must step forward in the EU

by Giulia Capitani, Migration Policy Advisor of Oxfam Italia

On Monday Oxfam, together with 130 other European organisations, sent an open letter to the community institutions to bring attention to the upcoming deadline of residence permits for temporary protection issued to Ukrainian refugees, who enter today, March 5, 2024in the last year of validity.

Europe’s inertia

At a time when we have returned to discussing with concern the progress of the war in Ukrainevery few voices are raised to remind us that, in March 2025, over 4 million and 300 thousand residence permits, issued by the various member states to people fleeing the Russian invasion, will all expire together, without the possibility of being renewed. At a European level nothing has moved, in these two years, to find a solution. And it is really difficult to think that something significant will happen on the eve of the difficult elections in June for the renewal of the European Parliament.

In any case, for a good number of conceivable solutions, it probably already is late: any change to European regulations requires technical definition and political negotiation times that are not compatible with the expected deadline, whether it concerns interventions on the same Temporary Protection Directivein view of its modification or extension, or in other hypotheses, such as that of expanding the field of application of the Long-Term Residents Directive to also include people displaced from Ukraine.

Likewise, the reactivation of the Directive in force today upon its expiry in a year, “as if” we were faced with a new massive influx of displaced people – certainly not an optimal solution, but perhaps at the moment the most protective for the people involved – is an option that does not seem viable due to the unanimous political consensus it would require.

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It therefore seems inevitable that we move towards different management for each Member State, with the risk of a general race to the bottom regarding the standards of protection of Ukrainian refugees, with the concern – this yes, expressed by the European institutions – that this could generate massive movements from one state of the Union to another in the coming months.

The partial Italian response: the conversion into residence permits for work

So what will happen in Italy, where the persons entitled to temporary protection are over 180,000? At the moment, it is easy to predict that most of them will apply for asylum, putting the international protection system in even more trouble than it already is. Despite the protest of the Territorial Commissions for Asylum having in fact pushed the Interior Ministry to the decision to hire 118 new officialsthe staff remains largely insufficient compared to pending requests: over 80,000, 12,000 in Milan alone.

From the point of view of displaced people, then, as far as transiting through the system asylum If the scenario appears capable of guaranteeing greater protection, let’s remember what it means today to ask for asylum in Italy: waits of days or weeks for the first access to the police station, an appointment for the photo identification given months later, years to be able to close the case . And if we imagine that some procedural improvements could be made specifically for the Ukrainian population, on the one hand the room for maneuver in national legislation is not very wide. And on the other hand, the real risk is that that system will be further strengthened double track which has thus clearly highlighted the disparities in treatment between vulnerable people, from the very decision to apply the Directive onwards.

However, it should be noted that in the last Budget Law the possibility has been added to convert the permit for temporary protection into work permit. This is a good initiative, but it leaves too many areas uncovered. First of all, we are forced to imagine that few people will have a regular employment contract, necessary for the conversion.

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And this will be especially true for Ukrainian women, who in Italy are the large majority: there are over 102,000 counting only adults, compared to just 23,000 men. In the interviews conducted for the Oxfam paper “Protected. Or not?”published last November, we met dozens of employed Ukrainian women and girls Without a contract as cleaning staff in hotels or as family assistants, without any possibility of being regularised. Furthermore, a residence permit for work certainly does not guarantee the same level of protection provided by temporary protection.

Faced with the continuation of the situation that has led millions of people to flee Ukraine, why should they not be recognized a more protective status of a work permit, inevitably linked to the duration, type and precariousness of the contract with the employer? What will happen to these “ex-protected” people if they lose their jobs after converting their permit, perhaps because their client dies? Yet, in a now sick system like the one that regulates immigration in Italy, even this partial solution appears to be a privilegeif we consider that conversion for work is simply not permitted by law in many other categories of migrants.

The Italian government intervenes in Europe

Faced with this worrying scenario, it is truly necessary for the Italian government to do its part, also within the European Union, to prepare the necessary solutions. Of course, the political choices and regulatory innovations promoted by the Meloni executive since its inauguration they don’t bode well.

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