Migrant residence rules will increase poverty and social exclusion

NGOs say revised SRA policy for migrants will destroy hard-earned integration efforts of hundreds of migrants

Persons seeking renewal run the risk of permanently reverting to an irregular immigration status
Persons seeking renewal run the risk of permanently reverting to an irregular immigration status

A new residence permit for asylum seekers formerly recipients of ‘temporary humanitarian protection’, has been criticised as leading to increased social exclusion and poverty for long-term migrants.

Social NGOs and charities said the revised ‘specific residence authorisation’ (SRA), will destroy the hard-earned integration efforts of migrants because it gives a one-month ultimatum for applications.

“Persons seeking renewal run the risk of permanently reverting to an irregular immigration status, and the policy’s original family-oriented measures are being severely restricted,” Neil Falzon, director of Aditus Foundation, said. “The revisions are unclear on several important aspects and, in our experience, such uncertainty often results in arbitrariness in the assessment of applications.”

The SRA was introduced in 2018 for migrants who had lived and worked in Malta for many years, granting them stability and security. The one-off scheme rewarded their contributions and active steps towards making Malta home, providing hundreds of eligible candidates with a regularised status and peace of mind.

But now the NGOs say the revised SRA will result in people in Malta remaining undocumented and being denied access to the most basic rights. “This will exacerbate the pain of so many men, women and children.”

Falzon said the 2020 revisions fail to build on the lessons learnt since the policy’s adoption. “They are a retrogressive step that will undoubtedly increase poverty and social exclusion, at a time when the pandemic is already have a terrible impact on migrant communities. We strongly urge the Parliamentary Secretariat to, once again, engage with us on the policy revisions in furtherance of its original aims.”

The revised programme is aimed at issuing a voluntary repatriation option for failed asylum seekers who do not qualify for the SRA, which guarantees residence for applicants with proven integration record. Unsuccessful applicants will be offerred the option return to the country of origin voluntarily through a voluntary return programme, but this does not exclude forced return where applicable, the government said.

The Maltese government is issuing specific residence permits to migrants who were not deported by the State, but who have fulfilled an integration course, and have stable employment and good conduct.

Applicants for the SRA will now have to obtain an integration certificate from the Human Rights Directorate (HRD); but those found guilty of an offence and sentenced to a minimum of 12 months’ imprisonment, shall be disqualified from obtaining the status. This also applies in the case of a suspended sentence. Spouses, partners and minor children who were already in Malta or accompanied the beneficiary at the time of arrival in Malta, shall be granted the status even if they do not qualify for such status in their own right.

Former THPN beneficiaries were given the opportunity to be granted the SRA automatically, provided that they have not been convicted of a serious crime and have a stable employment. Successful applicants will have their status renewed, subject to the fulfilment of the integration measures set out in the 2018 policy.

Unsuccessful asylum claimants who have been living in Malta before 2016 were also given the opportunity to obtain the SRA.

The NGOs who signed the statement are: aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Allied Rainbow Communities, Anti-Poverty Forum Malta, Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija, Blue Door English, Christian Life Communities in Malta, Dean of the Faculty of Education, Drachma, Great Oak Malta Association, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Malta Humanist Association, Migrant Women Association Malta, Millennium Chapel, MOAS, Moviment Graffitti, People for Change Foundation, Repubblika, SOS Malta, SPARK15, Women’s Rights Foundation.

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