Regular migrants face institutional discrimination, study finds

When it comes to immigration, it is not just the ongoing influx of ‘irregular’ asylum seekers that raises the ire of the local population. It would seem there are objections to perfectly ‘regular’ migration, too: and in the latter case, the discrimination has arguably been institutionalised.

This emerges from an undergraduate study of the economic conrtibution of third country nationals (TCN) in Malta, authored by local student Charity Ofame: herself a TCN, having migrated here through regular channels from Nigeria 10 years ago.

Although the primary scope is to evluate the demand and supply side of the immigrant labour market, the dissertation also takes in the curent legislative framework that Malta applies to applications for visas, work permits, temporary and/or permanent residency permits and ultimately citizenship.

Interviews with third country nationals who passed through any of the above processes reveal frequent complaints about policies which appear designed to prevent regular migrants from obtaining permanent residency - even if they are fully entitled to it according to EU law; and in some cases have been contributing to the economy for 20 years or more.

One example concerns temporary work permits issued by the Employment and Training Corporation for TCNs: after a recent policy change, the ETC no longer grants such permits for periods longer than four years.

According to EU law, any migrant who has had a permit for five years is entitled to a permanent residency permit; but by forcing the holder to renew the permit after four years - by means of a 6-moth period of absence - the EU directive has effectively been sidestepped.

These policies appear to directly contradict EU Directives that should have been transposed into Maltese law, and which state, inter alia, that: "The integration of TCN who are long term residents in the Member States is a key element in promoting economic and social cohesion, a fundamental objective of the Community".

Local legislation departs from the opposite premise. "The Maltese law on migration was enacted in 1970 and its tone is that of a restrictive one," the study observes. "The first sentence in the legal document states: 'To restrict, control and regulate immigration into Malta and to make provision for matters ancillary thereto...'"

The practical application of the law likewise seems designed to avoid committing to requirements stipulated by the acquis comunautaire.

The study quotes several complaints by TCNs to this effect. "Today I was informed about the ETC policy of not extending work permits for third-country nationals for more than four years. This is to make sure that the five-year residency condition for permanent residency or citizenship cannot be reached. That means that after four years the person just has to leave Malta for at least six months before being able to re-apply for a work permit which of course means that the clock starts new."

Another wrote: "Hi guys, I am a third country national and I've just fallen victim to this issue. ETC didn't give any reasons for the refusal to grant me an extension for my work permit but from your comments above, I'm beginning to understand why. I've worked in Malta for 2&1/2 years and if they granted me a permit this time, it would have been taking me to three and half years. Anyway, I've decided that I'll go home. I've been paying FSS and Social Security Contributions. Is there any form of tax reclaim I can make?"

When it comes to applictaions for citizenship, the restrictions are greater still. Again, the wording of the law proves sufficiently vague to allow for broad discretion on the part of the authorities.

The study notes that: "One of the criteria to be fulfilled before obtaining citizenship is one should fit into a profile of what is thought to be 'Maltese' before one can be granted citizenship'.  The specific criteria are as follows: "you are of good character; you have an adequate knowledge of the Maltese or the English language; and you would be a suitable citizen of Malta."

Nonetheless, on paper the number of registered naturalisation appears high: "During the period of 1 January 2011 and 26 January 2012, persons granted Maltese citizenship through registration and naturalisation amounted to 1,143."

The discrepancy is however easy to explain: "To put it further into context, 107 persons were foreigners issued Maltese citizenship, while the remaining 1,036 were of Maltese decent born abroad. These 107 that managed to obtain citizenship could be those who married Maltese nationals and were eligible to apply after five years of marriage."

Even after citizenship is obtained, there will be differences in how naturalised citizens are treated at law. Children born to naturalised citizens are not automatically entitled to citizenship themselves until they are 18 years old; and even then will have to apply and face a complex police application procedure.

"Regardless of whether the child was born in the island, the application will still have to go through the police immigration department when an application is lodged. This is done so that police conducts a 'background security check' on each applicant, each time one's application is lodged and regardless of the number of years on has resided in the country. This includes also minor children born in Malta to parents of TCN. Needless to say that this makes the process length sometimes, waiting could be as long as five months."

Asked about this issue, Social Equality Minister Helena Dalli acknowledged the existence of a problem in the transposition of the relevant European directive, and that several complaints were received. She added that the problem is being looked into.

More in National
avatar
Enjoy the benefits of multicultualism. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130730/local/imam-calls-for-referendum-on-civil-unions.480110
avatar
gervais.cishahayo NO one should be given Maltese citizenship except those whose parents are Maltese and their grandparents are Maltese. Husbands and wives of Maltese citizens should also be given Maltese citizenship as long as they remain married, but no one else because Maltese citizenship has been thrown to the dustbin with every reject from other countries ending here. The Swiss didn't even allow third generation immigrants to be given Swiss citizenship and we must follow suit. Those who don't like it are free to go back home.
avatar
Mela dan l-under graduate qatt ma hareg mir-rahal tieghu? Qatt ma siefer gol-Maghreb,l-Afrika ta Isfel l-middle east l-Ewropa jew l-USA ? Siefer barra, ghix hemm u tkun taf x'inhi l-propja institutional discrimination! Jaqaw dan l-under graduate ghadu qed jghix go Alice in wonderland?
avatar
So what,these are our laws,if you don't like them you can go somewhere eless in Europe.
avatar
It is only legitimate that a person applying to become a Maltese citizen should be scrutinized before the application is acceded to. However, it is when such scrutiny is open to abuse and blackmailing by SOME overzealous law enforcement and administrative agents that it becomes objectionable. One such cases is when regular migrants who have been contributing to the society like any other native citizens are threatened and blackmailed with deportation, denial and withdrawal of residence, work permits and even of citizenship when their marriages run into trouble. In some countries, it is even a criminal offense to threaten and blackmail a spouse with such issues related to immigration procedures. Aren't some politicians, professionals and institutions officers separated or divorced themselves or have close relatives and friends who's marriage has not been successful? The divorce debate may be behind us now, but why should different standards be (expected) imposed on naturalized citizens when as far as we know, no insurance companies provide marriage insurance policy cover? It is certainly a step in the right direction that issues are finally coming to the court of public opinion. But what is needed is also and mostly concrete action to put an end to various forms of abusive institutionalized and unwritten discriminatory rules.
avatar
John Mifsud
'a TCN, having migrated here through regular channels from Nigeria 10 years ago' Exactly, how does a Nigerian immigrate to Malta 'through regular channels', pray?
avatar
Since when has immigration from third countries been opened without the people being asked whether they want it or not? How can we accept thrid country nationals to reside and work here when we do not have space for ourselves and not enough work for our own ciotizens? When are we going to be proud of our nationality, our culture, our work, our country and stop third country nationals from coming here?
avatar
Just give these illegal immigrants everything that they ask for and send them on their way, which is Mainland Europe. Brussels would be a perfect place for them to go but alas they are not very welcome there either, I wonder why? Ah yes, I forget that the generals always stay in protective shelters while their men go out on the front lines and sacrifice their lives. Maybe everybody should become a general, yes?
avatar
Just a quick glance at this article shows many mistakes. The best one is "6-moth" which makes one wonder if the article is about insects instead of pro-migration. As often, I wish to suggest to some writers a visit to - and an article about - the several thousands of Maltese families who can not afford to give their children a school lunch to take with them. Contrary to many countries, charity in Malta does not begin at home but abroad. I guess it makes a saint look more saintly as he gives an impression of exotic sensitivity.