[ANALYSIS] Integration beyond the vote

A proposal to grant migrants the right to vote divided public opinion, however integration of Third Country Nationals, including asylum seekers, goes beyond voting rights. Jurgen Balzan takes a look at the far-reaching proposals put forward by Aditus

The report issued last week by human rights organisation Aditus caused a bit of a stir with one of its proposals to grant the right to vote to third-country nationals (TCNs) in local elections attracting a lot of attention.

However, the recommendation to provide TCNs residing in Malta with better opportunities for political participation overshadowed a plethora of far-reaching recommendations made.

The document tackles areas such as access to citizenship, education, labour market mobility and family reunion, as well as the political participation of TCNs.

A recent Eurostat survey showed that Maltese citizens made up 93.3% of the country’s total population, while the number of foreign citizens stood at approximately 6.7%.

The foreign population has expanded from 11,999 in 2005 to 18,088 in 2010 and 20,384 in 2011.

Although the migrant population has doubled over the past 20 years, Maltese laws and policies remain among the weakest and least favourable in Europe, the report notes, adding that there is still a lack of expertise in how to manage migration and the diversity that results from multiculturalism.

This is a brief overview of the key recommendations in the 37-page document which is aimed at national policy makers, on how to maximise the success of the various stages of TCN integration process in Malta.

National Integration Policy

The report proposes the creation of a consultative council that would allow migrants to dialogue with the government on legislation and policy affecting migrants, on new initiatives and on outreach projects.

The council should represent migrants from various ethnic minority groups and should be allocated sufficient funds to carry out awareness campaigns.


Unlike other EU member states, migration consistently tops the list of main concerns of the Maltese and the report concludes that legal provisions against racist expressions, racially-motivated offences and racial discrimination are not yet fully applied in the country.

Moreover, it says awareness of the need to actively monitor racism and racial discrimination in order to identify and address these phenomena properly is lacking.

Among its proposals, the report by Aditus recommends the creation of a single equality body to which individuals can file a complaint in relation to “all prohibited grounds of discrimination,” which it said would also double up as a national focal point for human rights.

The report also proposes the dissemination of more information on how discrimination can be reported and tackled while speeding up the process in courts by making it easier and cheaper for individuals to lodge complaints. 

In terms of policy, Aditus recommends the adoption of a series of preventive actions, including a nation-wide policy targeting discrimination suffered by minorities in all areas, including employment, housing and education.

Nationality, the report adds, should be included among the grounds for discrimination and racial profiling and multiple discrimination should be prohibited.

Labour market mobility

The extensive report highlights the importance of employment among migrants and says that it is key to the integration process. Noting Malta and Europe’s demographic challenges and a rapidly changing labour market, the report says that there is a recognised need to attract migrant workers from third countries.

Underlining the importance of a long-term migration policy, which includes effective integration measures, Aditus says the integration of migrants is crucial “as their integration into the host state’s economy and society is viewed as contributing to better economic performance whilst mitigating social tensions.”

The report recommends making more and improved information available and accessible to both TCNs and employers that gives clear guidelines on procedural issues such as the labour market assessment conditions, social security rights, labour law rights and residency rights.

While procedures for granting a single residence and employment licence and providing equal access to workers’ rights and general support should be simplified, the report says that TCNs should be allowed to apply for an employment licence individually and remove the obligation that a TCN employment licence be issued in the employer’s name, as this may discourage the TCN from instituting complaints against the employer in cases of breaches in employment legislation.

Moreover, intercultural preparation for newly arrived TCNs and their families, including basic information on employment and labour in Malta, cultural and social issues, integration and linguistic training should be strengthened and intercultural training at the workplace should be encouraged.

Family reunion

The Aditus report calls on the authorities to reduce the maximum nine-month period for the processing of asylum applications and adopt a system in which after five years, dependent family members are automatically granted autonomous resident permits. The possibility of shortening this time-frame should be explored, particularly for TCNs living in abusive family scenarios, the report adds.

It also says that family members should be allowed to access employment immediately upon arrival and without the need for a labour market test. Moreover, family members should be granted access to social assistance and benefits on the same level as the sponsoring TNC.

The report also recommends the expansion of the definition of what constitutes the “family” to comprise partners, including same-sex couples, and possibly also other dependents to reflect the family-centric model in Malta.

In addition, the report recommends that economic resources requirements are rendered less burdensome especially for female migrants as sponsors, due to the reality that female TCNs are generally engaged in lower-paid employment sectors.


Education, the report says, is “pivotal in preparing migrants and their descendants to be more successful and active participants in the host society.” Noting that the right to access to education and training is crucial to integration, the report underlines the lack of a national policy on TNC education in Malta.

A recent study on integration in education in Maltese schools found 
that 50% of respondent teachers confirmed that there was need to change approaches in the classroom in order to account for the number of migrant students, while 85.7% of heads of school acknowledged that they had never met any representatives from cultural and/or religious groups representing the diversity of the students

In order to address the shortcomings in the field, the report says that the national curriculum should address multicultural diversity, inclusiveness, contemporary cultures and the understanding of different religious beliefs.

The report proposes the introduction of measures relating to migrants and their specific needs, such as targeted Maltese and English language classes and the opportunity to study their mother tongue and culture of origin.

Moreover, state run institutions should be made aware of different cultural; and religious celebrations and provide space where different groups of students and parents interact and integrate through social events.

Political participation

Malta is one of 11 EU countries which do not provide TCNs with any electoral rights. Recommendations include allowing TCNs to vote and stand in local elections and the removal of any obstacles to their civic and political participation. TCNs should be encouraged to actively participate in trades unions, women’s organisations, NGOs and political parties.

Long-term residence

Migrants should be allowed to register their residence shared with non-family members, as many migrant workers share accommodation with co-workers or other persons.

Moreover the report proposes that the requirement of a 75% pass mark for both the integration and language courses is lowered, keeping in mind that Malta is not permitted to expect higher standards from TCNs than from its own nationals while the timeframe for attending integration and language courses should be extended, as the current 12-month timeframe prior to applying for the long-term residence permit is challenging for migrants who are in full-time employment.

Access to nationality

Over the past years Malta has seen a steady decline in the numbers of persons granted citizenship through naturalisation, with a sharp pre-election spike in 2012.

Stressing the importance of access to citizenship in the integration of TCNs, the report proposes that the current system, which requires individuals to reside in Malta for 12 months before applying and for an aggregate of four years in the preceding six years while having an adequate knowledge of the Maltese and English languages, should be changed.

The report proposes that the government should introduce clear and specific criteria to replace the minister’s discretion. A transparent and objective assessment method should be in place together with clear timeframes and the right to appeal and review decisions.