23 March 2016
As from March 2012, all foreign nationals aged over 16 who enter Italy for the first time and file an application for the issuance of the residence permit with a duration of at least 12 months, shall sign the Integration Agreement (the so-called Accordo di Integrazione). It is an agreement between any foreign national and the Italian State, signed within 8 days of arrival in Italy at the Immigration Office (Sportello Unico Immigrazione, SUI) or at the local police headquarters. By signing such agreement, foreign nationals undertake to acquire specific knowledge (Italian civic culture and civil life in Italy) through free-of-charge lessons, for a total of 5 to 10 hours; they will then be tested on their knowledge of the Italian language. The minimum level of knowledge required to comply with the integration agreement corresponds to level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
The level of integration is assessed in terms of credits, ranging from 0 to 30. Such credits are required to renew any residence permits that are about to expire. By attending Italian civics lessons, 16 initial credits are given: therefore, it is important to attend the courses on such dates as set by the authorities.
Under the regulations concerning the Integration Agreement (Italian Legislative Decree 286/1998), foreigners shall obtain 30 credits within two years of the execution thereof. At the end of this phase, if the agreement has been complied with only in part, it may be extended for 12 more months.
However, going beyond the regulations, the details of the operating procedures are often confused, and vary from province to province.
If the deadline of the Italian civics course is not specified when the Agreement is signed, foreign nationals are often called to attend it just a few days before it takes place, without considering that they may not be able to present themselves at short notice. In case foreign nationals are unable to attend the course at the set date, it is extremely difficult for them to apply for a new appointment, or at least it is unclear how they should apply for it. Sometimes participation is not possible at all, which leads to the loss of the 15 credits concerning attendance at the course.
While staying in Italy within the set period, foreign nationals are asked to attend special Italian language courses which should certify their knowledge of the Italian language at a level of at least A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Foreign nationals are allowed to attend courses organized by “recognized” institutions, although there are only four of them in Italy (CELI – University for Foreigners Perugia – Università per stranieri di Perugia; CILS – University for Foreigners Siena – Università per Stranieri di Siena; PLIDA – Dante Alighieri Society Diplomas – Società Dante Alighieri; IT – Roma Tre University – Università degli Studi di Roma Tre). Hence, more often, similar courses are organized by the relevant Immigration Office on a yearly basis, and foreign nationals are informed thereabout by registered mail, in the Italian language, and without checking their mailing addresses before, although these often prove not to be correct anymore.
Actually, foreign nationals must be able to obtain the information required to participate in the course on their own, and attend the lessons, giving up any other engagement. No qualifications issued by other training institutions in Italy – whether public or private – chosen by foreign nationals are recognized.
Finally, there is no clear procedure to notify the Immigration Office of any additional credits obtained while staying in Italy either (for example, registration with the national health service and execution of a lease in one’s name). As a result, these are often left out or are not calculated.
The worker’s family shall also execute the Agreement, although they cannot be expelled from Italy (under article 4 bis of Italian Legislative Decree n°. 286 of 25/07/1998). Nevertheless, the outcome thereof is not clear in case of failure to obtain the required credits.
Finally, last September, circular letter n°. 5218 issued by the Ministry of the Interior mitigated the position of the Italian State with those complying with the Integration Agreement only in part.
Immigration Offices and the relevant institutions of all the Italian regions are required to conclude past and future incomplete files with the new wording “partial non-fulfilment”, thereby avoiding closing an Agreement with a negative outcome due to “non-fulfilment”. Non-fulfilment has been known to date to be the reason that determines the denial of renewal of Residence Permits to foreign nationals after staying in Italy for the first three years.
Hence many foreign nationals may obtain new Residence Permits even if they may not have fully complied with the integration requirements established by the Italian State.
However, it has not been determined yet whether such ministerial measure will apply to all types of permits, and what discretionary measures might be adopted when evaluating different cases.
The operating procedure of the Integration Agreement is very likely to be further modified in the near future. We hope that the situation will eventually be clarified!