Malta: migrants call for decent regularisation mechanism

This blog post was written thanks to the contribution of Doris Doku, a Ghanaian activist living in Malta.

On 4 October, hundreds of people gathered on the streets of Valletta, Malta’s capital city, to call on the government to uphold the rights of migrants living in the islands. The demonstration gathered local activists, including migrants, and civil society organisations, following the case of a migrant worker who was injured at work in a construction site and left by his employer on the side of a road with no assistance. According to the protesters, such cases of abuse and exploitation are the result of Malta’s migration policies.

At the centre of the protests are the country’s policies on work and residence permits, which, among other things, result in the impossibility of undocumented migrants securing any form of long-lasting status in Malta.

A major issue is that in Malta, many migrants work regularly and pay taxes but don’t have residence permits. They are issued a so-called ‘yellow book’ document which allows a person to work pending deportation. But, this is not a proper permit. And while paying contributions to the country’s social security system – often for many years – they do not have access to many of the social benefits that are available to Maltese citizens, including family allowances, retirement pension, unemployment benefits, or COVID-19 related state support.

As for residence permits, one of the main problems concerns the Specific Residence Authorisation (SRA) policy, a temporary regularisation programme established in November 2018, which was discontinued in 2020. The SRA policy responded to the critical situation facing undocumented people in Malta, triggered in part by the discontinuation of a previous regularisation mechanism.

Under this residence policy, migrants would receive a 2-year residence permit which gave access to basic services and welfare benefits, including mainstream education and health care, as well as a permit to access the labour market.

“For migrants in Malta, life isn’t a right, it’s a privilege”

Doris Doku, migrant activist

Towards the end of last year, the SRA policy was terminated. The government agency Identity Malta stopped receiving new applications on 31 December 2020. More stringent renewal requirements were also introduced. As a result, many people have been unable to regularise their status, even after years of living and working in Malta. Hundreds of people who were able to access status have become undocumented again when their 2-year permit was up for renewal.

Children have also been denied access the SRA residence permit when one of the parents does not meet the criteria.

Migrants and civil society organisations are asking that the SRA policy be reinstated and reformed so that people can be lifted out of irregularity and access services and social support, including for their children.

On the day of the protest, the demonstrators delivered a petition to the Home Affairs Ministry in Valletta with their demands. The ministry’s staff did not receive them and only accepted to get the petition from under the building’s entrance door.

Should the government fail to respond to the claims, the activists have said they’re ready to continue the protest.

Photo courtesy of Aditus Foundation