This column first appeared in Malta Today
Some people spent the last few days slogging through the much-awaited full Egrant report (on the other hand, many of those who have been clamouring for it to be published could not be bothered to read the 1,500 page tome but blatantly said they were waiting for others to give them the gist).
As I write, Labour and PN media and supporters are still busily picking and choosing selective quotes from the vast report, in order to fit their particular narrative.
Meanwhile, away from all this political intrigue, a more human drama has been unfolding right in front of our eyes which points to a very serious issue we have been ignoring for far too long. It concerns non-EU families who – let us not forget – have been actively encouraged to come here by the state which keeps insisting that Malta needs more foreign workers to fill all the vacancies available.
And if you do not believe they are being encouraged than how do you explain this statistic issued by Identity Malta itself: “in 2018 Serbian nationals amounted to 5,744, resulting in the largest third-country national community in Malta.”
Over 5,000 Serbian nationals do not just show up on your doorstep unannounced. It is clear that they are economic migrants and that there is work for them here, and someone has employed them (otherwise why re-locate to a foreign country with a strange language and where they have to learn English to get along?). However, Serbians are also non-EU, or as they are commonly referred to, TCN – Third Country Nationals. Identity Malta also pointed out that, “Serbian nationals are non-visa nationals, therefore they do not require a visa to stay in Schengen territory for a period of 90 days within any 6 months period.”
But it is also clear that those coming here are not temporary 3 month visitors but have uprooted themselves and their family for the long-term. They are finding employment, and this employment means that they can apply for a residence permit which used to be a straightforward procedure. So what has suddenly changed?
The point of contention concerns those families with children. According to a report in The Times, “The government entity sent out letters refusing the residence permits of 22 children as young as two years old…because their parents do not satisfy the financial requirements of a policy, which requires third country nationals to earn €19,000 a year, as well as €3,800 extra for each child. The figures do not include bonuses or overtime.”
This effectively means that the children have to leave the country which is a preposterous suggestion at best.
However, it has been pointed out that the EU Directive on the status of long-term Third Country Nationals and their financial requirements refers to the Maltese minimum wage, and not the AVERAGE wage. As we all know, there is quite a chunk of the Maltese population which gets by on the minimum wage, so saying that other nationalities cannot properly provide for their children on this wage seems to indicate that what needs to be done is to increase that wage, and not deport children.
If the implications of how this policy is being applied were not bad enough, the reaction of the relevant Cabinet Ministers was even more callous. The policy, they insisted, was there “to protect children from living in poverty” and that it was “in their best interest”. I have seen photos of the children in question and none of them look like they are living in abject poverty – they all look well-fed, well-dressed, happy and smiling. Apart from that, how is threatening to separate families, or force these families to uproot and go back to their country of origin, in their best interest?
And using the Ministers’ same yardstick, are we supposed to remove Maltese children from their parents who may not be earning enough to prevent them from slipping into poverty? And no, these are not “sensationalist” stories, as Julia Farrugia Portelli is reported to have said, because when it comes to children one can never be sensationalist. There are families who are facing a grim, uncertain, anxious Christmas because some bureaucrat woke up one day and decided…what? That there are too many Serbian families all of a sudden? Are they not contributing to the economy, paying their taxes and doing the work which (perhaps) Maltese nationals no longer want to do?
It is not doing this administration any favours that all of this has hit the news at the same time that we are reading about unbridled corruption: taxi drivers being paid for non-existent Government jobs, persons of trust earning obscene amounts of money and offshore companies being set up by politically exposed persons to squirrel away their assets. The same Government which saw nothing wrong in selling its citizenship to dubious characters and shady millionaires is now quibbling over the income of ordinary, hardworking people who came here for a better life (and are being encouraged to do so), some of whom are not meeting the required threshold by a mere few hundred Euro.
Thankfully many have taken up this cause and organised fund-raising to help these families, including Caritas Malta and tenor Joseph Calleja. The Archbishop has urged all parishes and religious organisations to donate as well.
If it really wants to address the problems of TCNs then this administration should re-think its own economic model. First of all, it needs to ensure that everyone who comes here as an economic migrant is being paid properly and not under the table and below the minimum wage. It also needs to re-assess its own insistence on the “we need more foreign workers” policy rather than place the onus of the problem on those who come here. If it has suddenly woken up to the fact that the country has become too crowded and that the infrastructure cannot cope with more people, then the way to go about it is to stop people at the point of entry by clearly spelling out their financial requirements BEFORE they even think of moving here permanently. Changing the goalposts is simply unacceptable and heartless.
Don’t lure TCNs here with false promises, allowing them to build a new life and raise their children here, only for them to find that one fine day their application will be stamped with “Residence permit denied.”
Donations may be directed to Caritas by specifying “The 22 Migrant Kids”