The Italian parliament has passed Tuesday a series of measures aimed a curtailing immigration. The legislation, which would include finger-printing non-European Union citizens, have been condemned by the opposition as unjust and racist.
The Bossi-Fini law, named after its conservative authors, must still be approved by the upper house before it can go into effect. If it is approved, non-European Union foreigners will only be able to live in the country if they have arranged work before entering.
Workers will receive residency permits only for the duration of their employment contracts and up to a maximum of two years. Employers who hire immigrants will be required to find them a place to stay and pay for their return ticket when their jobs are over.
The bill also makes family reunions more complicated. Immigrants will only be allowed to bring their children to join them in Italy if they are under 18 years of age.
To combat illegal immigration the new legislation will allow increased patrols along Italy's long coastline. It will also introduce fingerprinting for identification purposes.
The bill also calls for the immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants. Those who return to the country after being expelled will be treated as criminals and authorities will be able to imprison them for up to one year.
The new bill also targets those who assist immigrants in reaching Italy, from where many make their way into other countries of the European Union. Smugglers face prison sentences of four to 12 years and a fine of 15,000 euros for each immigrant they bring into the country. Punishments will be more severe if they bring more than five people into the country.
Umberto Bossi, leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, who championed the legislation, said Italy "needs to show people who want to arrive illegally that we are able to kick them out." He said his party had promised a law that would sort out immigration in its electoral platform and had fulfilled its pledge.
But opposition leaders slammed the new law saying it is discriminatory and racist. Communist leader Oliviero Diliberto said a civil country "cannot equate illegal immigrants with criminals." Luciano Violante, leader of Italy's largest opposition party, says the bill will create a "climate of fear and hatred" against immigrants.
Many Italians blame illegal aliens for criminal activities and have supported the conservative government's tough immigration stance.