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Immigrants now 7.2% of population

Caritas says one in 14 residents a legal alien

28 October, 19:59

(ANSA) - Rome, October 28 - There are over 4.5 million legal immigrants in Italy, amounting to one in 14 residents, according to a report released Wednesday by Catholic charity Caritas.

According to the report, legal aliens now account for 7.2% of the population, exceeding the European Union average of 6.2% for the first time ever.

Earlier this month, national statistics bureau Istat, placed the number of foreign residents at the beginning of the year at 3.8 million, amounting to 6.5% of the population.

Both organizations agreed that a surge in 2008 brought more than 400,000 new residents into the country.

According to Caritas, some 300,000 immigrants gained residency in the first nine months of 2009.

The coordinator of the group's report, Franco Pittau, estimated that the number of legal aliens in Italy would top 12 million if current immigration trends continued.

''Istat estimates that the immigrant population will increase by 250,000 per year, but that's less than what we're seeing,'' said Pittau.

Caritas said it expects immigrant workers to play an ever greater role in the Italian economy, where they are already a major help to the national pension plan and an important source of tax revenue.

According to the report, foreign workers pump over 7 billion euros per year into the national retirement fund and pay the government 3.2 billion euros in income taxes.

Moreover, just one in 25 foreign residents will be in retirement ten years from now compared to one in five Italians, a factor Caritas said will help to keep the Italian pension system afloat.

The report added that foreigners made up a growing portion of Italy's tax base, with the number of immigrant workers rising by 200,000 last year.

There are a total of two million foreign workers in Italy, who produce some 10% of the country's gross domestic product, the organization said.

According to Caritas, immigrant workers are more willing to move and accept a wider range of tasks than many Italians, and are at greater risk of work accidents.

Over 143,000 foreign workers were injured on the job last year and 176 killed.

The organization noted also that foreign-run businesses have demonstrated resilience to the economic downturn, increasing by 10% in 2008 and generating 6.4 billion euros.

Caritas is among Catholic human rights groups at odds with the government over its tough stance on immigration, which includes a bilateral arrangement with Libya adopted in May to forcibly escort migrants intercepted in international waters back to north Africa.

Last month, Italy enacted a law which makes illegal immigration a criminal offense, punishable by summary expulsion from the country and fines of up to 10,000 euros.

The law is now before the constitutional court following a ruling by a judge in Turin earlier this month who said it may be in violation of the Italian constitution.

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