More than half a million illegal migrants in Italy will be given permits to stay and work under plans put forward by the government, which said they had proved essential for caring for the elderly and picking crops in recent weeks.

Unregistered migrants have toiled in fields up and down the country during two months of lockdown, ensuring secure food supplies for Italians stuck at home while risking arrest if caught by police. “The food on our table comes from these fields. Now we must hand over those rights which have been denied to those who work in them,” Peppe Provenzano, minister for the south of Italy, said.