The sizeable presence of migrant care workers in the private care market in many European countries is confirmed by several studies that have explained the phenomenon through functional arguments, stressing the economic convenience of transnational markets and the crucial role played by public regulation. This paper focuses instead on the public and institutional discourses that have contributed to legitimising this private care market, characterised by the worsening of employment conditions and the decrease in care quality. The main argument of this paper is that the social recognition of these workers provides the public with the new concepts and rationales that determine the actual shape of the private care market.
Migrant care workers are usually, compared to other migrant workers, more welcome in the host society and less targeted by xenophobic attitudes, especially where their labour helps to meet a lack of public provision as is happening in Southern European countries. Nevertheless, their rights are not fully granted either as citizens or as workers: basic requirements in this migrant care market include for instance reduced wages, great flexibility, and informal contracts.
Our hypothesis is tested through the reconstruction of the public regulation and a content analysis of the public discourse that has accompanied this regulation for ten years (2002–2012) in Italy. The two main national newspapers have been taken into account. This analysis provides evidence on how market dynamics have been shaped by a deliberate political construction, which has relieved governments of the task of finding a public solution to care needs and has relegated migrant care workers to a subordinate social position, which is functional in making the care market work.