Brain drain: More Italians than ever are moving abroad

More than 100,000 Italians chose to move to a new country in 2015, a 6.2 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report presented on Thursday by the Fondazione Migrantes.

Brain drain: More Italians than ever are moving abroad
More Italians than ever are choosing to move abroad. File photo: Pexels

The  'Italians in the world' report tracks the number of people on the Registry of Italians Resident Abroad (Aire), and revealed a shift in the age and social status of those moving abroad. Italian expats are most likely to be young and single, with men slightly more likely than women to make the leap abroad.

Better opportunities for young Italians

Fondazione Migrantes described the rise in emigration – particularly among the 18-34 age group, which made up a third of emigrants last year – as a “brain drain”, noting that not only do Italians of the 'millennial' generation have the highest average level of education, but they also suffers from the highest unemployment levels, leading many to look overseas for work opportunities.

With the many programmes offering study and work opportunities to young people abroad, such as Erasmus+, for this generation “the choice is not so much whether to leave, but whether to stay”, the report added.

There are more opportunities for young, qualified Italians abroad, the report argues. Photo: Stein Magne Bjørklund/Flickr

The total number of Italians who emigrated in 2015 was 107,529 – a 6.2 percent increase from the previous year, with 36.7 percent of those (39,410) aged between 18 and 34. 

The next most likely age group to pack their bags were 35-49 year-olds, who made up 25.8 percent of migrants, while children aged under 18 accounted for one in five Italians to move abroad. Just 6.2 percent were aged over 65, and this was in fact the only age group to see a drop in migration numbers year-on-year.

A drop in emigration from the south

Another interesting change was the increase in emigration from the prosperous north of Italy.

Traditionally, southern Italians have accounted for the majority of those moving abroad, due to economic factors such as high unemployment in the southern regions.

But latest migration figures show a sharp rise in moves from northern Italy, with Lombardy and Veneto the regions with the most emigrants. Sicily fell from second to third position, followed by Lazio, Piedmont and Emilia Romagna. 

This shift may seem surprising, as Lombardy is one of the wealthiest regions, consistently reporting a high GDP per capita, high rate of growth and low unemployment. 

However, increased employment opportunities and higher quality of life are becoming more popular reasons for moving abroad, according to Fondazione Migrantes, suggesting that even in the wealthier regions, qualified Italians feel they could get a better deal by moving to a new country.

In fact, earlier this week the Ministry for Economic Development faced backlash after a leaflet advertising to foreign investors boasted that experienced Italian workers were paid significantly less than their European neighbours.

“Italy offers a competitive wage level (that grows less than in the rest of the EU) and a highly skilled workforce,” the Italian Trade Agency declared.

READ MORE: Italian government boasts of low wages in campaign for investment

Italian government boasts of low wages in campaign for foreign investment

Photo: Pexels

'Migration is harmful if it is one-way'

So where are Italians moving to?

The most popular destination was Germany, where 16,568 Italians decided to start a new life, followed very closely by the UK (16,503), Switzerland and France. Over two thirds of expats (69.2 percent) stayed within Europe, with the majority of the rest opting for North America.

The number moving to southern America saw a sharp drop of 14.9 percent compared to 2014, and only 352 Italians moved somewhere outside Europe or America.

Italians are most likely to move to northern Europe. Photo: Pexels

“Mobility is a resource,” the report noted. “But it becomes harmful if it is one-way, in other words when it is a hemorrhage of talent and skills from one place, with no corresponding return.” 

Italian President Sergio Mattarella echoed this concern in a statement, saying that the study “forces us to look for solutions to benefit from migration, eliminating the risks”.

He added that the choice to leave the country was often “a sign of impoverishment  rather than a free choice inspired by the movement of knowledge and experience “.

A total of 4,636,647 Italians are registered as living abroad, a number which has increased by 3.7 percent since 2014. The 'Italians in the World' study has been running since 2005, and over the past decade the number of Italians abroad has swelled by almost 50 percent.


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Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question.