The number of immigrants in Italy has increased almost tenfold from 1990, when it exceeded half a million, and presently Italy hosts almost 5 million immigrants. While the need some populations have to migrate keeps growing, the Italian’s sensitivity to this issue decreased. The open minded attitude the country’s governments demonstrated with the earliest laws on immigration has now been replaced by mistrust, and as a result of that immigrants are increasingly more often perceived as a problem more than an opportunity. Statistical data show that there is 1 immigrant in 12 citizens, and that means Italy is faced with an important, numerically significant phenomenon which is part of the country’s development. Italy is becoming multicultural and this is a fact: there are about 250 thousand interethnic marriages, more than half a million people have become Italian citizens (at a rate of more than 50 thousand per year); every year there are more than 570 thousand foreign citizens born in Italy, almost 100 thousand of which are born from a non-Italian mother, and more than 100 thousand foreign citizens enter Italy every year thanks to family reunion programmes. Multicultural Italy is indeed varied: Romanian have the largest community, totalling just little less than 1 million people, followed by Albanians and Moroccans, around half a million, while Chinese and Ukrainian are almost 200 thousand.
Most immigrants dwell and have settled in Northern or Central Italy while Southern Italy has a smaller immigrant population. Rome and Milan are home to the largest community, totalling 300 thousand and 200 thousand respectively, however immigration has reached even smaller towns in which immigrants hold a significant share of the total residents’ population (up to 30% in some Central and Northern Italy towns).
Since Italy’s population aging speed is quite high, immigrants represent a vital support to population growth and economic growth, indeed immigrants now account for about 11.1% of Italy’s gross domestic product. In addition to that immigrant workforce fills permanent shortages in some specific sectors, like elderly and family home care, agriculture, constructions, tertiary (services), nursing. The total amount of immigrant workers is currently about 2 million and, although many of them are considerably young and far from the age of retirement, they pay about 7.5 billion euro per year in welfare contributions thus helping considerably in keeping the INPS’ (Italian National Welfare and Pensions Agency) balance sheet on the “plus” side. Immigrants are increasingly more active in the self-employment and entrepreneurial sectors, and they stand out also for the vitality they inject in the Italian production system and labour market. There are about 400 thousand foreign citizens who run enterprises or work as directors and shareholders in companies (which also count foreign citizens among their employees).
In Milan, Egyptian pizza makers have outnumbered the Neapolitan ones, and in the textile industry strongholds Carpi and Prato foreign entrepreneurs are now a majority, and the same happened in the leather tanning capital, Arzignano (Vicenza). One entrepreneur out of 30 working in Italy is an immigrant. That is why the presence of immigrants, if well regulated and if proper information is provided, can open new, rich opportunities for development and cohabitation on the economic, employment and cultural level.
As the economist Galbrath said, “Migration is the oldest action against poverty. It selects those who most want help. It is good for the country to which they go; it helps break the equilibrium of poverty in the country from which they come. What is the perversity in the human soul that causes people to resist so obvious a good?”
(from the text accompanyng the video “Immigration Statistic Dossier 2010” Caritas/migrantes.)