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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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.