While first-time asylum requests fell significantly across the 28 EU members as a whole, said statistics office Eurostat, in Italy they rose by 4 percent, from 121,185 in 2016 to 126,550 last year.
Italy now accounts for 19.5 percent of all such requests in the EU, second only to Germany with 30.5 percent. France is third with 14 percent.
Most of Italy's asylum applications came from Nigerian nationals, according to Eurostat. They made up 20 percent of applicants, followed by people from Bangladesh (10 percent) and Pakistan (7 percent).
That sets Italy apart from the rest of the EU, where overall most first-time asylum seekers come from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.
While Italy received more requests for asylum than almost any other country, it rejected more than half of them. Little over 40 percent of applicants were granted any protection in the first instance and fewer than 10 percent received full refugee status, well below the EU-wide total of 23 percent.
Overall, Italy was 19th out of 28 countries in terms of the applications it approved. The figures do not take into account cases where applicants appealed the decision, however.
Relative to its population, Italy receives fewer asylum requests per million inhabitants than Greece, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria, Germany or Sweden.
Nor are the numbers of requests growing fastest in Italy. Between 2016 and 2017, Spain, France and Greece saw applications rise by several thousand more than Italy did.