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IN NUMBERS: 12 revealing statistics about Italy’s foreign residents

How many foreigners move to Italy, where do they live, and are the numbers changing? From the regions with the most foreign residents to employment rates, these statistics provide a snapshot of Italy’s international population.

IN NUMBERS: 12 revealing statistics about Italy's foreign residents
Foreigners make up around 8 percent of Italy's population. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Foreigners make up 8.4 percent of Italy’s population.

Italy had just over 5 million registered foreign residents at the start of 2021, out of a total population of around 59 million, according to national statistics office Istat.

In terms of the percentage of foreigners within the total population, Italy is almost exactly at the EU average of 8 percent. It’s below Ireland (12.5 percent), Germany (12.2), Spain (10.3) or Sweden (9.1), but slightly above Greece (7.8) or France (7.3).

Italy’s foreign population decreased slightly last year. 

After a rapid increase between 2000 to 2015, Italy’s foreign population has remained fairly stable in recent years, rising only a little each year and even starting to decrease slightly in 2020. 

By the start of 2021 Italy had 4,000 fewer registered foreign residents compared to the year before. The overall decline was made up of several factors as people moved away, died or gained Italian citizenship. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

At least 174,000 foreigners moved to Italy last year and 46,000 left.

Going by the number of people registering their residence in Italy – which doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole picture – around 174,000 foreign nationals settled here in 2020 while 46,000 cancelled their residency to move abroad. 

Another 84,000 were taken off the records for administrative reasons, which doesn’t always mean that they left.

Some 60,000 babies were born to foreign parents in Italy in 2020.

Last year 9,000 of Italy’s international residents died and 60,000 new ones were born, according to Istat. The figure was down from 63,000 in 2019 and 65,000 in 2018.

READ ALSO: ‘What it was like being pregnant during the pandemic in Italy’

Unlike some other countries, Italy does not automatically recognise people who are born here to foreign parents as citizens. Under current laws, such children have to wait until they are 18 to apply for Italian nationality.

Around 100,000 foreigners were granted Italian citizenship last year.

According to statistics from 2019, the last year for which detailed data is available, the most common way that foreign residents become Italian is either by family descent, by being born and raised in Italy and claiming citizenship at 18, or by parental transmission (a law that automatically transfers citizenship to the children of adults who acquire citizenship, provided they’re under 18 and living with them at the time).

READ MORE: How many foreigners does Italy grant citizenship to?

Most foreigners who get citizenship either take one of these three routes or accumulate enough years of legal residency. A much smaller number become citizens via marriage to an Italian national.

Most of Italy’s foreign residents come from outside the EU.

Roughly 3.6 million of the 5 million foreigners officially living in Italy are cittadini non comunitari, citizens of countries outside the European Union. 

The nationalities that make up the largest slices of Italy’s international population are Romania (1.1 million), Albania (420,000), Morocco (410,000), China (290,000) and Ukraine (230,000). 

Milan’s “Chinatown” on Via Paolo Sarpi. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Most international residents in Italy are women.

It’s not a huge gender difference, but it is a consistent one: since at least 2007, according to Istat’s records, more than 50 percent of the foreign population in Italy has been female. 

At the start of 2020 the figure was 51.7 percent, which translates to around 170,000 more women and girls than men and boys.

Only one in ten of Italy’s foreign residents have a university degree.

Just 10.3 percent of foreigners in Italy aged 15-64 have a university degree, according to Istat’s figures for 2020, while 34.5 percent have the equivalent of a high school diploma, and 55.3 percent left education after middle school or the equivalent.

Around 60 percent of foreigners in Italy have jobs.

Some 60.6 percent of foreign 20-64-year-olds in Italy were in employment in 2020, a fall of nearly 4 percent compared to 2019. 

The figures suggest that foreign workers were more likely to have lost jobs in the Covid-19 pandemic: the employment rate for Italians fell by just 0.6 percent over the same period, to 62.8 percent. 

Before the pandemic, employment had been slightly higher among foreign residents than Italian citizens: 64.4 percent compared to 63.4 percent in 2019.


Photo by Edmond Dantès/Pexels

Nearly two-thirds of non-EU residents have a long-term residency permit.

By the start of 2020 just over 61 percent of non-EU citizens in Italy had a permesso di soggiorno di lungo periodo (long-term residence permit), which you can only obtain after living here legally for at least five years and passing an Italian language test.

Italy issued just 177,000 new residency permits in 2019.

That’s over 64,000 fewer than in 2018, a drop of nearly 27 percent.

Most new permits were issued for family reasons (46.7 percent) or work purposes (29.4 percent).

Lombardy is the region with the highest number of foreign residents.

More than 1.1 million foreigners live in Lombardy, Italy’s hub for industry, finance and commerce.

No other part of Italy comes close: Lazio, the region around Rome, is second with 620,000 international residents, followed by Emilia-Romagna with 540,000.


At the other end of the scale, meanwhile, are the regions with fewest inhabitants of any nationality: Valle D’Aosta, home to just over 8,000 non-Italians, Molise (12,000) and Basilicata (just under 23,000).

All figures were provided by Istat and refer to the most recent data available. 

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Italy heading for demographic ‘crisis’ as population set to shrink by a fifth

Italy, which has for years recorded one of Europe's lowest birth rates, is on track to lose a fifth of its population in 50 years, official data suggests.

Italy heading for demographic 'crisis' as population set to shrink by a fifth
Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

The Istat national statistics agency wrote that the data marked “a potential picture of crisis” in its report on Friday, titled “The future of the population – fewer residents, more older people, smaller families.”

Nearly a quarter of Italy’s population is aged 65 or older, at 23.2 percent, and that is expected to grow to 35 percent by 2050, according to Istat’s estimate.

“The age structure of the population already shows a high imbalance in favour of the older generations and there are currently no factors that might suggest a reversal of this trend,” read the report.

“Demographic forecasts show that there is little likelihood of a turnaround in the number of births in the years to come.”


Italy’s population is expected to decrease from 59.6 million people in January 2020 to 47.6 million in 2070, it predicted, representing a drop of 20 percent.

Whereas in 2020, the average age of Italians was 45.7, it is expected to rise to 50.7 by 2050, Istat said.

And continuing a trend begun in 2007, in which deaths have surpassed births each year, within less than three decades, deaths are expected to outweigh births by a factor of two, 784,000 against 391,000.

Istat wrote that immigration from abroad to Italy should begin to recover after the Covid-19 pandemic, and beginning in 2023 regain its pre-pandemic average levels at about 280,000 immigrants per year, although that is expected to decrease gradually to 244,000 annually by 2070.

Emigration, which is also expected to recover its pre-pandemic levels, is expected to decrease from 145,000 annual departures in 2025 to 126,000 in 2070.

Italy’s population is getting older as fewer births are recorded. Photo by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

Last year, the Italian population shrank by almost 400,000 — roughly the size of the city of Florence — as deaths peaked, births bottomed out and immigration slowed down.

In 2012, Italy saw births fall to the lowest level since it became a nation state in 1861, to around 534,000. Since then, new record lows have been established every year.

In 2020, as coronavirus swept the country, the figure fell to 404,000.

How Italy is responding to the population drop

Italy has long counted among one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, and the situation has only been made worse by the coronavirus crisis.

In reaction to continuously falling birth rates, the Italian government vowed to support women and couples to have a family, including the introduction of a universal single allowance.

The authorities gave the green light to the measure earlier this month, providing a monthly benefit to those who have children, from the seventh month of pregnancy until the child reaches the age of 21.


What a family receives is based on household income, according to the socio-economic indicator the government uses to calculate benefits, known as ISEE.

Approved by Italy’s government cabinet, the Council of Ministers, the single and universal child allowance (L’assegno unico e universale) varies depending on the ISEE and the age of the children, except for disabled children for whom there is no age limit.

It ranges from €175 to €50 per month for each child under 18, while from 18 to 21 years old, the contribution is on a scale from €85 to €25.

The allowance unifies and replaces a series of measures to support families – hence the term ‘unico‘. It’s also called ‘universal’ because it is granted to all families with dependent children resident in Italy.

Families can begin applying for the new benefit from January 1st 2022, although there is currently a temporary ‘bridge allowance’ in place to cover groups of families that have so far been excluded from government family help.

Introduced in July, families can submit an application under the current interim rules for financial assistance until December 31st.

The universal single allowance forms part of the country’s wider strategy, its so-called Family Act, which is intended to help make starting a family in the country a more affordable and realistic prospect.

The benefit can be accessed by anyone who pays taxes in Italy and has been resident in the country for at least two years.

Italian and EU citizens and holders of residence permits for work or research purposes for at least six months are eligible.