Last year I became one of thousands of UK-based academics to lose their job because of cuts to university budgets made in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Although I liked many aspects of my lecturing job and dreaded the prospect of being unemployed, I was weary. The last four years of working in the university system had exhausted me, and I was ready for a change.
I decided to see my misfortune as an opportunity. I missed Italy—where I had previously spent four years studying and working—and I craved experiencing its idiosyncrasies, its quality of life, and its beauty again. And since my involuntary career break had removed one of the main things tethering me to the UK, it made perfect sense to start applying for jobs in the bel paese. So when I was offered an English teaching job in a small town in Lombardy, I jumped at the chance.
But the world had changed dramatically since the last time I had lived in Italy. I had chosen to move to another country in the middle of a global pandemic, when international travel was more restricted than it had been in decades. And I was moving the same year Brexit took effect, meaning I no longer benefited from the freedom of movement that European citizenship provides. So what was it like as a British citizen moving to Italy post-Brexit?
The most daunting part of my move to Italy was navigating the country’s convoluted and time-consuming immigration bureaucracy, including applying for a work visa.
Of course, I had been aware of Italy’s reputation for bureaucratic complexity the first time around. However, ten years ago I had the benefit of being an EU citizen. As a foreigner, it arguably takes being a non-EU citizen to fully appreciate why the country has garnered such a reputation.
I applied for the EU Blue Card, which allows skilled workers with a university degree to work for an Italian company. The card has a validity of up to two years and is renewable.
Thankfully, for this type of visa it is the responsibility of the employer to carry out the initial stages of the application process. This entails applying for a Nulla Osta, a security check carried out to ensure the applicant is not legally restricted to work in Italy, before the candidate himself applies for the visa in the Italian consulate in London.
Although the Nulla Osta sounds relatively straightforward, it was during my application for the security clearance that I learned how easy it is to stumble upon bureaucratic hiccups that can delay the whole process by months.
For example, the EU Blue Card requires applicants to have an undergraduate degree, but if you graduated outside of Italy you also need to apply for a Dichiarazione di Valore, a legal document certifying that your degree is of equal value to that of an Italian university degree.
Thankfully I had already applied for a Dichiarazione when enrolling on a PhD programme in Italy years before. So when the local immigration office asked to see a copy of it, I managed to find one on my computer and send it to them.
However, shortly before the Nulla Osta was due to be authorised, the immigration office asked to see the hard copy of my Dichiarazione – and I couldn’t find it. This was a big blow, because as I knew from the first time I had applied, it is a procedure that can take months and cost hundreds of euros. Would I need to apply again? If so, my diploma would need to “certified” by a British notary, translated into Italian, and sent to the Italian embassy in London to be authorised; current official advice suggests the latter process alone can take up to forty-five days.
Mercifully, my old university was able to track down the hardcopy of my old Dichiarazione and send it to me, which reduced the time and cost of my application significantly.
But my overall experience nonetheless echoes a point made previously on The Local by an American resident: that when applying for an Italian work visa you should be prepared for everything to take considerably longer than what you expect.
In total, my application for the Blue Card took around five months, including the time taken for the Nulla Osta but not including the additional time required to apply for Permesso di Soggiorno residence permit (which I am still waiting for).
Meanwhile, coronavirus has hardly helped matters. During my application, the local immigration office blamed a backlog of pending applications on the delays caused by the ongoing crisis.
All of this inevitably took a psychological toll. I experienced plenty of anxiety as I scrambled to attain all the required paperwork, and as I waited for the bureaucratic cogs to turn. But in the background, there was something else, something that was to do with having once had the right to live in Italy and then losing it. I had always considered Italy to be a second home, a place where I belonged, and somewhere that thanks to my European citizenship I had some kind of stake in.
When I arrived in Italy at the end of last year, it was the first time I had entered as a “third-country” national. As I was all too aware, what this meant was that I no longer had the unconditional right to enter the country. The extra documentation required of me and of other non-EU arrivals coming to Italy during the pandemic only accentuated that unfamiliar, unsettling feeling of not being welcome.
The restrictions and bureaucratic hurdles linked with migrating to Italy as a non-EU citizen have ultimately affected the sense of belonging I have felt in the country. Although I am enjoying life in Italy and still feel at home here, I am no longer free to move between jobs and my ability to stay here is conditional on whether my visa is renewed.
For me, as well as being about where one feels comfortable, happy and at home, belonging is also closely associated with acceptance and security. Although I would love to stay for the long term, thanks to the precariousness of my position, it may take some time before I’m able to say I truly belong.