‘Not just extra paperwork’: What it’s like moving to Italy after Brexit

A lot has been said about the additional bureaucracy Brits now face when moving to Europe after losing freedom of movement. But this brings with it a new precariousness and lost sense of belonging, writes Laurence Connell.

'Not just extra paperwork': What it's like moving to Italy after Brexit
Moving to Italy after Brexit is a very different process, and not just because of the added bureaucratic hurdles. Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

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.

READ ALSO: How many Britons in EU acquired post-Brexit residency and how many were refused?

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. 

READ ALSO: What Brits need to know about visas for Italy after Brexit

Photo by Niklas Hallen / AFP

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. 

READ ALSO: Visas and residency permits: How to move to Italy (and stay here)

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. 

INTERVIEW: Brexit has turned Brits in Europe into a cohesive force but problems lie ahead

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

A growing number of Italian destinations are bringing in rules aimed at controlling the summer crowds. Such measures often prove controversial - but they should go further, says Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: Why more of Italy’s top destinations must limit tourist numbers

Each summer, as tourists flock to Italy, the question of limiting crowds and ensuring sustainable travel comes up. Especially so with Covid.

Placing a threshold on the number of visitors to some of Italy’s top spots has a two-fold goal: that of preserving the artistic and cultural value of the site, and of preventing out-of-control mass tourism from leading to accidents.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which parts of Italy will get the most tourism this summer?

Proposed crowd-control measures usually raise eyebrows, but they shouldn’t. They’re a good way to balance sustainability, and existing rules should be extended to more hotspots.

The Cinque Terre park, known for its stunning hiking trails connecting the area’s cliffhanging fishing villages, has introduced summer tourist limits to preserve its delicate ecosystem. A few parts of the trails, like the Lovers Path connecting Manarola to Riomaggiore, are closed due to soil erosion and landslides.

Groups of no more than 15 hikers are allowed inside the Cinque Terre park in rotation, and there’s a cap of 200 available boat tickets for those preferring to admire the views comfortably from sea while bathing.

Liguria remains a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy this summer.

The Cinque Terre remain a popular destination for visitors coming to Italy, attracting huge crowds. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

Many locations across Italy are reverting to, or are considering, some kind of restricted access to offset high demand with ‘green’, safe travel. 

The Amalfi coast has a summertime limit on driving along the route connecting Positano to Vietri sul Mare to ease congestion, while a few years ago the mayor even banned tourist selfies to stop massive crowds of people invading the whitewashed alleys and sitting on brick walls.

There are currently strict limits on the number of people allowed to visit the Tuscan archipelago national park each summer, mainly the protected islands of Montecristo (uninhabited other than a caretaker), and the two prison islands of Gorgona and Pianosa (boasting a hotel run by inmates on probation). A maximum of 150-200 tourists are admitted annually to each of these isles.

You also need to move fast if you want to spend a weekend in Sardinia, touring its tropical-like baby powder beaches and paradise isles. The number of restrictions in place is on the rise.

On Budelli island, the pearl of the La Maddalena archipelago, other than the pink coral beach, the Cavalieri beach is also now totally off limits, meaning landing on the entire island is forbidden.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

The beaches of Lu Impostu and Brandinchi along San Teodoro’s coast will allow just 1500 and 3300 sunbathers each, while Stintino’s popular La Pelosa beach allows 1500, making tourists pay €3.50 per day and wear a yellow bracelet for identification.

The paradise archipelago of La Maddalena is seeing more tourist restrictions imposed. Photo by Leon Rohrwild on Unsplash

The abandoned former prison island of Santo Stefano, off Rome’s coast, which is part of a protected marine park brimming with barracudas and groupers, is currently undergoing a transformation into an open-air museum with a tiny hostel. Project managers have already pledged daily tourism will be “contained”’ to preserve the unique habitat.

In the mountains too, authorities are eyeing tougher limits. At Lago di Braies in the Dolomites, 14 tourists recently fell into the freezing water trying to take awesome, but silly, selfies of their acrobatic skills despite warning signs.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

In my view, all of Italy’s tourist hotspots should have some kind of regulation and police patrols, including top city highlights like the Trevi Fountain, Florence’s Duomo, and Venice, which in fact is expected to become Italy’s first city with a tourist limit from January 2023. People will have to book and buy a special pass to see the canals, bridges and piazzas.

If Venice succeeds in doing this, then it will show other cities that they too can control access to at least their biggest hotspots.

In Rome, the Pantheon has done a great job in introducing mandatory (but free) reservations on weekends, putting a stop to visitors just stepping inside to take a peek.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

The Fontana di Trevi, Piazza Navona and especially Piazza di Spagna should be more heavily patrolled, and Rome authorities should really consider a set tourist limit.

But just the idea is controversial, seen as a no-no depriving tourists of the thrill of throwing coins inside Rome’s iconic fountain to make a wish.

The Trevi fountain in Rome attracts a constant stream of tourists. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

There is a constant, sterile discussion within the city council and the national arts department on tougher regulations and limited entrances to Rome’s main sites.

Culture minister Dario Franceschini is pushing for a more sustainable ‘fountain experience’ that limits crowds and prevents heat-struck visitors from diving inside. He recently argued that allowing “1,000 or 100,000 visitors in front of the Trevi fountain” puts both them and the masterpiece at risk.

Ugly red tape, orange nets and rusty fences are occasionally placed around the Trevi Fountain without much of an outcome.

There are architectural barriers to stop people from sitting on the edges and dangling their feet inside the water at Fontana delle Tartarughe and Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona, but it’s not enough. 

Setting a daily cap on visitors is the best solution; even better than introducing a ticketing system, because any tourist, once in the Eternal City, would pay to get in, and it would not be fair to discriminate based on money.

After all, if Italian universities can restrict enrollment for medical students, when new doctors are vital during Covid, I see no reason why tourist attractions can’t set limits when their own survival is at stake.