A Brief History of Migration and Remittances in Italy

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Italy is a European country situated along the Mediterranean Sea. With a total population of around 60.4 million people and a central geographic location in Europe, Italy is home to a rich myriad of cultures.

Millions of people move to Italy every year in search of a better life. They make their journeys to earn money abroad and send back home to their loved ones.

Here, we explore Italy’s key migration trends and their relationship with remittance behaviors.

Immigration in Italy: newcomers to Italian soil

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), around 6.3 million international migrants live in Italy. That’s approximately 10.4% of the country’s total population.

From 1990 to 2019, Italy’s immigration rate increased, with a significant spike occurring between 2000 and 2010. During this period, the immigration rate increased from 3.7% to 9.8%, which later stabilized to the current 10.4% recorded in 2019.

The three most significant immigrant groups reported to be living in Italy by 2019* were:

  1. Romanians: 1.1 million
  2. Albanians: 475.2 thousand
  3. Moroccans: 450.6 thousand

A recent study from the IOM (International Organization for Migration) found Moroccans and Chinese to be two of Italy’s largest entrepreneurial immigrant communities. Other top countries of origin of migrant entrepreneurs recorded include Romania, Albania, Switzerland, and Bangladesh.

Good to know:

  • Lombardi hosts Italy’s largest share of immigrants and is the origin of the most remittance outflows, followed by Lazio.*
  • Around half of all companies in Italy set up by immigrants are registered in four main regions: Lombardi, Latium, Tuscany, and Emelia.
  • Lazio (Central Italy) and Campania (Southern Italy) are the most populated cities in Italy.
  • Rome, Milan, and Naples are the largest cities in Italy.
Source: *World Bank ‡IOM (International Organization for Migration) †UN DESA 2019

Emigration from Italy: Italian nationals moving abroad

Since the late 19th century, Argentina has been a top destination for the Italian diaspora. As recently as 2018, the MAECI (Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) recorded that around 1 million Italians were living in the South American country. With an estimate of 5 million Italians live abroad, the number is equivalent to 1/5th of all Italians residing abroad.

Germany and Switzerland are the next most popular destinations for Italian migrants. They host around 807,000 and 640,000 Italian emigrants respectively.

Good to know:

  • More than half of the Italian diaspora (54%) has moved to a European country.
  • Half of Italy’s emigrant stock (50.1%) are from southern Italy, including Sicily.
  • Just over one-third of Italian emigrants (34.8%) are from northern Italy, including Lombardi and Piedmont.
  • Just 15.6% of Italian emigrants are from the central regions, including Latium and Rome.
Source: Register of Italians Residing Abroad (AIRE)

Balance of Italian emigrants and immigrants, 2017

migration and remittances in italy
Source: IOM

Remittances to and from Italy

The World Bank highlights money transfers as a tool for Italy’s financial development, economic growth, and poverty alleviation. Remittances help the economy of the host country, as well as the receiving households. For the latter, it serves as a lifeline to cover basic needs such as food, housing, clothing, and warmth.

In 2019, Italy received an estimate of US$10.4 billion in remittances.  Historically, around half of remitters in Italy (48%) originate mainly from Lombardy, Lazio, and Tuscany.

When it comes to remittance outflows, money transfer destinations correlate with the diaspora populations living in Italy. Below are the top 10 receiving countries of remittances from Italy as recorded by the Bank of Italy:

migration and remittances in italy
Accessed through IOM.

What have we learned?

Italy is home to a large number of migrants, mostly from neighboring countries in Europe. While immigration flows have increased steadily since 2007, Italian emigration flows remain as significant as the country’s immigration trend.

Both emigration and immigration in Italy are closely correlated with remittance volumes flowing in and out of the country, with Romania being the top remittance destination.

Money transfer companies like Ria operate in Italy to help migrant diasporas remit their money quickly, safely, and comfortably. To date, remittance service providers continue to support remitters across Italian borders both for the benefit of their loved ones in their home countries and for family and friends living within Italian borders.

Want to learn more about remittances and immigration? Check out our Brief Histories instalments here.

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