By late 2017 the number of Italians living outside the country reached 5.4m — almost 10 per cent of the population — a figure which grew 3.5 per cent the year before.
In the last few days when Italy took the decision to turn away incoming migrants it is worth considering how our own outgoing population contribute to their adopted countries — and perhaps why they’ve left the mother country.
Data gathered — and subsequently then reported in the Financial Times in November of 2017 (November 13, 2017) * — highlighted Italy’s dysfunctional labour market and a community of disaffected young, ambitious people who felt unfairly treated. It also painted a picture of an economic recovery that young people felt excluded from.
If the leavers are a symptom of a wider discontent, then it’s little surprise that those who remain have been unenthusiastic about anything other than change at any cost. And, as I’ve said before, change is certainly a feature of the current political scene in Italy.
But foreigners are also leaving: 45,000 non-Italians left the country in 2015, more than three times as many as in 2007.
What those who have taken the decision to explore pastures new have discovered is that, although the grass may appear greener on the other side of the fence, sometimes it is merely distance that is enhancing the view. But, while the view may not be entirely up to scratch, it’s enough.
Expat Insider’s 2017 Italians Abroad findings** revealed that despite high wages, previous overseas experience, and excellent language skills, Italians are generally dissatisfied with life abroad.
Some 11% believe they will never feel at home abroad although almost two-fifths (38%) speak the local language(s) very well, 70% are happy with host country’s economy and more than seven in ten (72%) earn more than they would in Italy.
They are unhappy with friendships and romantic relationships — they struggle to settle in.
As a result, only one-fifth consider they may want to stay abroad forever (global average: 29%), and fewer than a tenth (9%) went so far as to acquire the citizenship of their host country.
Yet, in the face of all this, still, Italians have no intention of returning home: only a quarter admit that it’s very likely that they’ll return home at some point.
There is no doubt that Italy’s economy continues to concern nationals and recent political uncertainties have done little to help.
Wages may be higher abroad, but so are living costs. Almost three-quarters (72%) of working respondents say they earn more than they would for the same job in Italy.
And Italian expats are also generally well-educated: nearly half (49%) have postgraduate degrees and a further 10% have PhDs.
This drain of younger talent sends wider ripples.
Italy is second only to Japan in terms of the proportion of the population accounted for by people aged 65 and over; the working age population as a share of the total population is dropping. Should we be alarmed — yes….and no — instead we should do something about it.
Italian and British data reveals that young people account for the bulk of Italian emigration. The UK National Insurance statistics show that since 2002 more than 90 per cent of Italians registering to work in Britain were under 44 years old. Some 77 per cent were aged between 18 and 34 years old.
In short, those who are leaving to explore the world and expand their careers are not just young, they’re economically highly valuable too.
Italian emigrants are also more highly educated than the overall Italian population and university-trained people are leaving in increasing numbers. Graduates make up about 30 per cent of emigrants from Italy according to official statistics.
If they don’t feel they can commit to come home, but they’re not truly happy abroad, then their contribution to making Italy the best it can be — and being happy — is lost to us all. And that is hard to swallow. I think we have to ask the question — if young Italians abroad are telling us why they are where they are, perhaps we should listen.