By- Claudia Quesito
Italy has an important record of emigration to other countries. The massive migration of Italians in search of fortune abroad started soon after the birth of Italy as it is today (1861). It went through several stages and it evolved into today’s expatriation, which is deeply different from the previous waves, both in terms of numbers and the socio-economic reasons that push people to move abroad.
There were two major Italian migrations in recent history: One started around 1880 and lasted until the rise of Fascism (1920–1940) and the second started after WWII and lasted until the 1970s.
People left Italy because of poverty; they could not meet their basic needs, especially in the South, so they migrated mostly to the Americas (notably, to the US as well as Argentina, Brazil, and Canada). The migrants were generally unskilled and uneducated, and initially, conditions in their new countries were extremely harsh for them.
Other Italians picked other European countries as their new homes (mostly France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland). Some people refer to the current expats from Italy as the third Italian diaspora, but the numbers are not even comparable, plus the people who move abroad now are generally skilled and in search of better opportunities rather than struggling to make ends meet.
In fact, they are commonly called cervelli in fuga (fleeing brains), highlighting their socio-economic condition.
As for people coming to Italy—immigrati—the phenomenon is pretty recent. Consider that the very first law regulating the matter is dated 1989. However, the number of immigrants has been growing steadily since the 1990s and today is the only reason why the Italian population is not decreasing.
The first major immigration wave dates back to 1991; after the collapse of the Communist Bloc, a large number of people from Albania made it to Italy. Generally speaking, immigrants are largely from Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, the Far East, Southern Asia, and South America.
Immigrants are not equally distributed throughout the country; most of them live in the North, where there are better job opportunities. Immigration has generated a heated debate, the major issues being illegal immigration and ius soli, the birthright citizenship that, according to some, should only be granted to second- or third-generation immigrants born and raised in Italy and substantially, if not formally, Italians.