Italians are leaving

SlateFebruary 3, 2014 

— AFP reports that increasing numbers of Italians are leaving the country, and fewer new arrivals are coming to take their place:

The number of Italians leaving the country rose by 36.0 percent to 68,000 people, up from 50,000 in 2011. They headed primarily for Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and France, the national institute of statistics (ISTAT) said.

More than a quarter of over 24-year-olds emigrating had university degrees, it said.

Conversely, the number of immigrants arriving dropped by close to 10 percent in 2012 from a year earlier, to 321,000 people.

Granted, these aren’t huge numbers for a country of Italy’s size, but they’re interesting to consider in light of the country’s recent political history. Most of the coverage of immigration in Italy has focused on those arriving in the country from Africa and the Middle East. The share of immigrants in the Italian population tripled between 2002 and 2012, reaching 7.9 percent and prompting a political backlash. Under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his coalition allies – the staunchly anti-immigrant, and often outright racist, Northern League – Italy approved some of Europe’s toughest immigration laws.

Of course, as the AFP article indicates, another problem for those who seek to keep Italy only for native Italians is that increasing numbers of Italians are leaving. The economic conditions may also be keeping more Italians from being born. A recent study by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research found that the country’s formerly growing birthrate has halted since unemployment began to rise.

Overall, Italy is still a globally desirable destination. The Gallup Potential Global Net Migration Index estimated that in a world where everyone was free to settle where they wanted, Italy’s population would grow by 8 percent. Unfortunately that’s down from 32 percent the last time the index was released, in 2009.

Italy’s politics have been partially consumed in recent years by efforts to keep outsiders from moving in, but keeping Italians in may prove to be the bigger long-term challenge.

Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at Foreign Policy magazine.

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