Italy was a country of large-scale emigration up until the early 1970s. The first time the country saw more people entering the country than leaving was in 1972. Still, arrivals only started to grow significantly in the mid-1980s.
Labour demand, especially in sectors such as domestic and personal care, agriculture, manufacturing and construction has been quoted as a major pull factor.
The statistics in the chart above are based on Eurostat's Non-national population by group of citizenship, 1 January 2021, with 3 764 839 third-country nationals (TCNs) and 1 406 623 EU citizens living in Italy at the time.
In the beginning of 2019, the number of non-EU citizens holding a residence permit in Italy already stood at 3.7 million.
The number of naturalised citizens has steadily increased in recent years. Official data indicates that 127 001 foreign nationals were naturalised in 2019. The majority came from Albania (20%) and North Macedonia (4%).
Starting in the 1980s, immigration was managed through administrative regulations and through bureaucratic discretion. Immigration laws mainly focused on admission politics.
It was only during the mid-1990s that the increased salience of the migration issue led to a law to regulate migrants’ integration for the first time. The three-year Document of Migration Policy Planning (Documento Programmatico Triennale) was the first policy instrument. It identified key priorities and planned integration measures in the 1998-2000 period.
The third Planning Document of 2005 was the last national strategy aimed at integrating migrants and their descendants. Integration now largely falls under the competences of regional governments which enjoy full autonomy in policy planning and implementation, resulting in a multi-level governance framework.
In 2017, the Italian government adopted the National Integration Plan for Persons Entitled to International Protection, as foreseen by decree 18/2014, which transposed the EU's recast Qualification Directive (Directive 2011/95/EU). The plan, to be funded by EU and national financial resources, set out priorities for 2017-2018, including inter-religious and intercultural dialogue, language training, access to education, labour inclusion and vocational training. The main actors responsible for implementing the foreseen measures are local authorities and local public services, with the support of civil society organisations.
However, in the end of 2019, the implementation of the plan was limited to pilot actions carried out in three regions, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Calabria, with the collaboration of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which co-drafted the plan.
Since 2012, newly arrived immigrants have been obligated to sign the so-called Integration Agreement the moment they obtain their first residence permit. By doing so, they commit to achieving specific integration goals in the following two years. Their success is measured through a credits system assessing sufficient knowledge of the Italian language (at the A2 level), as well as their knowledge of the constitution, civic life and institutions. The programme thus includes all:
- language courses
- civic education
- vocational training
The fulfillment of integration goals is required for the renewal of residence permits. Several categories of migrants are, however, exempted from this requirement, either by law (such as victims of trafficking, unaccompanied minors and disabled migrants) or de facto, since their permits cannot be withdrawn (such as the beneficiaries of international or humanitarian protection, family migrants, long-term residents, and the family members of EU citizens).
No systematic evaluation of integration policies is carried out in Italy, except for the interventions funded through the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).
Instead, studies exist on the evolution of integration outcomes and are considered to be indirect assessments of Italy's integration policies.
At the national level, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies oversees the monitoring and evaluation of migrants’ socio-economic integration. It publishes annual reports on migrants’ integration in the labour market and their access to protection and pension schemes. In addition, in collaboration with the National Council of Economy and Labour, the labour ministry developed a set of indicators on migrant integration (including on occupational integration and the "degree of attractiveness" of Italy's different provinces, regions and macro-areas) to monitor and evaluate trends at the national, regional and local levels.
The most important non-governmental source of information on integration outcomes is the Statistical Yearbook annually published by CARITAS-IDOS.
In addition, the international Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) points out that over the past years, integration policies have changed little in Italy. The country’s approach to integration is classified by MIPEX as focused on temporary Integration, similar to France, the Netherlands and Germany. Italy has more developed policies than Austria, Denmark and Switzerland, however. It scores 58 out of 100 points in MIPEX 2020, while the average score is 49.
Law on foreigners
Legislative decree 286/1998 adopted in 1998 and its subsequent amendments represent the main legal framework on immigration and integration. Among its amendments, the most important is law 189/2002 (also known as Legge Bossi-Fini from the names of its proponents) which significantly reformed the rules related to legal and irregular migration towards a more restrictive approach.
Asylum laws in Italy largely result from the transposition of the EU directives on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) and their recast versions. Hence, asylum is not framed into a standalone legislative framework in Italy but is regulated by several pieces of legislation targeting different aspects (such as qualifications, status determination procedures and reception and integration services for asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection). It is worth noting the adoption of Law n. 47/2017, which introduced a comprehensive regulation concerning the protection and treatment of unaccompanied minors, focusing on the best interests of the child.
In terms of the reception and integration of asylum seekers, there are two parallel systems. The first is the SAI system (formerly SPRAR/SIPROIMI), managed by municipalities and NGOs, and the second comprises of the the Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS), coordinated by prefectures (the local branches of the ministry of interior). Created in 2001 through Law no. 189 of 30 July 2002, the SAI system is based on the voluntary participation of local institutions in a network of reception and integration projects. Initially conceived as a temporary solution to deal with the increased numbers of migrant arrivals in 2011, the Extraordinary Reception Centres (CAS) became essential additional support for the main reception system as the number of new arrivals continued to rise.
In 2018 and 2019 the two controversial so-called Salvini Decrees abolished humanitarian protection as a category of protection and introduced new conditions for accessing the reception system. Tasks changed: CAS was to take charge only of asylum seekers who would be required to remain in CAS reception centres for the duration of their asylum procedure as well as during any appeal procedure.
Law no. 173/2020 reformed once more the asylum reception system in Italy, rehabilitating the system of reception and integration managed by municipalities and reinstating asylum seekers and other protection holders among its beneficiaries.
Italy does not have a self-standing integration law.
Law no. 91/1992 constitutes the current legislative framework on naturalisation. The Security Bill adopted in 2009 introduced restrictive rules in the area of naturalisation by marriage, with the explicit goal of ceasing "marriages of convenience".
A reform bill currently debated in parliament would introduce two fundamental modifications easing access to citizenship for migrant children born in Italy or who arrived in the country before the age of 12. See more about the work of migrant-led groups in promulgating those changes.
However, Legislative Decree 113/2018, adopted on 5 October 2018 and converted into Law 132/2018 (the so-called Salvini Decree), introduced two new elements: first, in the case of naturalisation based on marriage, the foreign spouse must certify knowledge of the Italian language at a level no lower than B1; second, naturalised Italian citizens who are convicted of terrorism charges will lose their Italian citizenship. Such revocation of citizenship will not affect non-naturalised Italian citizens, even if they are convicted on terrorism charges.
Anti-discrimination is not an object of organic legislation in Italy, but it is addressed by a number of legal provisions across several pieces of legislation. Law 205/1993 (also known as Legge Mancino) punishes hate speech and tackles discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and nationality. Legislative decrees 215 and 216 of 2003 transposed into the Italian legislation EU directives 2000/43/CE and 2000/78/CE on, respectively, the equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin, and on the equal treatment in employment and occupation.
Furthermore, the immigration act of 286/1998 includes provisions related to anti-discrimination. It defines equality of treatment between nationals and foreigners in access to employment, labour conditions, social assistance and security and protection against discrimination as an individual right.
At the national level, responsibility for the governance of integration policies is shared between the interior ministry and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies. The latter entrusts practical activities, such as the managing integration policies, to its General Directorate of Immigration and Integration Policies. The interior ministry represents Italy at the European Integration Network. Within the ministry, the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration deals with issues concerning the protection of civil rights, including those related to immigration, asylum, citizenship, and religion.
According to Italian legislation, regions are the key actors in the planning of integration policies, given their legislative and regulatory competence in the fields of social policies, education, labour market, vocational training, health and housing. Within the policy framework set by regional governments, municipalities hold the main responsibilities in terms of defining concrete integration measures and policy implementation. The central responsibility of local authorities and public services at the local level, such as educational institutions and healthcare services, is also reflected within the framework of the National Integration Plan for Persons Entitled to International Protection.
Representatives of the most relevant migrant organisations and NGOs are consulted during the drafting of policies and can participate in the technical meetings of the Coordinating and Monitoring Committee, the inter-ministerial body in charge of drafting migration policies. Nevertheless, the participation of non-governmental stakeholders in migration decision-making ultimately depends on the government’s predisposition.
In terms of refugees, 17 NGOs that are active in refugee reception matters take part in an Asylum Round Table. In addition, UNHCR is a permanent member without the right to vote in the round table’s decisions. In the past, representatives of these civil society organisations were also invited to take on a consultative role in the national asylum round table (Tavolo Nazionale Asilo), but recent governments have first reduced and, later on, altogether abandoned this practice.
Besides the national level, most regions have created consultative bodies to bring integration stakeholders together, and local authorities have carried out public consultations. However, the participation of civil society organisations and experts varies significantly across regions. Furthermore, public consultations rarely involve the Immigration Territorial Councils, the consultative bodies operating at the provincial level under the mandate of the interior ministry.
Non-profit organisations and local authorities can apply for financing through several EU funds. In addition, national and private funds are made available for service providers and other stakeholders to carry out projects aiming for a better integration of the migrant population.
The information below will be updated once the 2021-2027 national programmes under the EU funds become available.
Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) in Italy
- Details: The national allocation for Italy under AMIF is over €394 million. See the AMIF Italy programme. With respect to integration, AMIF aims to:
- Reinforce links between active labour market policies and socioeconomic integration
- Tackle school drop-out of children with a migration background
- Favour the socioeconomic inclusion and autonomy of unaccompanied minors
- Improve communication and information services with the active involvement of migrants’ communities and the second generation
- Support associations of migrants
- National managing authority: The national managing authority for AMIF in Italy is the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Ministry of the Interior.
European Social Fund (ESF) in Italy
- Details: The EU is contributing nearly €10.2 billion to support employment, education, youth, social inclusion and other areas of social well-being through the ESF over the 2014-2020 funding period.
- National managing authority: The national managing authority for the ESF in Italy is the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies.
Other EU funds for integration available in Italy
ERASMUS+, the EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe
- Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (school education, higher education, adult education)
- Ministry of Labor and Social Policies (education and professional training)
- Presidency of the Council of Ministers (youth)
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the EU by correcting regional imbalances
National managing authority: Various national and regional authorities are responsible for managing different ERDF operational programmes in Italy. See the authorities.
Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD), offering material assistance to the most vulnerable or in need
National managing authority: Ministry of Labor and Social Policies
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), supporting the development of rural economies and communities
National managing authority: EAFRD is managed at the regional level.
European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)
National managing authority: Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies; EMFF supports coastal communities in diversifying their economies and finances projects that create jobs and improve quality of life along European coasts
Other public funding in Italy
- Ministry of Labor and Social Policies’ Social Policies Funds
- Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration
Private funding in Italy
Other stakeholders and useful resources
Providing integration services
The full list of organisations providing integration services is available on the website of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, which manages a national register. The most relevant national organisations are:
- The national network of socio-cultural associations ARCI. Its fields of interventions range from counselling and labour market support to social services, intercultural dialogue, language courses and civic education.
- Diaconia Valdese provides integration and support services for asylum seekers and refugees in seven regions.
- Migrant association ANOLF. Linked to the trade union CISL, it provides counselling and orientation and training services to promote migrants’ rights as well as legal assistance for labour disputes or other work-related issues.