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Migrant Workers in Italy

This article provides an extensive background information on migrant workers in Italy.


In recent years the role of Italy on the map of international migration has been transformed: once a sending it is now a receiving country. This transformation, common to other Mediterranean countries, has had a number of important consequences for the economy, and provoked social and economic problems that require investigation in order to find suitable solutions.


As of the end of 1993, the number of permits to stay in Italy was 987,000 (though this is thought to overestimate the real number of persons present by about 30 per cent, owing to duplicates and lapsed permits). Less than a third of these aliens come from advanced industrial countries (15.5 per cent from the European Union, 12.4 per cent from other Western industrial nations). Of the remainder, 174,000 come from countries in Eastern Europe, 288,000 from Africa, 89,000 from Latin America and 173,000 from Asia.


The foreign population is thus still quite small. The 1991 census found only 625,000 foreigners, counting residents, non-resident aliens and transients, or no more than 1.1 per cent of the population. Even adding the estimated volume of the clandestine immigrant population, bringing the numbers up to around 1.5 million (ISTAT, 1994a), would mean that the total still amounts to just 2.6 per cent of the Italian population, compared with figures of between and 10 and 15 per cent in other European countries.


At the end of 1993, the largest immigrant communities, by country of origin, were from Morocco (97,604), the United States (63,960), the former Yugoslavia (47,854) and Tunisia (44,505). The foreign presence in Italy is diversified geographically, in broad conformity with job opportunities: 48.2 per cent are located in the North, 34.8 per cent in the Center, and 17 per cent in the South.


The volume of aliens present in the North has grown sharply in recent years, although the region with the single largest number of foreigners is central Italy (Lazio, thanks to the presence of the national and religious capital). The next two in line, Lombardy and Emilia Romagna, are both northern regions. Foreigners, and especially non-EU aliens, tend to be concentrated in urban areas. In fact in the largest cities the non-EU population is proportionally much larger than in the nation as a whole: 4.6 per cent in Rome, 2.6 per cent in Milan.


By far the most common purpose for coming to Italy is work (56.7 per cent of the total), with family reunification a distant second (14.6 per cent), though gradually increasing through the '90s. The other principal purposes are study (6.6 per cent), tourism (6.5 per cent), and religious reasons (5.3 per cent). Applications for asylum account for just 0.8 per cent, and persons actually granted political asylum 0.4 per cent. For non-EU citizens, permits of stay issued for purposes of work account for around 60 per cent of the total. Family reunification is more common among EU and North American citizens.


Excepting Americans, non-EU immigrants to Italy are still mainly of the first-generation, with family reunification playing an extremely modest role. Requests for entry for this purpose are nevertheless on the increase: from 4,232 in 1990 to 10,983 in 1992; the number of permits granted on this basis rose from 2,013 to 6,518.


The distribution of the alien population by sex and age is strictly dependent on country of origin and on the immigration history that has brought the various groups to Italy. One clear distinction is between immigrants of North African origin, who tend to be preponderantly young and male, and those from Cape Verde and the Philippines, who are much more heavily female. For African and Asian immigrants, the largest age-groups are 25-34 and 35-44; for European and American nationals, the largest group is 25-34.


The percentage of unmarried persons, though varying according to country of origin, is in excess of 55 per cent of entries. The highest proportion of married people come from the EU and the United States.


At the end of 1993 no more than 76,291 non-EU nationals were registered with the State Employment Service; 56 per cent of these were in the northern regions, 19.2 per cent in central Italy and 24.8 per cent in the South. Such low figures simply suggest that the Employment Service is not the principal channel for immigrants' entry into the labour market.


Of the foreign citizens registered with the Employment Service, 76 per cent are men, mostly over 30 years of age (53.4 per cent). By country of origin, the largest groups come from Morocco, Tunisia and the former Yugoslavia. By region of residence, the largest shares of registrants are found in Lombardy (20 per cent of the total), Sicily (11.7 per cent) and Emilia-Romagna (11.2 per cent). To have a better chance of finding a job, nearly all register as unspecialized workers; hardly any declare any specialist skills.


In 1993 a total of 84,855 non-EU workers were hired through the Employment Service, a sharp decline from 125,462 in 1991 and 123,686 in 1992. The leading region for such referrals is Lombardy, followed by Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, and Venetia. By sector, 44 per cent find jobs in the services, 36 per cent in industry and 20 per cent in farming. The sectoral distribution varies geographically; in the South referrals to farm jobs account for 38 per cent of the total, in the North industrial employment rises to 41 per cent, and in the Center the services take 52 per cent. All told, 33.6 per cent find jobs as domestic workers; the percentage in this category is highest in the South. In 1993 entry permits issued to non-EU citizens residing abroad for purposes of salaried employment, which thus resulted in direct hiring on an individual basis, numbered 23,088, down from 31,629 in 1992. About 70 per cent of the contracts were of an indefinite length, 30 per cent of fixed duration. The most common countries of origin were Morocco, Czechoslovakia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Poland. More than half the workers involved were women, the majority hired on indefinite contracts, some four fifths in the services sector. In total, foreign regular employees, according to th e National Social Security Institute (INPS), worked predominantly in the service sector (about 60 per cent), mostly as domestic helps (38 per cent).


A 1990 survey of more than 1,500 non-Italian nationals (CENSIS, 1991) found that 67.2 per cent of respondents were employed (45.7 per cent with stable positions, 21.5 per cent in occasional employment) and 20.9 per cent were unemployed. Of those employed, 10.7 per cent were in the primary sector (10.4 per cent in farming and 0.3 per cent in fishing), 13.5 per cent in industry (8.6 per cent in manufacturing and 4.9 per cent in construction), 5.1 per cent in artisanal crafts and 70.7 per cent in the services (25.4 per cent as domestic workers, 15.9 per cent as pedlars, 14 per cent in hotels and restaurants, 9.4 per cent in other services, 2.8 per cent as clerical or managerial employees and 3.2 per cent in other types of work).


The study found that the occupational distribution of the immigrants by branch did not change markedly in the passage from the home country to Italy. This suggests that, despite generally good educational credentials (47 per cent of respondents had a high school or university degree), the immigrants fail to find positions matching their skills.


A study by RISPO on non-EU workers in the province of Florence found that 65 per cent of enterprises had had some continuous employment relations with foreign workers and that 60 per cent of the time this steady employment was accompanied by an improvement in the worker's occupational position. Low skill levels and labour shortages were the main factors underlying the steady employment of these immigrants and the significant number of instances of promotions and wage incentives. It must be remembered, however, that these figures refer only to regular employment, excluding the entire irregular job market (COSPE, 1992).


As one may expect if one goes by the twofold disadvantage hypothesis, immigrants complained of the lack of agencies, especially public agencies, to help them find their way into the labour market. Nearly 11 per cent of the respondents felt that stronger public structures for employment intermediation would be the best instrument for easing the movement of non-EU nationals into the regular economy.


The national accounts provide an estimate of the extent of the employment of undocumented immigrant wage workers, confirming the significance of this clandestine component in the labour market. The estimates are disaggregated by sector and economic branch. In 1993 the Italian labour market employed 634,400 non-resident aliens1994b); 78.7 per cent were employed in the services (36.1 per cent in market services and 42.6 per cent in non-market services), 12.5 per cent in agriculture and 8.8 per cent in industry. Among the market services, the most important branches in this regard were the distributive trades, hotels, and maritime and air transport; in industry, construction and civil engineering dominated.


A rough estimate of the labour income of these irregular immigrants put the figure at 12,951 billion lire in 1993, or 2.7 per cent of total wages (1.9 per cent of national income). If one adds regular immigrants' wages, the total amount would be more than double these figures. In the official estimates, immigrants' remittances have grown sharply since the start of the '90s, rising from 110.1 billion lire in 1991 to 245.6 billion in 1993 (Banca d'Italia, 1994). The rates of increase vary considerably with country of origin. The fastest increases have been registered by citizens from the countries of Eastern Europe and from the developing world in general. An extremely conservative calculation estimates (or underestimates) per capita remittances at about 249,000 lire a year, a figure that, if compared to their wages, should leave little doubt on positive immigration effects on Italian domestic consumption.


Many recent studies examine the economic effect of immigration on the host countries, and this literature has shed new light on some key issues in the economics of immigration. We shall, first of all, analyze the effect of immigration on native wages and employment. If foreigners are substitutes for natives in the production process, the impact on wages will be negative; alternatively, if wages are sticky, native workers will experience growing unemployment. If foreigners are complementary to natives, however, immigration will raise native productivity and hence wages.


Within this conceptual framework, a number of studies have been carried out on the US, Australia and Canada (Abowd and Freeman 1991; Borjas 1992; Borjas and Freeman 1992). Their conclusions cannot be readily extended to Europe where the labour market has different characteristcs (less flexibility, persistent unemployment) and where the historical role of migration is quite dissimilar. A general result, nevertheless, is the finding of Altonji and Card (1991), who show that, under not overly restrictive assumptions, the key variable is the relative proportions of unskilled workers in the immigrant flow and in the native population. If they are equal, neither the skilled nor the unskilled wages will change; if the fraction of unskilled workers among immigrants is higher than among natives, then immigration will drive skilled workers wages up and unskilled wages down.


Understanding the trend in migration workers in Italy can help you gain perspective of general employment trends in Italy as well.

Source: Ilo

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