We The Italians | Italian report: Il Rapporto Italiani nel Mondo 2021. Italian mobility at the time of Covid-19

Italian report: Il Rapporto Italiani nel Mondo 2021. Italian mobility at the time of Covid-19

Italian report: Il Rapporto Italiani nel Mondo 2021. Italian mobility at the time of Covid-19

  • WTI Magazine #146 Dec 18, 2021
  • 168

Italy and Italians at the test of the global pandemic

The Covid-19 epidemic has suspended all forms of mobility, including international migration. Preliminary estimates published in International Migration 2020 suggest a reduction of about two million people, but despite this, the number of international migrants worldwide reached 281 million in 2020, over 3.6% of the world's population. The number of international migrants has grown faster than the global population: there were 173 million in 2000, 221 million ten years later.

Even reading the data on mobility to and from Italy shows how the pandemic has had important repercussions on the Italian population and on the foreign population in our country. According to ISTAT, at the beginning of 2021, foreign residents in Italy amounted to just over 5 million: after twenty years of uninterrupted growth, the foreign population is shrinking and can no longer compensate for the inexorable Italian demographic winter.

Considering the several months of lockdown experienced at national, European and international level, for many it has been practically impossible to move and this has strongly affected the data relating to the Italian migration trend, both internally and abroad.

Italy, in short, is now a state in which the native population is inexorably waning and the immigrant population, due to the economic crisis, the pandemic, the territorial gaps and the impossibility of entering legally, is no longer growing.

To what has been said, it is necessary to add another paradox, that is, that the only Italy that is growing is the one that is putting down roots (and residing) outside the national borders, either officially - and therefore registering with the Registry of Italians Residing Abroad (AIRE) - or unofficially, not complying with the obligation to register. Those who leave are an increasing number of Italians by birth and by choice, i.e. naturalized, those who ask to become Italian and who, once they have obtained citizenship, are technically called "new" Italians. These Italians, in reality, have nothing "new" about them, since, for Italy and Italians, people of non-Italian origin who have arrived in our country or who were born and raised in Italy are neither a recent reality nor a newly known one.

The only Italy that continues to grow is that which structurally resides abroad 

If in the last year the increase in the AIRE population was 3%, this figure becomes 6.9% from 2019, 13.6% in the last five years, and a good 82% since 2006, the year of the first edition of this report.

At the beginning of 2021, the process of thinning of the gender difference, which began sixteen years ago when the number of Italian women registered with AIRE was 46.2% (1,435,150 in absolute value), is even more evident; then it reached 47.8% ten years ago in 2011 (1,967,563 in absolute value) and, currently, there are 2,718,678 registrations, 48.1% of the AIRE total.

If, therefore, Italian citizens residing across the border in the last sixteen years have increased by 82%, women in particular have done so by 89.4%. A process that is, at the same time, one of feminization and familiarization. In fact, today, many women are certainly looking for personal and professional fulfilment, but there are also many families with children, whether married or not. According to data from the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of the Interior updated at the beginning of 2020, out of almost 5.5 million residents abroad, there are 3,223,486 families.

In order to fully understand what has been happening to Italian mobility since its revival began - about 10-15 years - there are a series of very explanatory data to be considered: +76.8% increase in minors; +179% increase in the number of citizens enrolled in AIRE between the ages of 19 and 40; +158.1% in the number of those born abroad to AIRE citizens; +128.6% in the acquisition of citizenship and +42.7% in the number of enrolments in the Registry Office with the reason for expatriation. Furthermore, registrations for less than five years have increased by 24.4%, those over 10 years by 127.8%.

This is a population that, as a whole, is growing younger and younger, but while America, especially South America, is growing thanks to acquisitions of citizenship, Europe is actually experiencing a new migration season characterized by recent registrations for expatriation and births from citizens already resident abroad.

As of January 1, 2021, the structural community of compatriots residing abroad is made up of 5,652,080 units, 9.5% of the over 59.2 million Italians who live in Italy. While Italy has lost almost 384,000 residents on its territory (ISTAT data), it has gained 166,000 abroad (AIRE data): an increase in the presence abroad of 3% in the last year.

Of the over 5.6 million registered members, 45.5% are between 18 and 49 years of age (over 2.5 million), 15% are minors (around 848 thousand, of whom 6.8% are under 10 years of age) and 20.3% are over 65 years of age (over 1.1 million, of whom 10.7%, or around 600 thousand, are over 75 years of age). Single or unmarried in 57.3% of cases and married in 35.9%, 50.7% are registered for expatriation (over 2.8 million), 39.9% for birth abroad (over 2.2 million). Just over 185,000, on the other hand, were enrolled due to acquisition of citizenship (3.3%). 53.0% have been enrolled for less than 15 years, 47.0% for more than 15 years.

Sicily, with over 798,000 registrations, is the region with the largest community of residents abroad. It is followed, at a distance, by Lombardy (561 thousand), Campania (almost 531 thousand), Lazio (almost 489 thousand), Veneto (479 thousand) and Calabria (430 thousand). There are three major communities of Italian citizens registered with AIRE: Argentina (884,187, 15.6% of the total), Germany (801,082, 14.2%) and Switzerland (639,508, 11.3%). They are followed, at a distance, by the communities residing in Brazil (just over 500,000, 8.9%), France (about 444,000, 7.9%), the United Kingdom (over 412,000, 7.3%) and the United States (almost 290,000, 5.1%).

It is, therefore, true that Italy has been experiencing a new season of migration for just over a decade, but the consequences of this path have become evident over the last five years, worsening a road that Italy is dangerously fast-tracking in one direction, characterized by emptying and depopulation, where departures are not matched by returns.

If, moreover, leaving Italy inexorably are young people at the height of their personal vitality and professional creativity, it is on these that attention and action must be focused. There is an urgent need for analysis and policies aimed at a change of course in the interest of Italy as a whole, of its increasingly numerous elderly who remain and of its increasingly abandoned and deserted territories. A study and a commitment that must be built with awareness and professionalism, not dropped from above, but responsive to a system of indicators that allows to assess the impact that an idea or a proposed law has on the different generations of the population, especially, in the specific case of Italy, on young people already greatly impoverished and affected by the existing gaps within the country and in comparison with other European and non-European countries.

Has Italian mobility really come to a halt with Covid-19?

From January to December 2020, 222,260 Italian citizens enrolled in AIRE, -13.7% from the year before when they were, in absolute value, almost 258 thousand. 49.3% enrolled due to expatriation (in 2020 it was 50.8%); 36.0% did so due to birth abroad (in 2020: 35.5%); 5.9% re-enrolled due to unavailability (in 2020: 6.7%); 3.2% enrolled due to acquisition of citizenship (in 2020: 3.6%); 0.5% enrolled due to transfer from the AIRE of another municipality (in 2020: 0.7% in 2020); and 5.0% enrolled for other reasons (in 2020: 2.7%).

Already from these data it is clear that the mobility of Italians with the pandemic has not stopped, but has certainly undergone a downsizing that does not concern, however, new births abroad by Italian citizens, but rather the actual departures, that is, the number of compatriots who have materially left Italy to go abroad from January to December 2020. In absolute terms, there were 109,528 Italians, -21,408 people compared to the previous year (a variation of -19.5%). 54.4% (59,536) are male, 66.5% (72,879) single or unmarried, 28.5% (31,268) married, and 2.2% divorced (2,431).

In spite of the general reduction, the overall characteristics remain unchanged with respect to 2020: that is, it is a predominantly male, young (42.8% are between 18 and 34 years old, a percentage up by 2 percentage points with respect to the previous year) and young adult (23.1% are between 35 and 49 years old) mobility. Minors remained at 20.2%.

In the general decrease recorded in the number of departures, equal to -16.3%, the greatest decreases were seen for the elderly (-28.7% in the 65-74 age group and -24.7% in the 75-84 age group) and for minors under 10 years of age (-20.3%): in the year of the pandemic, the "risk" of a move was deliberately avoided by the most fragile members of society, the elderly and children. The elderly were the most affected by the coronavirus in terms of the number of deaths, and children, who are excluded from vaccination, were given the role of main vectors of transmission of the virus.

After a continuous and progressive increase from 2014 to 2020, for the first time, in January 2021, a reversal of the trend is recorded, which, in any case, in absolute value, does not mean either going below 100 thousand units or interrupting the continuous and constant growth that the mobility of Italians has recorded since 2014, the last year in which the number of registrations for expatriation in one year was less than 100 thousand units. Therefore, if from 2014 to 2021 the increase in Italian mobility is +16.1%, the trend reversal is recorded from 2017, when the number of departures in absolute terms (over 124 thousand) exceeds that recorded at the beginning of 2021, resulting in a decrease of -11.7% that becomes -16.3% from 2020, considering the latter the record year for the number of registrations for expatriation in a year (almost 131 thousand).

It is not wrong to believe that almost certainly the numbers recorded in 2020 would have been confirmed, if not exceeded, in 2021: however, the epidemic has completely changed the plans for expatriation of many Italians.

Those who left Italy for foreign countries from January to December 2020 did so mainly from the Centre-North (69.5%), with Lombardy and Veneto in the first two positions - as has been pointed out for some years now - with 19,402 (17.7%) and 12,346 (11.3%) departures, respectively.

All regions, with the exception of Umbria (+44 units), have negative balances in the last year. The region that, in absolute terms, registers the greatest negative balance is Veneto (-2,762), followed by Lombardy (-2,534), Campania (-1,801), Calabria (-1,789) and Puglia (-1,686). On the contrary, Basilicata is the region that has lost the fewest residents (-24), followed by Val D'Aosta (-101) and Molise (-164).

Of the more than 109,000 compatriots who moved their residence from Italy to abroad during the course of 2020, 78.7% did so by choosing Europe as the continent. Probably, the proximity of the destination was a sort of strategy of containment of the risks they were facing, not only because of the possibility of contracting the virus, but rather because of the conditions of the health system of the chosen place and the indications adopted there.

On the whole, there were 180 destinations chosen along the course of 2020 and, among the top ten, seven are European nations. At the top, as has been the case for several years now, are the United Kingdom (33,293), Germany (13,990) and France (10,562) which, alone, cover 52.8%. If we add Switzerland (8,189), which this year, unlike 2020, precedes Brazil (7,077), the "European" incidence on the total in the top positions comes to 60.3%.

There are many countries that show negative balances, compared with 2020: in order are Germany (-5,236), Brazil (-5,075), France (-3,634), Switzerland (-2,420), Argentina (-1,740), the USA (-1,597) and Spain (-1,453). In terms of percentage changes, however, all countries, with the exception of Belgium (down 13.9%), registered higher percentages than the national variation (equal to -19.5%): Brazil (down 71.7%) and Argentina (down 62.0%) more than tripled, and the USA (down 43.2%), Ireland (down 41.8%) and Portugal (down 40.6%) more than doubled.

The only nation with a positive balance, compared to the previous year, is the United Kingdom: +8,358 more enrolments compared to 2020, +25.1% change from 2020 which becomes an increase, in one year, of 33.5%. Of the over 33 thousand enrolments in the United Kingdom, 45.8% concern Italians between 18 and 34 years of age, 24.5% involve minors and 22% are young adults between 35 and 44 years of age. This is, therefore, the typical Italian presence in the United Kingdom: young people and young adults, families with minors that the Brexit has forced to emerge - hence the explanation of the increase recorded even in the last year despite the pandemic - through the application procedure for settled status, a residence permit of indefinite duration for those who can prove a continuous residence in the English territory for five or more years, a period of time that must not have been interrupted for more than six months out of twelve within the five-year reference period. The application procedure obliges the applicant to provide valid proof of identity, proof of continuous residence in the United Kingdom and, for all adults, a criminal record check must be passed. The settled status guarantees the same rights that an Italian citizen residing in the United Kingdom enjoyed before Brexit as a European citizen and therefore will be able to continue to reside indefinitely, work, use the health service, study, take advantage, having the requirements, of social benefits and pensions and leave the territory for long periods of time and return without having to obtain a visa.

Therefore, during the annus horribilis of the pandemic, Italians found themselves forced to decide whether or not to leave, whether or not to face the risks of a global health emergency, circumventing the obstacles imposed by the rigid protocols implemented by different nations and related to the limits of movement within and outside a given territory. One part preferred to postpone the migration project - and from this derives the reduction in the overall number of departures - and another part decided not to postpone the decision and, when possible, respecting the regulations limiting movement, chose to "stay close" - and therefore in Europe - rather than go overseas.

The migratory movement of Italians during the health emergency according to ISTAT and INPS data

From the ISTAT analysis of the flows from the Monthly Balance of the Population Resident in Italy, for all citizenships (provisional data) of 2019-2021, the halt in migration movements with foreign countries is evident: the significant reduction in flows in March and April 2020 is followed by a slow recovery that reaches a peak during the month of October 2020 with the levels observed before the pandemic. But October is also the month in which the effects of the second wave begin to manifest themselves, which, however, in terms of restrictive measures imposed, is not of the same magnitude as the first pandemic event: international migrations begin to decline again and only cautiously recover in the first months of 2021. The substantial reductions in migration flows to and from abroad are due not only to national lockdowns but also to the generalized border closures implemented by all countries to counteract the spread of the virus. Comparison of monthly migration flows between 2019 and the pandemic year highlights negative changes throughout 2020 even in the months before the first lockdown. The declines, on average, are sharper for immigration (-33.7% compared to 2019) and somewhat smaller for emigration (-20.9%).

With reference to outflows from the country, in particular expatriates, in the first two months of 2020 the provisional data observed detect a reduction in emigration (-10% compared to 2019) that becomes significant during the acute phase of the health emergency (-50.4%), and then attenuates in the subsequent months of 2020 (-8%).

In terms of pensions, on the other hand, the pandemic effect was unfortunately found with reference to the increase in the number of pensions eliminated due to death in 2020 compared to 2019. In Italy, this increase amounted to 15.2%; abroad, on the other hand, the percentage change was around 2%. It is reasonable to assume that the most significant change will be captured in the year 2021 when the data on lifetime verifications are consolidated.

During 2020, however, INPS paid a total of 13,816,971 pensions and those abroad (330,472) represent about 2.4% of the total. This percentage, which may seem insignificant, has a very important value for INPS because it is well aware that it is a phenomenon that is continually expanding, considering the constant increase in departures of Italians for foreign countries. This trend will generate new pensions to be settled under the international totalization system and to be paid not only to those who return to Italy after the experience gained elsewhere, but also to those who decide to remain in the foreign country that hosted them. This is not a long-term forecast: many of today's emigrants, in fact, fall into the 40-50 and 50-60 age bracket. Last year alone, emigrants between the ages of 35 and 64 accounted for 35% of the total, according to our 2020 report, an increase of 24% over the past 5 years. This means that the number of pensions affected by international totalization is set to increase considerably.

There is also an increase in the payments attributed to those who decide to emigrate to other countries as pensioners (in the last 5 years +21.1%), a choice motivated by different objectives: to follow their children who have found work outside Italy, to benefit from the tax advantages offered by other States, or, simply, to enjoy a different climate or environment from the one left behind. Already today we are witnessing a first handover: the group of pensioners abroad that derives from past migrations is being supplemented by those who belong to a new and more recent wave of migration. The latter differs from the former in various respects: the destinations of payment, the types of pension and, last but not least, the nationality of the recipients.

While, in fact, the older migrations are mainly giving rise to the payment of survivors' pensions, especially to women of Italian origin and in countries such as North America, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, but also France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, the more recent ones are characterized by being collected in new destination countries, both in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, and on the African and Asian continents, places that, until some time ago, were not recorded in the INPS archives.