Over the past decade 182,000 have emigrated, many of them fleeing a shrunken, bureaucratic and nepotistic job market. Concerns about a “brain drain” were provoked by figures showing that 816,000 Italians have left for a life abroad in the past ten years, more than the population of a large city such as Palermo.
About 117,000 left last year alone, up 1.9 per cent on the year before. The UK was the most popular destination, attracting 21,000 Italians.
Despite alarm in Italy over the arrival of African migrants, the report also showed that the number fell by 17 per cent last year. The total number of arrivals dropped by 5 per cent, to 286,000.
Alessandro Rosina, a demographer at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, said: “We have been focusing on who is arriving when the real problem is who is leaving — young, talented, educated Italians.”
The lack of jobs and of connections needed to get them were pushing graduates to pack their bags, he said. “Italy expanded until the 1980s and a growing middle class enjoyed social mobility, but then a fear of losing wealth overtook any desire to invest in the future, to invest in helping women work and to invest in innovation and research. The boomer generation has forced its children to live on handouts from their parents’ savings, and as they leave our political and cultural life is impoverished.”
The Italian economy is still in the doldrums after the 2008 financial crisis and people with PhDs often take menial jobs paying as little as €1,000 a month. Access to academic posts is often thwarted by so-called barons, ageing senior university professors accused of falsifying selection procedures to choose their protegés for plum posts.
More than 28 per cent of Italians aged 30 to 34 are not in education, employment or training, compared with 13 per cent in the UK, Mr Rosina said. “For many you either stay here and have no future, or leave.”
As young Italians in the north depart, their places are often taken by southerners escaping an even tighter job market. The report noted that 8,500 graduates aged 25 or over moved last year from Campania and Sicily to northern Italy. Many also left for Germany, France and Switzerland.
More than 133,000 have gone to the UK over the past decade, and half a million Italians now call London home.
Francesco Ragni, 54, who moved to the UK in 2009 and runs the news site LondraItalia.com, said: “The UK has seen a wave of young, brilliant graduates who found no opportunities in Italy.”
Mr Ragni, an aviation IT specialist, was transferred by his company from Rome to London, chose to stay and now teaches at Buckinghamshire New University. “There were opportunities in the UK I did not have at home,” he said. “A university career like mine but in Italy, where you need connections, would be impossible. When I tell friends in Italy I got my job by replying to an advert they are astonished.”
The flow of talent may grind to a halt with Brexit, he said. “You may not be able to come to the UK and take time to find a job, and after you leave university here you will have to leave the country,” he said. “It’s over.”
Where Italians went last year
Source: Italian state statistics agency