Italian diaspora

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Italian diaspora
Italian: Oriundi italiani
Map of the Italian Diaspora in the World.svg
Map of the Italian diaspora in the world
Total population
c. 80 million worldwide[1]
Regions with significant populations
Brazil, Argentina, United States, France, Colombia, Canada, Peru, Uruguay, Australia, Venezuela, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Chile and Paraguay
Italian, other languages of Italy, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German
Christianity (predominantly Catholicism)[2]
Related ethnic groups
Other Romance peoples

The Italian diaspora is the large-scale emigration of Italians from Italy. There were two major Italian diasporas in Italian history. The first diaspora began around 1880, two decades after the Unification of Italy, and ended in the 1920s to the early 1940s with the rise of Fascist Italy.[3] Poverty was the main reason for emigration, specifically the lack of land as property became subdivided over generations. Especially in Southern Italy, conditions were harsh.[3] Until the 1860s, most of Italy was a rural society with many small towns and cities and almost no modern industry in which land management practices, especially in the south and the north-east, did not easily convince farmers to stay on the land and to work the soil.[4]

Another factor was related to the overpopulation of Southern Italy as a result of the improvements in socioeconomic conditions after Unification.[5] That created a demographic boom and forced the new generations to emigrate en masse in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, mostly to the Americas.[6] The new migration of capital created millions of unskilled jobs around the world and was responsible for the simultaneous mass migration of Italians searching for "work and bread".[7] The second diaspora started after the end of World War II and concluded roughly in the 1970s. Between 1880 and 1980, about 15,000,000 Italians left the country permanently.[8] By 1980, it was estimated that about 25,000,000 Italians were residing outside Italy.[9] Between 1861 and 1985, 29,036,000 Italians emigrated to other countries; of whom 16,000,000 (55%) arrived before the outbreak of World War I. About 10,275,000 returned to Italy (35%), and 18,761,000 permanently settled overseas (65%).[10] There is now a National Museum of Italian Emigration, located in Rome, which has on display hundreds of photos from the first two migrations, and provides education to the public about this phenomenon from cultural, political, and economic perspectives.[11]

A third wave, primarily affecting young people, is thought to be occurring, due to the socioeconomic problems caused by the financial crisis of the early 21st century. According to the Public Register of Italian Residents Abroad (AIRE), the number of Italians abroad rose from 3,106,251 in 2006 to 4,636,647 in 2015 and so grew by 49% in just 10 years.[12] There are over 5 million Italian citizens living outside Italy,[13] and c. 80 million people around the world claim full or partial Italian ancestry.[1]

Migration within the Italian geographical borders also occurred for similar reasons;[14] its largest wave consisted in 4 million people moving from Southern to Northern Italy, between the 1950s and 1970s.[15]

Background: ancient Italian migrations[edit]

Trade routes and colonies of the Genoese (red) and Venetian (green) empires during the Middle Age.

Italian Levantines are people living mainly in Turkey, who are descendants from Genoese and Venetian colonists in the Levant during the Middle Ages[16] Italian Levantines have roots even in the eastern Mediterranean coast (the Levant, particularly in present-day Lebanon and Israel) since the period of the Crusades and the Byzantine empire. A small group came from Crimea and the Genoese colonies in the Black sea, after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The majority of the Italian Levantine in modern Turkey are descendants of traders and colonists from the maritime republics of the Mediterranean (such as the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Pisa or of the inhabitants of the Crusader states). There are two big communities of Italian Levantines: one in Istanbul and the other in Izmir. At the end of the 19th century there were nearly 6,000 Levantines of Italian roots in Izmir.[17] They came mainly from the Genoese island of Chios.[18] The community reached more than 15,000 members during Ataturk's times, but now is reduced to a few hundred, according to Italian Levantine writer Giovanni Scognamillo.[19]

Italians in Lebanon (or Italian Lebanese) are a community in Lebanon. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Italian Republic of Genoa had some Genoese colonies in Beirut, Tripoli, and Byblos. In more recent times, the Italians came to Lebanon in small groups during World War I and World War II, trying to escape the wars at that time in Europe. Some of the first Italians who choose Lebanon as a place to settle and find refuge were Italian soldiers from the Italo-Turkish War from 1911 to 1912. Most of the Italians chose to settle in Beirut because of its European style of life. Few Italians left Lebanon for France after independence. The Italian community in Lebanon is very small (about 4,300 people) and it is mostly assimilated into the Lebanese Catholic community. There is a growing interest in economic relationships between Italy and Lebanon (like with the "Vinifest 2011").[20]

The Galata Tower in Istanbul, Turkey, built in 1348 by the Republic of Genoa and still a symbol of the Italian Levantine

The Italians of Odessa are mentioned for the first time in documents of the 13th century, when on the territory of the future Odessa, a city in southern Ukraine on the Black Sea, the anchorage of the Genoese commercial ships was placed, which was called "Ginestra", perhaps from name of the broom plant, very common in the steppes of the Black Sea. The influx of Italians in southern Ukraine grew particularly with the foundation of Odessa, which took place in 1794. All this was facilitated by the fact that at the helm of the newly founded capital of the Black Sea basin, there was a Neapolitan of Spanish origin, Giuseppe De Ribas, in office until 1797. In 1797 there were about 800 Italians in Odessa, equal to 10% of the total population: they were mostly traders and of Neapolitan, Genoese and Livorno sailors, who were later joined by artists, technicians, artisans, pharmacists and teachers.[21] The revolution of 1917 sent many of them to Italy, or to other cities in Europe. In Soviet times, only a few dozen Italians remained in Odessa, most of whom no longer knew their own language. Over time they merged with the local population, losing the ethnic connotations of origin.

The Italians of Crimea are a small ethnic minority residing in Crimea. Italians have populated some areas of Crimea since the time of the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Venice. In 1783, 25,000 Italians immigrated to Crimea, which had been recently annexed by the Russian Empire.[22] In 1830 and in 1870, two distinct migrations arrived in Kerch from the cities of Trani, Bisceglie and Molfetta. These migrants were peasants and sailors, attracted by the job opportunities in the local Crimean seaports and by the possibility to cultivate the nearly unexploited and fertile Crimean lands. After the October Revolution, many Italians were considered foreigners and were seen as an enemy. They therefore faced much repression.[22] Between 1936 and 1938, during Stalin's Great Purge, many Italians were accused of espionage and were arrested, tortured, deported or executed.[23] The few survivors were allowed to return to Kerch under Nikita Khrushchev's regency. Some families dispersed in other territories of Soviet Union, mainly in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The descendants of the Italians of Crimea account today for 3,000 people, mainly residing in Kerch.[24][25]

Catholic Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Kerch, reference for the Italians of Crimea

A Genoese community has existed in Gibraltar since the 16th century and later became an important part of the population. There is much evidence of a community of emigrants from Genoa, who moved to Gibraltar in the 16th century[26] and that were more than a third of the Gibraltar population in the first half of the 18th century. Although labeled as "Genoese", they were not only from the city of Genoa but from all of Liguria, a region in Northern Italy that was the center of the maritime Republic of Genoa. According to the 1725 census, on a total civilian population of 1,113 there were 414 Genoese, 400 Spaniards, 137 Jews, 113 Britons and 49 others (mainly Portuguese and Dutch).[27] In the 1753 census, the Genoese were the biggest group (nearly 34%) of civilian residents in the Gibraltar, and up until 1830, Italian was spoken together with English and Spanish and used in official announcements.[28] After Napoleonic times, many Sicilians and some Tuscans migrated to Gibraltar, but the Genoese and Ligurians remained the majority of the Italian group. Indeed, the Genoese dialect was spoken in Catalan Bay well into the 20th century, dying out in the 1970s.[29] Today, the descendants of the Genoese community of Gibraltar consider themselves Gibraltarians and most of them promote the autonomy of Gibraltar.[30] Genoese heritage is evident throughout Gibraltar but especially in the architecture of the town's older buildings which are influenced by traditional Genoese housing styles featuring internal courtyards (also known as "patios").

Corfiot Italians (or "Corfiote Italians") are a population from the Greek island of Corfu (Kerkyra) with ethnic and linguistic ties to the Republic of Venice. The origins of the Corfiot Italian community can be found in the expansion of the Italian States toward the Balkans during and after the Crusades. In the 12th century, the Kingdom of Naples sent some Italian families to Corfu to rule the island. From the Fourth Crusade of 1204 onwards, the Republic of Venice sent many Italian families to Corfu. These families brought the Italian language of the Middle Ages to the island.[31] When Venice ruled Corfu and the Ionian islands, which lasted during the Renaissance and until the late 18th century, most of the Corfiote upper classes spoke Italian (or specifically Venetian in many cases), but the mass of people remained Greek ethnically, linguistically, and religiously before and after the Ottoman sieges of the 16th century. Corfiot Italians were mainly concentrated in the city of Corfu, which was called "Città di Corfu" by the Venetians. More than half of the population of Corfu city in the 18th century spoke the Venetian language.[32] The re-emergence of Greek nationalism, after the Napoleonic era, contributed to the gradual disappearance of the Corfiot Italians. Corfu was ultimately incorporated into the Kingdom of Greece in 1864. The Greek government abolished all Italian schools in the Ionian islands in 1870, and as a consequence, by the 1940s there were only 400 Corfiote Italians left.[33] The architecture of Corfu City still reflects its long Venetian heritage, with its multi-storied buildings, its spacious squares such as the popular "Spianada" and the narrow cobblestone alleys known as "Kantounia".


From Italian unification to WWI[edit]

Estimates of the number of emigrants from 1876–1900 and 1901–1915, according to their region of origin.[34]

The Unification of Italy broke down the feudal land system, which had survived in the south since the Middle Ages, especially where land had been the inalienable property of aristocrats, religious bodies or the king. The breakdown of feudalism, however, and redistribution of land did not necessarily lead to small farmers in the south winding up with land of their own or land they could work and make profit from. Many remained landless, and plots grew smaller and smaller and so less and less productive, as land was subdivided amongst heirs.[4]

Between 1860 and World War I, 9 million Italians left permanently of a total of 16 million who emigrated, most travelling to North or South America.[35] The numbers may have even been higher; 14 million from 1876 to 1914, according to another study. Annual emigration averaged almost 220,000 in the period 1876 to 1900, and almost 650,000 from 1901 through 1915. Prior to 1900 the majority of Italian immigrants were from northern and central Italy. Two-thirds of the migrants who left Italy between 1870 and 1914 were men with traditional skills. Peasants were half of all migrants before 1896.[6]

Ship loaded with Italian emigrants arrived in Brazil (1907)

As the number of Italian emigrants abroad increased, so did their remittances, which encouraged further emigration, even in the face of factors that might logically be thought to decrease the need to leave, such as increased salaries at home. It has been termed "persistent and path-dependent emigration flow".[35] Friends and relatives who left first sent back money for tickets and helped relatives as they arrived. That tended to support an emigration flow since even improving conditions in the original country took time to trickle down to potential emigrants to convince them not to leave. The emigrant flow was stemmed only by dramatic events, such as the outbreak of World War I, which greatly disrupted the flow of people trying to leave Europe, and the restrictions on immigration that were put in place by receiving countries. Examples of such restrictions in the United States were the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Restrictive legislation to limit emigration from Italy was introduced by the fascist government of the 1920s and 1930s.[36]

Poster created in 1886 by the Brazilian state of São Paulo, intended for potential Italian emigrants to Brazil

The Italian diaspora did not affect all regions of the nation equally. In the second phase of emigration (1900 to World War I), slightly less than half of emigrants were from the south and most of them were from rural areas, as they were driven off the land by inefficient land management, lawlessness and sickness (pellagra and cholera). Robert Foerster, in Italian Emigration of our Times (1919) says, "[Emigration has been]… well nigh expulsion; it has been exodus, in the sense of depopulation; it has been characteristically permanent".[37] The very large number of emigrants from Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region with a population of only 509,000 in 1870 until 1914 is due to the fact that many of those counted among the 1.407 million emigrants actually lived in the Austrian Littoral which had a larger polyglot population of Croats, Friulians, Italians and Slovenes than in the Italian Friuli.[38]

Mezzadria, a form of sharefarming where tenant families obtained a plot to work on from an owner and kept a reasonable share of the profits, was more prevalent in central Italy, and is one of the reasons that there was less emigration from that part of Italy. The south lacked entrepreneurs, and absentee landlords were common. Although owning land was the basic yardstick of wealth, farming there was socially despised. People invested not in agricultural equipment, but in such things as low-risk state bonds.[4]

The rule that emigration from cities was negligible has an important exception, in Naples.[4] The city went from being the capital of its own kingdom in 1860 to being just another large city in Italy. The loss of bureaucratical jobs and the subsequently declining financial situation led to high unemployment in the area. In the early-1880s, epidemics of cholera also struck the city, causing many people to leave. The epidemics were the driving force behind the decision to rebuild entire sections of the city, an undertaking known as the "risanamento" (literally "making healthy again"), a pursuit that lasted until the start of World War I.

Emigrants Modenesi to Capitan Pastene (Chile) in 1910: the Castagnoli family

During the first few years before the unification of Italy, emigration was not particularly controlled by the state. Emigrants were often in the hands of emigration agents whose job was to make money for themselves by moving emigrants. Such labor agents and recruiters were called padroni, translating to patron or boss.[6] Abuses led to the first migration law in Italy, passed in 1888, to bring the many emigration agencies under state control.[39] On 31 January 1901, the Commissariat of Emigration was created, granting licenses to carriers, enforcing fixed ticket costs, keeping order at ports of embarkation, providing health inspection for those leaving, setting up hostels and care facilities and arranging agreements with receiving countries to help care for those arriving. The Commissariat tried to take care of emigrants before they left and after they arrived, such as dealing with the American laws that discriminated against alien workers (like the Alien Contract Labor Law) and even suspending, for some time, emigration to Brazil, where many migrants had wound up as quasi-slaves on large coffee plantations.[39] The Commissariat also helped to set up remittances sent by emigrants from the United States back to their homeland, which turned into a constant flow of money amounting, by some accounts, to about 5% of the Italian GNP.[40] In 1903, the Commissariat also set the available ports of embarkation as Palermo, Naples and Genoa, excluding the port of Venice, which had previously also been used.[41]

Interwar period[edit]

The Benvenuti family, immigrated to Caxias do Sul, municipality of Brazil founded by Italian emigrants from Veneto, in a photo of 1928

Although the physical perils involved with transatlantic ship traffic during World War I disrupted emigration from all parts of Europe, including Italy, the condition of various national economies in the immediate post-war period was so bad that immigration picked up almost immediately. Foreign newspapers ran scare stories similar to those published 40 years earlier (when, for example, on December 18, 1880, The New York Times ran an editorial, "Undesirable Emigrants", full of typical invective of the day against the "promiscuous immigration… [of]…the filthy, wretched, lazy, criminal dregs of the meanest sections of Italy"). An article written during the interwar period on April 17, 1921, in the same newspaper, used the headlines "Italians Coming in Great Numbers" and "Number of Immigrants Will Be Limited Only By Capacity of Liners" (there was now a limited number of ships available because of recent wartime losses) and that potential immigrants were thronging the quays in the cities of Genoa. This article continues: [...] the foreigner who walks through a city like Naples can easily realize the problem the government is dealing with: the back streets are literally teeming with children running around the streets and on the dirty and happy sidewalks. [...] The suburbs of Naples [...] teem with children who, in number, can only be compared to those found in Delhi, Agra and other cities of the East Indies [...]".

One of the two braziers that burn perpetually on the sides of the tomb of the Italian Unknown Soldier at Altare della Patria in Rome. At their base there is a plaque bearing the inscription "Gli italiani all'estero alla Madre Patria" ("Italians abroad to the Motherland")

The extreme economic difficulties of post-war Italy and the severe internal tensions within the country, which led to the rise of fascism, led 614,000 immigrants away in 1920, half of them going to the United States. When the fascists came to power in 1922, there was a gradual slowdown in the flow of emigrants from Italy. However, during the first five years of fascist rule, 1,500,000 people left Italy.[42] By then, the nature of the emigrants had changed; there was, for example, a marked increase in the rise of relatives outside the working age moving to be with their families, who had already left Italy.

The bond of the emigrants with their mother country continued to be very strong even after their departure. Many Italian emigrants made donations to the construction of the Altare della Patria (1885–1935), a part of the monument dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, and in memory of that, the inscription of the plaque on the two burning braziers perpetually at the Altare della Patria next to the tomb of the Italian Unknown Soldier, reads "Gli italiani all'estero alla Madre Patria" ("Italians abroad to the Motherland").[43] The allegorical meaning of the flames that burn perpetually is linked to their symbolism, which is centuries old, since it has its origins in classical antiquity, especially in the cult of the dead.[44] A fire that burns eternally symbolizes that the memory, in this case of the sacrifice of the Unknown Soldier and the bond of the country of origin, is perpetually alive in Italians, even in those who are far from their country, and will never fade.[44]

After WWII[edit]

Following the defeat of Italy in World War II and the Paris Treaties of 1947, Istria, Kvarner and most of Julian March, with the cities of Pola, Fiume and Zara, passed from Italy to Yugoslavia, causing the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus, which led to the emigration of between 230,000 and 350,000 of local ethnic Italians (Istrian Italians and Dalmatian Italians), towards Italy, and in smaller numbers, towards the Americas and Australia.[45]

The Italian emigration of the second half of the 20th century, on the other hand, was mostly to European nations experiencing economic growth. From the 1940s onwards, Italian emigration flow headed mainly to Switzerland and Belgium, while from the following decade, France and Germany were added among the top destinations.[46][47][48] These countries were considered by many, at the time of departure, as a temporary destination — often only for a few months — in which to work and earn money in order to build a better future in Italy. This phenomenon took place the most in the 1970s, a period that was marked by the return to their homeland of many Italian emigrants.

The Italian state signed an emigration pact with Germany in 1955 which guaranteed mutual commitment in the matter of migratory movements and which led almost three million Italians to cross the border in search of work. As of 2017, there are approximately 700,000 Italians in Germany, while in Switzerland this number reaches approximately 500,000. They are mainly of Sicilian, Calabrian, Abruzzese and Apulian origin, but also Venetian and Emilian, many of whom have dual citizenship and therefore the ability to vote in both countries. In Belgium and Switzerland, the Italian communities remain the most numerous foreign representations, and although many return to Italy after retirement, often the children and grandchildren remain in the countries of birth, where they have now taken root.

An important phenomenon of aggregation that is found in Europe, as well as in other countries and continents that have been the destination of migratory flows of Italians, is that of emigration associations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that over 10,000 associations set up by Italian emigrants over the course of over a century are present abroad. Benefit, cultural, assistance and service associations that have constituted a fundamental point of reference for emigrants. The major associative networks of various ideal inspirations are now gathered in the National Council of Emigration. One of the largest associative networks in the world, together with those of the Catholic world, is that of the Italian Federation of migrant workers and families.

The "new emigration" of the 21st century[edit]

Riccardo Giacconi, Italian naturalized American physicist, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 2002

Between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the next, the flow of Italian emigrants around the world greatly attenuated. However, following the effects of the Great Recession, a continuous flow of expatriates has spread since the end of the 2010s. Although numerically lower than the previous two, this period mainly affects young people who are often graduates, so much so that is defined as a "brain drain".

In particular, this flow is mainly directed towards Germany, where over 35,000 Italians arrived in 2012 alone, but also towards other countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, the United States and the South American countries. This is an annual flow which, according to the 2012 data from the registry office of Italians residing abroad (AIRE), is around 78,000 people with an increase of about 20,000 compared to 2011, even if it is estimated that the actual number of people who have emigrated is considerably higher (between two and three times), as many compatriots cancel their residence in Italy with much delay compared to their actual departure.

The phenomenon of the so-called "new emigration"[49] caused by the serious economic crisis also affects all of southern Europe such as countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece (as well as Ireland and France) which record similar, if not greater, emigration trends. It is widely believed that the places where there are no structural changes in economic and social policies are those most subject to the increase in this emigration flow. Regarding Italy, it is also significant that these flows no longer concern only the regions of southern Italy, but also those of the north, such as Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.

According to the available statistics, the community of Italian citizens residing abroad amounts to 4,600,000 people (2015 data). It is therefore greatly reduced, from a percentage point of view, from 9,200,000 in the early 1920s (when it was about one fifth of the entire Italian population).[50]

The "Report of Italians in the World 2011" produced by the Migrantes Foundation, which is part of the CEI, specified that:

Italians residing abroad as of 31 December 2010 were 4,115,235 (47.8% are women).[51] The Italian emigrant community continues to increase both for new departures, and for internal growth (enlargement of families or people who acquire citizenship by descent). Italian emigration is concentrated mainly between Europe (55.8%) and America (38.8%). Followed by Oceania (3.2%), Africa (1.3%) and Asia with 0.8%. The country with the most Italians is Argentina (648,333), followed by Germany (631,243), then Switzerland (520,713). Furthermore, 54.8% of Italian emigrants are of southern origin (over 1,400,000 from the South and almost 800,000 from the Islands); 30.1% comes from the northern regions (almost 600,000 from the Northeast and 580,000 from the Northwest); finally, 15% (588,717) comes from the central regions. Central-southern emigrants are the overwhelming majority in Europe (62.1%) and Oceania (65%). In Asia and Africa, however, half of the Italians come from the North. The region with the most emigrants is Sicily (646,993), followed by Campania (411,512), Lazio (346,067), Calabria (343,010), Apulia (309,964) and Lombardy (291,476). The province with the most emigrants is Rome (263,210), followed by Agrigento (138,517), Cosenza (138,152), Salerno (108,588) and Naples (104,495).[52]

— CEI report on "new emigration"

In 2008, about 60,000 Italians changed citizenship; they mostly come from Northern Italy (74%) and have preferred Germany as their adopted country (12% of the total emigrants).[53] The number of Italian citizens residing abroad according to those registered in the AIRE registry:

Italian citizens residing abroad
(Source: Statistiche relative all'elenco aggiornato dei cittadini italiani residenti all'estero (AIRE))

By continent[edit]


Arrival of the first Italian locomotive in Tripoli, Italian Tripolitania, in 1912

Libya had some 150,000 Italians settlers when Italy entered World War II in 1940, constituting about 18% of the total population in Italian Libya.[54] The Italians in Libya resided (and many still do) in most major cities like Tripoli (37% of the city was Italian), Benghazi (31%), and Hun (3%). Their numbers decreased after 1946. France and the UK took over the spoils of war that included Italian discovery and technical expertise in the extraction and production of crude oil, superhighways, irrigation, electricity. Most of Libya's Italian residents were expelled from the country in 1970, a year after Muammar Gaddafi seized power in a coup d'état on October 7, 1970,[55] but a few hundred Italian settlers returned to Libya in the 2000s (decade).

Year Italians Percentage Total Libya Source for data on population
1936 112,600 13.26% 848,600 Enciclopedia Geografica Mondiale K-Z, De Agostini, 1996
1939 108,419 12.37% 876,563 Guida Breve d'Italia Vol.III, C.T.I., 1939 (Censimento Ufficiale)
1962 35,000 2.1% 1,681,739 Enciclopedia Motta, Vol.VIII, Motta Editore, 1969
1982 1,500 0.05% 2,856,000 Atlante Geografico Universale, Fabbri Editori, 1988
2004 22,530 0.4% 5,631,585 L'Aménagement Linguistique dans le Monde Archived 26 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine

Somalia had some 50,000 Italian Somali settlers during World War II, constituting about 5% of the total population in Italian Somaliland.[56][57] The Italians resided in most major cities in the central and southern parts of the territory, with around 10,000 living in the capital Mogadishu. Other major areas of settlement included Jowhar, which was founded by the Italian prince Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi. Italian used to be a major language, but its influence significantly diminished following independence. It is now most frequently heard among older generations.[58]

Italian Club in Boksburg, in South Africa

Although Italians did not emigrate to South Africa in large numbers, those who arrived there have nevertheless made an impact on the country. Before World War II, relatively few Italian immigrants arrived, though there were some prominent exceptions such as the Cape's first Prime Minister John Molteno. South African Italians made big headlines during World War II, when Italians were captured in Italian East Africa, they needed to be sent to a safe stronghold to be detained as prisoners of war (POWs). South Africa was the perfect destination, and the first POWs arrived in Durban, in 1941.[59][60]

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Asmara, built by Italian Eritreans in 1923

Italians had a significantly large, but very quickly diminished population in Africa. In 1926, there were 90,000 Italians in Tunisia, compared to 70,000 Frenchmen (unusual since Tunisia was a French protectorate).[61] By 2017, the Italian Tunisians were reduced to a few thousand. Former Italian communities also once thrived in the Horn of Africa, with about 50,000 Italian settlers living in Eritrea in 1935.[62] The Italian Eritrean population grew from 4,000 during World War I, to nearly 100,000 at the beginning of World War II.[63]

During the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, roughly 300,000 Italians settled in the Italian East Africa (1936–1941). Over 49,000 lived in Asmara in 1939 (around 10% of the city's population), and over 38,000 resided in Addis Abeba. After independence, some Italians remained for decades after receiving full pardon by Emperor Selassie,[64] but eventually nearly 22,000 Italo-Ethiopians left the country due to the Ethiopian Civil War in 1974.[64] 80 original Italian colonists remain alive in 2007, and nearly 2000 mixed descendants of Italians and Ethiopians. In the 2000s, some Italian companies returned to operate in Ethiopia, and a large number of Italian technicians and managers arrived with their families, residing mainly in the metropolitan area of the capital.[65]

Conspicuous was the presence of Italian emigrants even in territories that have never been Italian colonies, such as Egypt. In 1940, Italian Egyptians amounted to 55,000, constituting the second immigrant community in this African country. As of 2017, Italian Egyptians only amounted to a few thousand. Also present in Africa are Italian Moroccans and Italian Algerians, though never had Italian colonies. A few Italian settlers stayed in Portuguese colonies in Africa after World War II. As the Portuguese government had sought to enlarge the small Portuguese population through emigration from Europe,[66] the Italian migrants gradually assimilated into the Angolan Portuguese community. Italian Zambians are Zambian citizens of Italian descent, immigrants from Italy, or Italian born Zambians. Italian Zambians have a community and church in their town of Lusaka.

The Americas[edit]

Mulberry Street, along which New York City's Little Italy is centered, circa 1900

The first Italians that headed to the Americas settled in the territories of the Spanish Empire as early as the 16th century. They were mainly Ligurians from the Republic of Genoa, who worked in activities and businesses related to transoceanic maritime navigation. The flow in the Río de la Plata region grew in the 1830s, when substantial Italian colonies arose in the cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. After the unification of Italy in 1861, there was a notable emigration from Italy to Uruguay that peaked in the last decades of the 19th century, when over 110,000 Italian emigrants arrived. In 1976, Uruguayans with Italian descent amounted to over 1.3 million (almost 40% of the total population, including the Italo-Argentines residing in Uruguay).[67]

The symbolic starting date of Italian emigration to the Americas is considered to be 28 June 1854 when, after a twenty-six day journey from Palermo, the steamship Sicilia arrived in the port of New York City. For the first time, a steamship flying the flag of a state on the Italian peninsula, in this case the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, reached the US coasts.[68] Two years earlier, the Transatlantic Steam Navigation Company with the New World had been founded in Genoa, the main shareholder of which was King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia. The aforementioned association commissioned the large twin steamships Genova and Torino to the Blackwall shipyards, launched respectively on April 12 and May 21, 1856, both destined for the maritime connection between Italy and the Americas.[69] Emigration to the Americas was of considerable size from the second half of the 19th century to the first decades of the 20th century. It nearly ran out during Fascism, but had a small revival soon after the end of World War II. Mass Italian emigration to the Americas ended in the 1960s, after the Italian economic miracle, although it continued until the 1980s in Canada and the United States.

Italian immigrants lay cobblestones on King Street in Toronto, 1903

Italian immigration to Argentina, along with Spanish, formed the backbone of Argentine society. Minor groups of Italians started to emigrate to Argentina as early as the second half of the 17th century.[70] However, the stream of Italian immigration to Argentina became a mass phenomenon between 1880 and 1920 when Italy was facing social and economic disturbances. Platinean culture has significant connections to Italian culture in terms of language, customs and traditions.[71] It is estimated that up to 62.5% of the population, or 30 million Argentines, have full or partial Italian ancestry.[72][73] According to the Ministry of the Interior of Italy, there are 527,570 Italian citizens living in the Argentine Republic, including Argentines with dual citizenship.[74]

Italian immigrants arriving in São Paulo, circa 1890. The South American country has the largest Italian population outside Italy.[75]
Italian immigrants in a conventillo in Buenos Aires

Italian Brazilians are the largest number of people with full or partial Italian ancestry outside Italy, with São Paulo as the most populous city with Italian ancestry in the world. Nowadays, it is possible to find millions of descendants of Italians, from the southeastern state of Minas Gerais to the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, with the majority living in São Paulo state[76] and the highest percentage in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo (60-75%).[77][78] Small southern Brazilian towns, such as Nova Veneza, have as much as 95% of their population as people with Italian descent.[79]

A substantial influx of Italian immigrants to Canada began in the early 20th century when over 60,000 Italians moved to Canada between 1900 and 1913.[80] Approximately 40,000 Italians came to Canada during the interwar period between 1914 and 1918, predominantly from southern Italy where an economic depression and overpopulation had left many families in poverty.[80] Between the early-1950s and the mid-1960s, approximately 20,000 to 30,000 Italians emigrated to Canada each year.[80] Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia was an influential port of Italian immigration between 1928 until it ceased operations in 1971, where 471,940 individuals came to Canada from Italy making them the third-largest ethnic group to emigrate to Canada during that time period.[81] Almost 1,000,000 Italians reside in the Province of Ontario, making it a strong global representation of the Italian diaspora.[82] For example, Hamilton, Ontario, has around 24,000 residents with ties to its sister city Racalmuto in Sicily.[83] The city of Vaughan, just outside Toronto, and the town of King, just north of Vaughan, have the two largest concentrations of Italians in Canada at over 30% of the total population of each community.[84][85]

From the late 19th century until the 1930s, the United States was a main destination for Italian immigrants, with most first settling in the New York metropolitan area, but with other major Italian American communities developing in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, Providence, and New Orleans. Most Italian immigrants to the United States came from the Southern regions of Italy, namely Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily. Many of them coming to the United States were also small landowners.[6] Between 1880 and 1914, more than 4 million Italians immigrated to the United States.[86] Italian Americans are known for their tight-knit communities and ethnic pride, and have been highly influential in the development of modern U.S. culture, particularly in the Northeastern region of the country. Italian American communities have often been depicted in U.S. film and television, with distinct Italian-influenced dialects of English prominently spoken by many characters. Although many do not speak Italian fluently, over a million still speak Italian at home, according to the 2000 US Census.[87]

Another very conspicuous Italian community is in Venezuela, which developed especially after World War II. There are about 5 million venezuelans with at least one Italian ancestor, corresponding to more than 6% of the total population.[88] Italo-Venezuelans have achieved significant results in modern Venezuelan society. The Italian embassy estimates that a quarter of Venezuelan industries not related to the oil sector are directly or indirectly owned and/or operated by Italo-Venezuelans.

Mexico had Italian immigration starting in the 1850's, when the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia sent waves of immigrants to the state of Veracruz. Then in the 1800's more government sponsored immigration projects continued throughout the country, mainly in Veracruz but also in states like Puebla, Estado de Mexico, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, Jalisco and Michoacán. This was a small percentage of the total immigration as more immigrants arrived from the 1890's-1920's. Many went to Veracruz, Guadalajara and the capital, Mexico City, where a sizeable community emerged. From the 1920's-1950's more Italians, now especially from southern Italy, who were earlier treated as "undesirable" by Mexican immigration authorities, started to enter the country. From the 1950's-1970's a large number of Italians entered Mexico as the oil boom began in the country and Mexico was starting to be a prosperous country again since the Porfiriato regime. Another large wave started during the Recession from 2007 to today, where many Italians keep migrating to the Mayan Riviera and other touristic hotspots. Today languages like Venetian and Calabrese survive in Mexico in various forms.


Monument to the workers — mostly Italian — who died in Switzerland during the construction of the Gotthard Tunnel

Italian migration to France has occurred, in different migrating cycles since the end of the 19th century to the present day.[89] In addition, Corsica passed from the Republic of Genoa to France in 1770, and the area around Nice and Savoy from the Kingdom of Sardinia to France in 1860. Initially, Italian immigration to modern France (late 18th to the early 20th centuries) came predominantly from northern Italy (Piedmont, Veneto), then from central Italy (Marche, Umbria), mostly to the bordering southeastern region of Provence.[89] It was not until after World War II that large numbers of immigrants from southern Italy emigrated to France, usually settling in industrialized areas of France such as Lorraine, Paris and Lyon.[89] Today, it is estimated that as many as 5,000,000 French nationals have Italian ancestry going as far back as three generations.[89]

In Switzerland, Italian immigrants (not to be confused with a large autochthonous population of Italophones in Ticino and Grigioni)[90] reached the country starting in the late 19th century, most of whom eventually returned to Italy after the rise of Italian Fascism. Future Fascist leader Benito Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland in 1902, only to be deported after becoming involved in the socialist movement.[91] A new migratory wave began after 1945, favored by the lax immigration laws then in force.[92]

Italian worker in a mine near Duisburg, in Germany, in 1962

The English towns of Bedford and Hoddesdon have sizeable Italian populations. A significant number of Italians came to Bedford in the 1950s due to the London Brick Company finding itself short of workers in the wake of the post-war reconstruction boom. As a result, Bedford has the largest concentration of Italian families in the UK, and the third-highest number of Italian immigrants overall with around one-fifth of its overall population being of Italian descent.[93][94] In Hoddesdon, many Italians, mostly descending from Sicily, migrated there and across the Lea Valley in the 1950s due to opportunities working in local garden nurseries. They were drawn to the area by the rich agricultural landscape and better pay in comparison to back home. Today, the town's Italian community has had such a significant impact that an Italian consul, Carmelo Nicastro, was even elected for the area.[95]Also due to immigration in the 1800s there is a Little Italy in Clerkenwell, Islington, London.[96]

Memorial dedicated to the first Italian settlers who founded New Italy , suburb of Woodburn, New South Wales, in Australia

In the 1890s, Germany transformed from a country of emigration to a country of immigration. Starting from this period the migratory flows from Italy expanded (mostly coming from Friuli, Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna), and with them the numerical consistency of the Italian communities increased. In fact, it went from 4,000 Italians in 1871 to over 120,000 registered in 1910. Italian immigration to Germany resumed after the rise to power of Nazism in 1933. This time, however, it was not a voluntary migration, but a forced recruitment of Italian workers, based on an agreement stipulated in 1937 between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, to satisfy the need to find cheap labor for German factories in exchange for the supply of coal to Italy. On December 20, 1955, a bilateral agreement was signed between Italy and West Germany for the recruitment and placement of Italian labor in German companies. From that date there was a boom in migratory flows towards West Germany, which were much more conspicuous than those that had occurred between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It is estimated that from 1956 to 1976 over 4 million Italians entered West Germany, 3.5 million of whom later returned to Italy.[97]


Italians first arrived in Australia in the decades immediately following the Unification of Italy, but the most significant wave was after World War II ended in 1945, particularly from 1950 to 1965. Italian Australians had a significant impact on Australia's culture, society and economy. The 2006 Australian census recorded 199,124 people born in Italy, and Italian ancestry is the fifth most common in Australia, with 852,418 Italian-Australians. Compared to other countries, the Italo-Australians have experienced a low rate of return migration to Italy, probably linked to the distance between the two countries. As of 2016, about one million Australians claim Italian heritage.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand did not receive much immigration from Italy. Several hundreds of them, mostly fishermen, immigrated in the late-1890s. As of 2011, roughly 3,500 New Zealanders claim Italian heritage.


Italian emigrants employed in the construction of a railway in the United States (1918)

After 1890, Italian contribution to the emigration flow to the New World was significant. By 1870, Italy had about 25,000,000 inhabitants (compared to 40,000,000 in Germany and 30,000,000 in the United Kingdom).[98]

A preliminary census done in 1861, after the annexation of the South, claimed that there were a mere 100,000 Italians living abroad.[36] The General Directorate of Statistics did not start compiling official emigration statistics until 1876.[39] Accurate figures on the decades between 1870 and World War I show how emigration increased dramatically during that period:

Italian emigrants per 1,000 population:[99]

  • 1870–1879: 4.29
  • 1880–1889: 6.09
  • 1890–1899: 8.65
  • 1900–1913: 17.97

The high point of Italian emigration was in 1913, when 872,598 people left Italy.[36]

By extrapolating from the 25,000,000 inhabitants of Italy at the time of unification, natural birth and death rates, without emigration, there would have been a population of about 65,000,000 by 1970. Instead, because of emigration earlier in the century, there were only 54,000,000.[100]

Italian emigrants in the period following the unification of Italy until the 1970s, a period that saw the italians as protagonists of the greatest exodus in modern history, were more that 29 million. We can divide the statistical history of this historical italian emigration into four temporal phases (according to L. Favero[101]):

The first, from 1876 (first official survey) to 1900, is due to socio-economic factors, at first it was directed mainly towards France and Germany, then towards South America and, to a lesser extent, North America. Through mainly spontaneous and clandestine movements, about 5.3 million people expatriated, especially from northern Italy. We are talking about a huge share of the population, which at that time fluctuated around 30 million inhabitants. In practice, over 15% of the population.

The second was the great wave of Italian emigrants, that continued from 1900 to 1914. This second phase sees the protagonists above all emigrants from central-southern Italy, expelled from the agricultural sector and from rural areas without finding an alternative in a still shaky industrial sector. This phase, called the Great Emigration, was mainly extra-European, even if France and Germany remained privileged European destinations, to which Switzerland was added. The outbreak of the First World War and the consequent dangerousness of travel put an end to this phase, in which more than 9.5 million people left Italy, equal to a quarter of the total population.

The third was between the two world wars - and was a phase of decline in Italian emigration due to the legislative restrictions adopted by the landing states, the economic crisis of '29 and the restrictive and anti-emigration policy pursued by the fascism. In this period, the decrease in non-European immigration led to an increase in European flows, towards France (the favorite destination of the opponents of the regime) and Germany (after the signing of the Pact of Steel). The movements towards colonial Africa were added, an attempt at imperial expansionism (in Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia). More than 3.5 million italians emigrated in those 20 years.

Finally, the fourth phase is that of the postwar period: from 1945 to 1970 - a period of profound economic, social and political changes - migratory flows returned to be particularly large, especially from the south of the country. The main transoceanic destinations were Latin America (Venezuela, Brasil and Argentina) and Australia, while in Europe they aimed in particular towards France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. The Italian emigrants were about 7.3 million.

The overall description of the phenomenon is as follows:[102]

Number of Italian emigrants by decade and by country of destination
Years  France  Germany   Switzerland  United States
 Argentina  Brazil  Australia Other countries
1861–1870 288,000 44,000 38,000 - - - - 91,000
1871–1880 347,000 105,000 132,000 26,000 86,000 37,000 460 265,000
1881–1890 374,000 86,000 71,000 251,000 391,000 215,000 1,590 302,000
1891–1900 259,000 230,000 189,000 520,000 367,000 580,000 3,440 390,000
1901–1910 572,000 591,000 655,000 2,394,000 734,000 303,000 7,540 388,000
1911–1920 664,000 285,000 433,000 1,650,000 315,000 125,000 7,480 429,000
1921–1930 1,010,000 11,490 157,000 450,000 535,000 76,000 33,000 298,000
1931–1940 741,000 7,900 258,000 170,000 190,000 15,000 6,950 362,000
1946–1950 175,000 2,155 330,000 158,000 278,000 45,915 87,265 219,000
1951–1960 491,000 1,140,000 1,420,000 297,000 24,800 22,200 163,000 381,000
1961–1970 898,000 541,000 593,000 208,000 9,800 5,570 61,280 316,000
1971–1980 492,000 310,000 243,000 61,500 8,310 6,380 18,980 178,000
1981–1985 20,000 105,000 85,000 16, 000 4,000 2,200 6,000 63,000
Emigrated 6,322,000 3,458,000 4,604,000 6,201,000 2,941,000 1,432,000 396,000 3,682,000
Came back to Italy 2,972,00 1,045,000 2,058,000 721,000 750,000 162,000 92,000 2,475,000
Remained abroad 3,350,000 2,413,000 2,546,000 5,480,000 2,191,000 1,270,000 304,000 1,207,000
Total emigrated: 29,000,000 · Total came back to Italy: 10,275,000 · Total remained abroad: 18,725,000

The 2016 Italian constitutional referendum provided data on the number of registered Italian citizens living outside Italy by country. The highest number is in Argentina, with 673,238 registered Italians residing in the country in 2016, followed by Germany with 581,433, Switzerland with 482,539, France with 329,202, Brazil with 325,555, the UK with 232,932, Belgium 225,801, the United States with 218,407, Canada with 122,262, Australia with 120,791, and Spain with 118,879.[103]

Descendants of Italian immigrants[edit]

Italian Argentines wave the flag of Italy during the opening parade of the XXXIV Immigrant's Festival
Columbus Day parade in New York City

In the 19th and 20th centuries, nearly 30 million Italians left Italy to the Americas, Australia and Western Europe as their main destinations.[104] It is estimated that the number of their descendants, who are called "oriundi", is c. 80 million worldwide[1] They are widespread in different countries around the world with the most numerous communities in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States. Considering that a oriundo can have even only a distant ancestor born in Italy, the majority of oriundi have only an Italian surname (and often not even that) but not Italian citizenship. In many countries, especially in South America, the estimates are very approximate since there is no type of census on one's origins (as is the case in the United States or Canada).

Italian oriundi constitute a population of very conspicuous proportions. Only in Argentina, according to an estimate,[105] there are tens of millions of Italian oriundi and no less nourished are the communities in the United States of America and Brazil, other main destinations of the aforementioned migratory flow at the turn of the 20th century. In many other European countries the Italian communities are widely distributed, but at least in the Schengen area the fall of many nationalistic barriers that made the problem of relations with the Motherland much less stringent. The concepts of multi-ethnicity and naturalization in football have affected the whole world, so much so that at the 2014 FIFA World Cup — in the squads of the 32 participating national teams — there were 83 oriundi.[106]

In Italy, a nation in which the phenomenon of emigration abroad (especially between the 19th and 20th centuries) has developed in huge proportions, the recovery of the relationship with the communities of Italian origin formed in the world is enjoying growing attention. Regulations are beginning to be enacted, particularly in regional areas, which no longer provide assistance and not only for those who were born in Italy and who expatriated, but also for their descendants (precisely the oriundi), so that the cultural identity bond can be consolidated. An example of this is the law of the Veneto region n°2 of January 9, 2003,[107] in which various actions are arranged in favor of the emigrant, the surviving spouse and descendants up to the third generation, in order to "guarantee the maintenance of the Venetian identity and improve the knowledge of the culture of origin".

The term oriundo is widely used to indicate an athlete, especially a football, rugby, futsal, ice hockey, roller hockey and basketball player of Italian origin, equated in sports legislation to the citizens of Italian peninsula and therefore admitted to be part of the Italian national team; this is the case of the footballers Anfilogino Guarisi, Atilio Demaría, Luis Monti, Enrique Guaita and Raimundo Orsi world champions with the national team in 1934, Michele Andreolo world champion in 1938, Mauro Camoranesi, world champion in 2006, Jorginho and Emerson Palmieri, European champions in 2020 and of several other footballers from the 1930s to today.

One of the events most felt by Italian oriundi in the United States is Columbus Day, an event celebrated in many countries to commemorate the day of the arrival of Christopher Columbus, an Italian[108] explorer and navigator born in Genoa, to the New World on October 12, 1492. Columbus Day was first commemorated by Italians in San Francisco in 1869, followed by the many Italian-related celebrations held in New York City.

Main communities of descendants of Italian immigrants in the world
Country Population Community Notes
 Brazil 32,000,000 (about 15% of the total population) Italian Brazilians [109][110]
 Argentina 19,700,000 (about 47% of the total population) Italian Argentines [104][111]
 United States 17,000,000 (about 5% of the total population) Italian Americans [112]
 Venezuela 5,000,000 (about 6% of the total population) Italian Venezuelans [88]
 France 4,000,000 (about 6% of the total population) Italian French [104][113]
 Colombia 2,000,000 (about 4% of the total population) Italian Colombians [114]
 Canada 1,600,000 (about 4% of the total population) Italian Canadians [115]
 Uruguay 1,200,000 (about 35% of the total population) Italian Uruguayans [67][104]
 Germany 1,198,032 (<1,4% of the total population) Italian Germans [116]
 Australia 1,000,000 (about 4% of the total population) Italian Australians [117]
 Peru 580,000 (about 1% of the total population) Italian Peruvians [118]
  Switzerland 530,000 (about 7% of the total population) Italian Swiss [119]
 United Kingdom 500,000 (<1% of the total population) Italian British [120]
 Belgium 290,000 (about 2.6% of the total population) Italian Belgians [121]
 Chile 150,000 (<1% of the total population) Italian Chileans [122]
 Paraguay 100,000 (about 1.4% of the total population) Italian Paraguayans [120]

Internal migrations[edit]

Italy has also experienced significant internal migrations within the Italian geographical borders. The oldest migration goes back to the 11th century when soldiers and settlers from Northern Italy (at the time collectively called "Lombardy"[123]), settled the central and eastern part of Sicily during the Norman conquest of southern Italy. After the marriage between the Norman king Roger I of Sicily with Adelaide del Vasto, member of Aleramici family, many Lombard colonisers left their homeland, in the Aleramici's possessions in Piedmont and Liguria, to settle on the island of Sicily.[124][125] The migration of people from Northern Italy to Sicily continued until the end of the 13th century.[126] In the same period people from Northern Italy also emigrated to Basilicata.[127] It is believed that the population of Northern Italy who immigrated to Sicily during in these centuries was altogether about 200,000 people.[128] Their descendants, who are still present in Sicily today, are called Lombards of Sicily. Following these ancient migrations, in some municipalities of Sicily and Basilicata, dialects of northern origin are still spoken today, the Gallo-Italic of Sicily and the Gallo-Italic of Basilicata.

Monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi in the homonymous square in Nice, France

An important internal migration involved Italian speakers from France to Italy. Corsica passed from the Republic of Genoa to France in 1770, while Savoy and the area around Nice passed from the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to France in 1860; Francization occurred in both cases and caused a near-disappearance of the Italian language as many of the Italian speakers in these areas to migrated to Italy.[129][130] As for Nice, the emigration phenomenon towards Italy is known as the "Niçard exodus".[131]

Another important internal migration took place between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. It was the one that involved the transfer of seasonal migrants from the "irredent" territories, not yet annexed to the mother country (Trentino-Alto Adige and Julian March), to the nearby Kingdom of Italy. Men generally worked as mill workers, moléti (grinders) and charcuterie; women instead worked in the cities or as service personnel in wealthy families. This emigration was usually seasonal (especially for men) and characterized the winter period during which the peasants could not work the land. This migratory context at the end of the 19th century was studied by the Trentino and Giudicarian priest Don Lorenzo Guetti,[132] father of Trentino cooperation, who wrote in one of his articles, "If there were no Italy, we Giudicarians would have to die of hunger".[133]

During the Fascist era from the 1920s to the 1940s, limited internal emigration occurred.[15] The regime led by Benito Mussolini, however, was opposed to these migratory movements, so much so that it implemented legislative measures that hindered, but did not stop, these movements.[15] An example was a 1939 law that allowed the transfer to another Italian municipality only if the migrant was in possession of an employment contract from a company based in the destination municipality.[134] At the time, internal migratory flows also involved transfers from the countryside to the cities, movements that are more properly defined as internal "mobility" rather than "emigration" that occurs between one Italian region to another.[15]

After World War II, under the Treaty of Peace with Italy, 1947, the territories of the Kingdom of Italy (Istria, Kvarner, most of the Julian March as well as the Dalmatian city of Zara) first occupied by the People's Liberation Army of Yugoslavia of Marshal Josip Broz Tito and subsequently annexed by Yugoslavia, caused the Istrian-Dalmatian exodus. This led to the emigration of between 230,000 and 350,000 of local ethnic Italians (Istrian Italians and Dalmatian Italians), the others being ethnic Slovenians, ethnic Croatians, and ethnic Istro-Romanians, choosing to maintain Italian citizenship.[135] Most went to Italy, and in smaller numbers, towards the Americas and Australia.[45] In this context there was also the exodus of the Monfalconese shipyards where approximately 2,000 workers of Friuli-Venezia Giulia who, between 1946 and 1948, emigrated to Yugoslavia to offer their professional skills at the shipyards of Fiume and Pola.[136]

With the fall of Fascist regime in 1943, and the end of World War II in 1945, a large internal migratory flow began from one Italian region to another. This internal emigration was sustained and constantly increased by the economic growth that Italy experienced between the 1950s and 1960s.[15] Given that this economic growth mostly concerned Northwest Italy, which was involved in the birth of many industrial activities, migratory phenomena affected the peasants of the Triveneto and southern Italy, who began to move in large numbers.[15] Other areas of northern Italy were also affected by emigration such as the rural areas of Mantua and Cremona. The destinations of these emigrants were mainly Milan, Turin, Varese, Como, Lecco and Brianza.[134] The rural population of the aforementioned areas began to emigrate to the large industrial centers of the north-west, especially in the so-called "industrial triangle, or the area corresponding to the three-sided polygon with vertices in the cities of Turin, Milan and Genoa.[15][14] Even some cities in central and southern Italy (such as Rome, which was the object of immigration due to employment in the administrative and tertiary sectors) experienced a conspicuous immigration flow.[15] These migratory movements were accompanied by other flows of lesser intensity, such as transfers from the countryside to smaller cities and travel from mountainous areas to the plains.[15]

The main reasons that gave rise to this massive migratory flow were linked to the living conditions in the places of origin of the emigrants (which were very harsh), the absence of stable work,[14][134] the high rate of poverty, the poor fertility of many agricultural areas, the fragmentation of land properties,[4] which characterized southern Italy above all, and the insecurity caused by organized crime.[134] Added to this was the economic gap between northern and southern Italy, which widened during the economic boom; this was a further stimulus for southern Italians to emigrate to the north of the country.[134] The reasons were therefore the same as those that pushed millions of Italians to emigrate abroad.[14]

The peak of internal migratory movements was reached in the mid-1960s,[15] between 1955 and 1963.[14] In the five years from 1958 to 1963, 1.3 million people moved from southern Italy.[14] Registrations at city registry offices in the industrial triangle tripled, from 69,000 new arrivals in 1958 to 183,000 in 1963, and to 200,000 in 1964.[14] Turin, which experienced a conspicuous immigration phenomenon, recorded 64,745 new arrivals in 1960, 84,426 in 1961 and 79,742 in 1962.[14] The migratory flow was so large that the Ferrovie dello Stato set up a special convoy, called the Treno del Sole (Train of the Sun), which departed from Palermo and arrived in Turin after having crossed the entire Italian peninsula.[134]

Then began the slow decline of emigration, with the migratory flows from Veneto which, already at the end of the 1960s, stopped[15] due to the improved living conditions in these places.[14] Migrations from southern Italy, although slowed down, did not end,[15] increasing their percentage compared to total internal migrations; between 1952 and 1957 they represented 17% of the total, and between 1958 and 1963 they represented 30% of the total.[14]

The last peak of arrivals from the south to the north of Italy occurred between 1968 and 1970.[14] In 1969, 60,000 arrivals were recorded in Turin, half of which came from southern Italy, while 70,000 immigrants arrived in Lombardy that same year.[14] In Turin this migratory peak was exacerbated by FIAT, which carried out a recruitment campaign where 15,000 migrants from the south were hired.[14] These numbers gave rise to many problems in the Turin capital, above all, housing.[14] This constant flow of people made Turin's population grow from 719,000 inhabitants in 1951 to 1,168,000 in 1971.[14] After 1970 there was a strong contraction in arrivals, which occurred during the 1973 oil crisis, and many of the migrants returned to their places of origin.[15]

Overall, the Italians who moved from southern to northern Italy amounted to 4 million.[15] The migratory flow from the countryside to the big cities also contracted and then stopped in the 1980s.[15] At the same time, migratory movements towards medium-sized cities and those destined for small-sized villages increased.[15]

In the 1990s, migratory flows from the south to the north of the country restarted with a certain consistency, although not at the same level of the 1960s.[15] The phenomenon was recorded by the Svimez institute (acronym for "Association for the development of industry in the South"). Migratory flows continue to come from the regions of southern Italy, with the main destinations being the north-east of the country and central Italy. The regions most active in receiving internal immigrants are Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria.


A scene from the film Red Passport (1935)
A scene from the film Path of Hope (1950)
A scene from the film A Girl in Australia (1971)


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  • Favero, Luigi; Tassello, Graziano (1978). Cent'anni di emigrazione italiana (1876-1976). Rome: Cser.
  • Sori, Ercole (1979). L'emigrazione italiana dall'Unità alla seconda guerra mondiale. Bologna: Il Mulino.
  • Moretti, Enrico (Autumn 1999). "Social Networks and Migrations: 1876-1913". International Migration Review. The Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc. 33 (3): 640–657. ISSN 0197-9183. JSTOR 2547529.
  • Tomasi, Silvano M. (Autumn 1965). "Review of: La Democrazia Italiana e l'emigrazione in America, by Grazie Dore, Brescia, Morcelliania, 1964". International Migration Digest. 2 (2): 221–223. doi:10.2307/3002874. ISSN 0538-8716. JSTOR 3002874.

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