The first Sri Lankans migrated to Italy since the 1970s. Italy was attractive to the migrants due to perceived easier employment opportunities and entry, compared to other European countries. The first immigration waves during the second half of the Eighties consisted mainly of Tamils, followed by Sinhalese at the beginning of the Nineties.
In the late 70's, Catholic women migrated to Italy to work in elderly homes. Many Sri Lankans have also illegally migrated to Italy, mainly through the Balkans and Austria. Admission acts also encouraged more Sri Lankans to migrate to Italy. For example, the Dini Decree in 1996 made it more easier for Sri Lankans workers to bring their family to Italy. In Rome, Naples and Milan, the Sri Lankans have built up "enlarged families", where jobs are exchanged among relatives and compatriots.
Sociologist Enrica Morlicchio estimated in 1992 that 2/3rds of the Sri Lankan population in Italy was Sinhalese and Tamils constituted 1/3rd. The major Sinhalese communities in Italy are located in Lombardia (In the districts Loreto and Lazzaretto), Milan, Lazio, Rome, Naples and Southern Italy (Particularly Palermo, Messina and Catania). Most Italian Sinhalese work as domestic workers. But they have also opened businesses such as restaurants, cleaning enterprises (e.g. Cooperativa Multietnica di Pulizie Sud-Est), call centres, video-shops, traditional food shops and minimarkets.
Every year the administration of the city of Palermo organizes a sport competition, called "Giornata dello Studente Tamil" ("Day of the Tamil Student"), trying to foster the integration of the large Tamil community living in the Sicilian capital.
The major community organisation representing Sri Lankans in Italy is the Sri Lanka Association Italy. Smaller community and political organisation exist in areas with a sizable Sri Lankan population such as the Sri Lanka Association Florence, Coordinamento Tamil, Centro Culturale Tamil, Sri Lanka Women’s Association Napoli and Associazione dei Tamil in Italia. Several other organizations are based in cities including Naples, Bologna, Lecce, Reggio Emilia etc.