Voting with their feet: Young Italians are leaving Italy in huge numbers

In her bedroom in Naples, Imma Arco folds the last items of clothing into her suitcase and zips it shut. Like so many other young Italians, the 28-year-old is leaving the country, unable to find stable employment.

Voting with their feet: Young Italians are leaving Italy in huge numbers
A demonstration against labour reforms organized by Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) union. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

“There is a lot of corruption in Italy, which makes the situation very difficult,” Arco said. “I hope that in England, I'll feel more rewarded”.

Despite a flurry of promises to reduce youth unemployment ahead of Sunday's election, many young Italians are voting with their feet and seeking better career prospects abroad.

“Whatever the election outcome, I don't believe anything will change,” said Arco, a graduate in pharmacy with a Master's in management.

Italy is struggling to recover from the 2008 economic crisis, with overall output still nearly six percent lower than before the crisis began. Young people, especially, are paying the price.

Italy has EU's highest level of youth unemployment, study shows
File photo: anabgd/Depositphotos

The statistics are grim: unemployment for 25-34 year olds stands at 17 percent. According to the latest figures from the Fondazione Migrantes research centre, in 2016 almost 50,000 Italians aged between 18 and 34 left in search of greener pastures.

Young Italians often feel shut out of the political process in a country where there is little turnover in ageing political elites and the minimum age for Senate candidates is 25.

Some are drawn outside of the traditional main parties to the anti-establishment rhetoric of the Five Star Movement or the anti-immigration League — but the prevailing mood is one of despondency.

Elusive permanent contract

After completing a five-year degree, Arco managed to find work in Naples, but low pay, and no prospect of a permanent contract, quickly made her realize she would have to go elsewhere. For the next five years the search for career progression took her to central Italy.

“In Italy you can work for a maximum of 30 months, then a company either has to give you a permanent contract or let you go,” Arco said. “And obviously, they always let you go because it doesn't suit them to invest in you when so many others are queueing up to take your job.”

Balloons released during a protest against labour reforms. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

In January, daily newspaper La Repubblica reported that 5,000 applicants had applied for one nursing job in the northern city of Parma.

“The main obstacles facing young Italians are the lack of available jobs, a mismatch between what students are studying and what the job market requires, and companies' attitudes towards new employees,” said Ivano Dionigi, head of AlmaLaurea, an association helping new graduates find work.

The infamous concept of “raccomandazioni” — using your connections to get you a job — is also still deeply engrained in the country's labour market. Eighty-five percent of businesses in Italy are family run, according to research by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“Often in Italian companies, a father hands a managerial role down to his son. The son often does not have a degree, he is then reluctant to hire a graduate, and that's where the damage is done,” said Dionigi. “Abroad, jobs are more merit based,” he said.

'Difficult to plan'

The bleak outlook in Italy is also taking its toll on demographics. In 2016, Italy had the lowest birthrate in the EU, according to Eurostat.

“It's very difficult to plan your personal life if you can't find a steady job,” Arco said. “Why would you think about settling down if you know you will have to move?  How can you think about starting a family, if you don't have a permanent contract? I can't even think about getting a gym membership.”

IN DEPTH: The real reasons young Italians aren't having kids

The so-called “brain drain” comes at a huge cost.

“It's like suicide for a nation to invest in all this talent, and then give it away to another country,” said AlmaLaurea's Dionigi.

In the run-up to the national ballot, political parties across the spectrum have promised to improve the economic outlook, without giving specifics.

For Dionigi, young people's lack of hope is particularly concerning. “If your young people do not have trust or hope, the country faces a real risk of being brought to its knees.”

READ ALSO: The Local's complete guide to the Italian election

The Local's complete guide to the Italian election: what you need to know
A view over Rome's rooftops. Photo: vkovalcik/

By Lucy Adler

For members


Working remotely from Italy: What are the rules for foreigners?

Moving to Italy to work remotely may seem easier than ever before, but what rules do you need to consider if you’re working internationally?

If you work remotely, can you just move your life and laptop to Italy?
If you work remotely, can you just move your life and laptop to Italy? Photo by Persnickety Prints on Unsplash

All you need is a computer and an internet connection for many jobs, meaning that living in Italy while working for a company based in the US, Canada or the UK, for example, is technically straightforward.

In fact, it’s easier than ever before after the pandemic created a worldwide shift to working from home – including in Italy, where the concept was practically unheard of before.

READ ALSO: Freelance or employee: Which is the best way to work in Italy?

Dubbed ‘smart working‘ in Italy, remote work is widely seen as an opportunity to boost economies outside of the main cities and reverse ‘brain drain’ in the south. It has even kickstarted much-needed efforts to improve the country’s internet speeds and accessibility.

Some of Italy’s many depopulated towns are also offering incentives to remote workers who could help revive the area.

But while it’s becoming increasingly feasible to work remotely in Italy, foreign nationals taking this option need also to consider how it affects their residency, work permits and tax status.

Here’s what you need to know before you pack your laptop and passport.

Digital Nomad or Italian resident?

Digital Nomad is a term used to describe people who work from their laptop or smartphone and move around, from country to country.

It usually involves spending a short time in each place while doing some short-term tech-based work, like blogging or publishing content. Instagram influencers are counted among such type of workers.

Some countries including Spain are even offering Digital Nomad visas to tempt people to head to under-populated areas of the country.

READ ALSO: Will Italy really pay you to move to its ‘smart working’ villages?

Remote working in Italy
Photo: Helena Lopes on Unsplash

While Italy doesn’t specifically have a Digital Nomad visa, there are tax breaks on offer for people moving to Italy to become self-employed – see below for how to obtain this type of visa.

What you need to do depends on how long you intend to be in Italy for. If you want to live in Italy rather than just pass through for a short while, working digitally as you go, you’ll need to get some paperwork in order.

It’s important to have a strategy if you’re planning to work remotely in Italy, according to Nicolò Bolla who runs finance firm Accounting Bolla. His advice is to create a rigorous plan regarding immigration and tax.

“If you fail to set up a proper immigration and business strategy, it could cost you time and money. Make your calculations before making any decisions,” he said.

Working in Italy

If you come here for a short amount of time and continue working for a company in your home country, does that count as working in Italy?

Firstly, you need to consider where your home country is as that has an influence on your first step.

If you hold a passport of any EU country, including Ireland or a Schengen zone country, then you are covered by the European Union freedom of movement rules and can move to Italy with much more ease than is the case for non-EU nationals.


In fact, EU citizens and also nationals from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland don’t need a permit to work in Italy.

However, if you belong in this category you will need an Italian residence permit for stays longer than three months.

If you’re from a country that doesn’t benefit from EU freedom of movement, such as the UK, New Zealand, Canada or the US for example, you can take advantage of the 90-day rule, which means you can travel to Italy visa-free for up to 90 days in every 180.

This may be enough if you’re a digital nomad and only want to spend some time in Italy before returning home. However, if you want to stay longer, you’ll most likely need to work out which visa you’ll need.

Work visas

If you’re planning to move to Italy outside of these parameters you’ll need a work visa. Let’s look at non-EU citizens, as work visas apply to this group.

As a non-EU citizen, there are three main documents you need to live and work in Italy:

  • a work permit
  • a work visa
  • a residence permit (permesso di soggiorno) within 8 days of arriving in Italy.
Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

If you’re working remotely, you may choose to be self-employed or, if you have a really understanding boss who’ll let you live abroad, you may continue working for a company in your home country.

Let’s look at the self-employment route first.

READ ALSO: ‘Smart working’? Here’s what you need to know about going self-employed in Italy

If you’re planning on working for yourself, with potentially various clients, but you want to do so while living in Italy, you’ll need a self-employment visa.

The process can be tricky and take months, so it’s best to ensure you account for long timescales before transferring your life to Italy.

It’s also far from guaranteed, even if you’re ready to take on the bureaucracy. Tax advisor Bolla warned that this visa has one of the highest rejected application rates.

What’s more, there is a cap on how many foreign national workers are allowed to come into Italy each year, which is determined by the so-called Inflow Decree, or ‘decreto flussi’.

This only opens for a few months every year and it’s the only time non-EU nationals can apply for all kinds of work visa.

This year’s cap has still not been released, but for 2020 the government decree set the limit at 30,850. Very few of those are allocated to self-employed workers – just 500 in 2020 – so you’ll need to be tenacious and quick to get hold of one.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, among other documents, you’ll also need to show proof of accommodation, funds exceeding €8,500 and a police check.

If you do manage to claim one of these elusive self-employment visas, you can enter Italy.

Once you’re in the country, you have eight days to apply for a ‘permesso di soggiorno’ (a residence permit), which will be issued by your local Questura (the provincial police headquarters).

The visa is valid for two years initially and can be renewed.

What about being an employee for a company in another country?

In this case, you’re still on a payroll somewhere and don’t count as self-employed in Italy.

As stated above, provided you are an EU national, there will be no requirement to obtain a visa or work permit.

If you’re not lucky enough to be in this group, it gets tricky.

EXPLAINED: How to get an Italian work visa

How to work remotely in Italy.
Photo by Hannah Wei on Unsplash

If you are British and covered by the post-Brexit Withdrawal Agreement (for people resident in Italy before December 31st 2020) – the carta di soggiorno maintains your right to work in Italy.

However, the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement does not contain any provisions to allow new remote working arrangements in the way that UK citizens may hope is possible.

EXPLAINED: What Brits need to know about visas for Italy after Brexit

Employees are entitled to stay in Italy for a maximum period of 90 days without needing to apply for a visa or a residence permit.

Beyond that, it’s currently not possible to stay working in Italy for any longer under these conditions – that is, remotely and without a work visa.

For everyone else, Italy’s official visa portal has created a questionnaire which shows the visa requirements that may apply to you, depending on your reason of stay and how long you intend to stay.

Furthermore, the EU guidelines on moving and working in Europe have provided this advice: “As a basic rule, you are subject to the legislation of the country where you actually work as an employed or a self-employed person. It doesn’t matter where you live or where your employer is based.”

Living and working in Italy

If you decide to make the move and live and work in Italy, what do you need to do?

Once you’ve figured out which work visa is right for you (for those who need one), you’ll then need to apply for residency.

A work visa is a type of long-stay visa that allows you to enter Italy only. After that, you will also have to get an Italian residence permit (permesso di soggiorno) in order to be allowed to stay for longer than 90 days.


There are a few different types of permit to stay in Italy and it must correlate with your intentions and with the conditions of your visa.

The permesso di soggiorno is usually processed in about three to six months, and the duration varies according to the type. Having the permit will give you full access to public healthcare, social assistance and education.

After five years of residence in Italy a non-EU citizen can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per soggiornanti di lungo periodo (permission to stay for a long period), which can be renewed less frequently. But you’ll need to meet certain conditions like having a minimum income and passing a language test.

Tax and social security

This is often an area that trips people up if they work for international clients but live in Italy. Where do the taxes get paid to?

“If you live in Italy, you pay taxes in Italy,” Bolla clarified.

If you’re a resident in Italy, as an employee you are subject to Italy’s income tax rates known as ‘Irpef’ (L’imposta sul reddito delle persone fisiche), which currently range from a minimum of 23 percent to a maximum of 43 percent.

The employer is also required to pay the social security contributions to Italian Social Security Authority (INPS) – even if the employer is based outside Italy.


This is currently equal to a minimum of 33 percent of earnings, of which approximately 9 percent falls to the employee.

Different tax rates apply for freelancers with tax breaks available to new residents – and of course, you’re responsible for paying social security contributions too.

You’ll need to file an annual tax return in Italy as stipulated by the worldwide taxation principle, which dictates that you must report your worldwide income and therefore file your taxes in the country where you reside.

You shouldn’t be paying your taxes twice, however, according to Italy’s Inland Revenue (Agenzie delle Entrate).

“Italy has bilateral agreements with many foreign countries to avoid double taxation on income and capital. These agreements establish the range of the power to set taxes of the two States,” the tax authorities stated.

The subject of tax for remote workers is complicated, so please seek professional advice based on your personal circumstances before proceeding.

Have you moved to Italy to work remotely? Please get in touch or leave a comment below to tell us about your experience.