Immigration is a major issue in modern Italy.
Following the Second World War the country was in poor economic shape and emigration was the trend. The population of Italy during the 1970s was actually falling and thus when immigrants began to arrive from North Africa and elsewhere they were welcomed. Many immigrants used Italy as a stepping stone to the EU, but many also decided to stay in the country.
In 1986 a law was passed to ensure that workers from outside the EU had protected rights and jobs within Italy. A series of amnesties were also held whereby illegal immigrants could come out of hiding and register without fear of being punished. Between 1996 - 1998 four such amnesties were held and 700,000 new citizens were registered.
This in turn attracted more illegal immigrants to the country as the country seemed an easy option for many immigrants. In 2011 thousands of illegal immigrants from north Africa landed on the small island of Lampedusa and demanded asylum provoking fierce debate between those who supported their status as refugees and those who demanded their repatriation.
The country is ideal for immigration from North Africa. Recently, however, Italy has made agreements with various north African states to deport illegal immigrants back and this has had the effect of reducing immigration from these countries (whilst increasing the number of immigrants who bypass Italy and use instead Greece as a stepping stone into Europe).
In January 2010 there were roughly 4,250,000 foreign nationals registered in Italy. This represents about 7% of the population which is an increase of 0.5% from January 2009.
There is estimated to be another 670,000 illegal immigrants in the country also. This has led to demonisation of immigrants (illegal or otherwise) and outbreaks of racist attacks, incidents and suchlike.
Whereas traditionally most immigrants were from North Africa, since the expansion of the EU most immigrants have come from Eastern Europe. There are just under a million Romanians which are the largest group.
Statistics for 2009.
In November 2010 a new decree was issued that made it a requirement for all immigrants from outside the EU to have a basic command of Italian before they would be given a residence permit. This is part of the new "points based" system for residence permits.
Migrants have been coming to Italy for centuries. The first major wave was the setting up of Magna Grecia by Greeks looking for new land and prospects outside their home country. Since then the country has been invaded numerous times, Arabs in the south, Lombards in the north, to name but a few.
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