Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Foreign Families in the Italian Context: Migration Processes and Strategies

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Foreign Families in the Italian Context: Migration Processes and Strategies

Article excerpt


In a worldwide context of growing migration processes Italian and international research confirm the central role played by the family in the migration plans and strategies of individuals (Donati, 2007; Zanatta, 2003; Gozzoli and Regalia, 2005), that is, the decision to emigrate and which family members must or can do so. The family also takes on considerable importance in defining subsequent modifications, such as the length and development of the plan to emigrate. Emigration could alter marriage and couple models, ways of living together and forms of cohabitation (Ambrosini and Abbatecola, 2010).

The migrant family is set in a social system where roles and relationships could be partially or completely different. The settlement of individuals in the host Country and their changing migration plans and strategies follow multiple pathways: family reunions, mixed marriages, correspondence brides, small-sized families, childless couples (Gritti, 2004). The experience of migration, with its cultural and emotional break-ups can redefine and reorganise networks and relational dynamics, particularly between men and women, parents, grandparents and children (Monacelli and Mancini, 2005; Nanni and Vecchiato, 2000; Tognetti Bordogna, 2005).

The choice of dedicating this study to immigrant families' stems from the importance of this topic for understanding both the current state of the foreign presence in Italy and the future consequences of the developments under way. The several theories explaining the immigration phenomenon range from economic to social, political to juridical. This contribution intends to provide a concise account of the Italian situation in light of some social and cultural elements describing the experience of immigrant families.


From the 1970s onwards, Italy's thriving economy and unique geographical position have turned the Country from a land of emigrants into one of immigrants, with a steady increase in the number of resident and transiting foreign nationals. Statistics of the immigrant population (Blangiardo, 2011; Caritas-Migrantes, 2012) indicate a figure around 150,000 in 1970, reaching about 800,000 in 2011 (Figure 1).

The foreigners resident in Italy on 1st January 2011 were 4,570,317, that is, 7.5% of the resident population and 335,000 more than the previous year (+7.9%), slightly below the figure recorded in 2009 (343,000). The number of resident foreigners throughout 2010 has increased especially because of immigration (425,000 individuals). This category includes all non-EU foreign nationals with a valid stay permit, as well as any under-age children registered on adults' permits.

ISTAT expects foreigners to reach the conservative figure of about 250,000 a year. In recent times, in fact, the number of immigrants has grown to between 300,000 and 400,000 a year, suggesting that by 2030 it could be 8.5 million, and that in 2050 immigrants may exceed the 12 million forecast by ISTAT.

As regards citizenship, on 1st January 2011, Rumanian citizens, counting about 1 million residents (9.1% more than the previous year) formed the largest foreign community in Italy (21.2% of the total number of foreigners), followed by Albanians (10.6%), Moroccans (9.9%) and Chinese (4.6%).

A key factor for understanding the inclusion models involving families is the ratio of foreign under-age children resident and/or bom in Italy. In recent years their number has increased from 412,432 (1st January 2004) to 932,000 (1st January 2010), that is, to 8% of the Italian under-age population. Most of these foreign children-about 572,000, i.e., 10.4% more than in 2009-were bom in Italy. When considering the ten most numerous foreign communities, under-age children bom in Italy make up over 79% of Tunisians, Chinese and Filipinos (ISTAT 2012). There are also growing numbers of children, whose early years were spent with their grandparents in their Countries of origin, who come to join their parents in their early teens. …

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