There is relatively little research on brain drain (Avveduto and Brandi 2004; Becker, Ichino and Peri 2004; Brandi and Cerbara 2004; Brandi and Segnana 2008) and return migration (Monteleone and Torrisi 2010; Biondo and Monteleone 2010) in Italy.

According to Migration Statistics by Eurostat (2003), Italy received 440,301 immigrants in 2003, from which only 47,530 where nationals (returnees) and 392,771 were non-nationals (Herm, 2008: 9). The fact that a considerable number of highly-skilled Italians are leaving the country is well-established. Italy exports 30,000 researchers per year and only 3,000 researchers enter the country (The Chronicle, 2006). Migration statistics show that the profile of Italians emigrating has almost reversed. ‘Initially, the subjects in question had low-level education (…) and today’s emigrants are chiefly highly qualified workers’ (Monteleone/Torrisi 2010: 18). If the flows of skilled Italians emigrating during the recent years is measured, one can see that ‘the number of Italians returning to Italy from abroad minus the number of Italian graduates emigrating is always negative’ (Monteleone/Torrisi 2010: 5); an interesting finding, showing that Italy’s return migration is not consistent with migration trends for most European countries. Mayr and Peri (2008) as well as Dustmann and Weiss (2007) show in their research that people from richer countries (East Europe, Asia and Latin America) have a higher probability to migrate and to return home compared to people from poorer countries (e.g Africa) (see Biondo/Monteleone 2010: 2). This seems not to be valid for Italy.

In their research on Italian return migration, Monteleone and Torrisi (2010) deal with two research questions. First, they want to find out, whether the Italian brain drain can be considered temporary or permanent. Second, they want to estimate the emigration potential of highly-skilled Italians living in Italy.

Based on the results of their empirical online-survey (N=1,400), they conclude for the first research question that ‘in Italy, the brain drain seems to be permanent: emigrants seem unwilling to return to their country of origin as they are attracted by better conditions in the country of destination; over 70% of interviewees revealed a low propensity to return to Italy or none whatsoever’ (Monteleone/Torrisi 2010: 2). In addition, the researchers analyzed the profile of Italian researchers that emigrate from Italy: ‘The researchers are young and well-qualified; they decided to emigrate to enhance their knowledge and work experience. The expectations of researchers abroad are not disappointed. Generally, the level of social and working satisfaction is very high. The interviewees stated that they had worked abroad for a long time, and that the longer they stay abroad the lower is their propensity to return to Italy. People who work in a foreign country are more satisfied with their jobs and have more incentive to increase their productivity as they live in an economic and social context which appreciates, both in terms of remuneration and academic recognition, the work they do’ (Monteleone/Torrisi 2010: 20).

To answer the second research question, Monteleone/Torrisi (2010) carried out another online-survey with 4,700 Italian researchers, living in Italy. ‘It emerges from the survey that if researchers do not emigrate in the first part of their life they are likely to stay in Italy forever: the longer an agent spends in Italy, the more difficult he/she will find it to leave in the future. The reason is fundamentally linked to family ties that are created at a later stage and after the start of employment’ (Monteleone/Torrisi 2010: 20).

Biondo and Monteleone (2010) address in their research the potential reasons for the low propensity of highly-skilled Italians to return and formulate key solutions for policy makers. According to the researchers, Italian brain drain experiences appear to be a consequence of a structured set of problems which engrave on the Italian scientific research (Biondo/Monteleone 2010: 5).

Based on previous research they sum up the following potential causes (see Biondo/Monteleone 2010: 2):

  • scarce availability of research funds;
  • either scarce or not meritocratic career opportunities;
  • lack of adequate infrastructures;
  • very low wage structure and therefore life-style limitations;
  • environment not sufficiently stimulating.

In terms of solutions to the brain drain problem, Biondo and Monteleone (2010) highlight the need to build up a new incentive system for academic workers and a more stimulating environment to develop scientific excellence. In detail they suggest the following options:

First of all a new framework in educational system can be desirable as students could enter faculties with more basic knowledge, leaving the academic sector the role for giving them applications and scientific attitudes, instead to strengthen previous weak scholastic curricula. Secondly, enrolment procedures for academic careers may find new solutions to select more profitable work force.
Thirdly, research needs experience but also young force and enthusiasm. Therefore, the incentive to focus on the lowering of the average age for academic personnel is strong: usually the more experienced agents can cover leading roles, but the younger can hold more dynamic and well-paid positions.
Fourthly, the existence of a strong and well visible link between academic research and firms’ innovation appears to be widely desirable. This could guarantee the existence of funds for research for technical sciences.
Last but not least, economic treatment of professors is a key note in all of this framework. Academic personnel is often made by people who severely dedicated their younger years to study. This individuals must find opportunities to gain what they deserve: chances to demonstrate their value before entering; chances to grow in their career after they find their job’ (Biondo/Monteleone 2010: 6).

Avveduto. S. and Brandi. M. C. (2004): Le migrazioni qualificate in Italia. Studi Emigrazione. vol. XLI. pp. 797-829.
Becker. S. O.. Ichino. A. and Peri. G. (2004): How large is the “brain drain” from Italy?. Giornale degli Economisti e Annali di Economia. vol. 63. pp. 1-32.
Biondo, A. and Monteleone, S. (2010): Return Migration in Italy: what do we know? Working Paper nr. 2010/01. University of Catania- Department of Economics.
Brandi M.C.. Segnana M. L.. (2008): Lavorare all’estero: fuga o investimento?. in Consorzio Interuniversitario Alma Laurea (ed.) X Indagine Alma Laurea sulla condizione occupazionale dei laureati. Il Mulino
Dustmann C. and Weiss Y. (2007): Return migration: Theory and Empirical evidence. CReAM. CDP No 02/07 London.
Herm, A. (2008): Recent migration trends: citizens of EU-27 Member States become ever more mobile while EU remains attractive to non-EU citizens. Population and social conditions. Eurostat. Statistics in focus 98/2008.
Mayr K. and Peri G. (2008): Return Migration as a Channel of Brain Gain. Working Paper no. 14039. http//
Monteleone S. and Torrisi B. (2010): A Micro Data Analysis of Italy’s Brain Drain, University of Naples “Parthenope” Discussion Paper.
The Chronicle (2006): Italy Suspends Brain-Drain Program. May 26. Vol. 52. Issue 38. p. A49. section International.

Basic data
Population in the case study region 67 531
Total Area ( 1600,41
GDP per capita in the region 23.045 €(2010)
entire district
Net Migration Rate 303 (2010)

The mountain region of Ossola is situated in Northern Italy bordering Switzerland. The region has some 67.000 inhabitants. Due to the specific landscape, population density is in general not very high (42.2/sqkm). The aging trend is very pronounced as regards the main income group between 25 and 44 years of age, with a reduction from 29.8 to 26.7 in only 6 years (2006-2010). The opposite trend can be observed for the older age groups. The situation seems to be stabilising though as regards the younger age groups. Education levels are rather low with 28.2% having at maximum primary education and a further 30.8% lower secondary education. Only 7.8% finished tertiary education. Employment is concentrated in the tertiary sector with close to 56% and the secondary sector (32.3%).

A serious negative indicator for the region is the low employment rate of job entrants (15-24 years of age). Their activity rate (ratio of labour force to population) dropped from close to 50% (48.7) to slightly above one third (34.6) in 6 years from 2004 to 2006, while the unemployment rate rose to 21% (25.3 for women and 16.5% for men) and the inactivity rate increased to 31.5%. Although this data is in line with the larger regional one and in some aspects even better than national average it constitutes a major problem for the region.

Regional wealth as indicated by GDP is slightly higher than € 23 000 per capita (for the whole district). In spite of the peripheral characteristic the region’s economic performance is comparatively strong with a positive export balance based on tourism and leisure related business, as well as on construction and metals.

The high unemployment rate, limited job prospects and comparatively high costs of living and certain ‘deficits’ in infrastructure due to the mountain are major push factors, which make people leave the region. Immigration, though not big in overall numbers, has been higher than emigration.

In Italy there is some legislative support for returning migrants, partly related to ‘brain return’ and partly to tax incentives for returnees. On regional level a specific youth plan (‘Piano Giovanni’) was approved: 10 measures based on partnership between employment and entrepreneurship. In the Ossola region this has been complemented with specific action to foster youth entrepreneurship.

Share of nationals and non-nationals among immigrants, 2009, data source: EUROSTAT, own calculations

  nationals non-nationals
0.08 0.92

Immigration by nationals includes both returning migrants and citizens born abroad who are immigrating for the first time.

Age structure of recent returnees (1 year upon their arrival) and stayers in LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
14 and younger 0.00 12.94
15-29 years 47.37 16.91
30-39 years 24.56 16.12
40-49 years 10.53 15.40
50-64 years 10.53 18.74
65 and older 7.02 19.90

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

Generally, recent returnees are younger than stayers.

Recent returnees (1 year upon their arrival) according to gender, in %, LFS 2008-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
male 49.12 48.56
female 50.88 51.44

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Italy, about 51% of the recent returnees are female and about 49% are male.

Educational attainment of recent returnees (1 year upon their arrival), aged 17-62, compared to that of stayers, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
low 45.28 49.09
medium 30.19 39.22
high 24.53 11.70

low=up until lower secondary level, middle=upper secondary level, high=tertiary level

In Italy, 25% of recent returnees are highly-skilled, 30% are medium-skilled and 45% are low-skilled. Among the stayers 12% are highly-skilled, 39% are medium-skilled and 49% are low-skilled.

Labour market status of recent returnees (1 year upon arrival), aged 17-62, compared that of stayers, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
employed 45.28 58.38
unemployed 11.32 4.32
inactive 43.40 37.30

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Italy, 45% of recent returnees are employed, 11% are unemployed and 43% are inactive. 58% of the stayers are employed, 4% are unemployed and about 37% are inactive on the labour market.

Occupations of recent returnees (1 years upon arrival), aged 17-62, compared to those of stayers, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
managers and professionals 21.74 18.18
technicans and associate professions 13.04 21.41
intermediate occupations 43.48 50.86
elemantary occupations 21.74 9.56

"managers and professionals"=ISCO100-ISCO200; "technicans"=300; "intermediate occupations"=ISCO400-ISCO800; "elementary occupations"=ISCO900

In Italy, the share of managers and professionals is higher among recent returnees than stayers

Recent returnees (1 year upon arrival), aged 17-62, and stayers according to sectors of employment, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
Agriculture 0.00 3.88
Industry 34.78 30.36
Services 65.22 65.76

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Italy, the majority of recent returnees are employed in the service-sector.

Recent returnees (1 year upon arrival), aged 17-62, and stayers according to the area of residence, LFS 2005-2008, weighted data

  returnees stayers
densely populated area 46.15 44.11
intermediate area 40.38 41.21
thinly populated area 13.46 14.68

Using the Labour Force Survey it is possible to identify recent return migrants using the retrospective information on the country of residence one year before the survey and the country of birth.

In Italy 46% of the recent returnees (1 year upon arrival) live in densely populated areas.

UNCEM Delegazione Piemontese
via Gaudenzio Ferrari 1, 10124 Torino

Erich Giordano
Phone: +39 011 8613713

The results and conclusions are those of the authors and not those of Eurostat or the European Commission

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