Increasing numbers of young Italians are following in the footsteps of previous generations in migrating to Australia, but up to 40% report feeling exploited at work, and found it difficult to have their skills recognised, new research has found.
Any suggestion that there is a new exodus of Italians to Australia is probably overblown. In broad terms, the Italian share of the Australian Temporary visa program between 2004 and 2015 was a very small 1.5% of the national total.
In terms of the Italian contribution to the Australian Migration Program, the figure is slightly lower at 0.5%, with 8,711 visas granted of the total of 1,832,548.
But in the last decade, the numbers of both temporary and permanent visas granted to Italians to visit and reside in Australia has gradually increased. Italians have taken advantage of Working Holiday arrangements introduced in 2004 and also sought job opportunities away from an economically troubled Europe.
While the previous cohort of Italian migrants to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s is well documented, this new and more “mobile” migration based on temporary grounds is less understood.
In our analysis of 126,233 Italian temporary visa holders, we found 40.7% fall into the working holiday visa program category, while 24.3% were on visitor visas. Partner visas accounted for 42.4% of the Italian share of the Migration Program from 2004 to 2015.
Employer-sponsored migrants was the second-largest group (37%), while the third largest group were those applying for a skilled independent visa (9.1%).
However, the aggregate figures of the three visa subclasses are still very low (the first two represent 0.8% of the national total, while the third one only 0.2%).
As part of our research, we also surveyed 600 Italians who had arrived in Australia after 2004. Focus groups were also conducted with new Italian migrants and migration agents in order to ensure the validation of the results of the survey responses.
The analysis of the survey data confirms almost 50% of Italians arrives in Australia through the working holiday visa program, followed by 13% on a student visa and 12% on a 457 skills visa.
The survey found 83% were in the 18-40 age bracket and highly educated, with 60% holding either a Bachelor Degree, a Masters Degree, or even a PhD.
Interestingly, only 9% were unemployed before moving to Australia. The survey indicated 24% had been white-collar employees, 17% professionals, 15% were students (without scholarship) and 12% blue-collar employees.
While many respondents indicated that one of the main reasons for coming to Australia was to find better job opportunities, 52% indicated it was to “to have a new life experience”.
But this has come at a cost for a number of Italians. The ABC’s Four Corners program revealed what it described as “gangs of black market workers run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country” that included new Italian arrivals as its victims. More recently, a Senate report, A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders focused on this particular situation.
Our study confirms this previous research. More than 40% of all Italian respondents reported a difficult work experience in Australia where they felt they had been exploited.
The focus groups confirmed the existence of a variety of difficulties experienced by new Italian migrants from the initial visa application to more complex settlement issues.
Although many of these young and highly skilled migrants viewed the idea of settling permanently in Australia positively, they were concerned at the lengthy and complex process of obtaining permanent residency.
Most in the focus groups complained about their dealings with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), about unclear and at times conflicting information provided by the DIBP as well as difficulty in actually speaking to a person for guidance.
Despite recognising the functional aspects of Australian society and the efficiency of public services, very few had high expectations in terms of assistance from the Australian government.
The one area of dissatisfaction was the failure of the government to recognise professional qualifications, especially in the field of architecture, nursing and engineering.
This study sought to address a new dimension of Italian migration, a completely different cohort which has little in common with those of the past except for the origin country – Italy.
Despite some noise about a new exodus of Italians to Australia, this study demonstrates that much of the Italian interest in Australia is in short term stays and that number of Italians coming to Australia are significantly inferior to the levels of the 1950s and 1960s.
Authors: Bruno Mascitelli, Assoc. Professor, European Studies, Swinburne University of Technology