Thanks primarily to immigration, Italy’s population is stable. The number of legal immigrants in the country rose by 66% in the last four years, and a new report by the country’s largest trade federation estimated that immigrant labor now accounts for 10% of the economy in Lazio, the province that includes Rome.
But immigration in Italy is a relatively new phenomenon, and Italians are grappling, ambivalently, with how to integrate new faces into what is still a largely homogenous society. Illegal immigration remains an especially contentious issue, and the government is clamping down even as the need for imported workers grows, in fields and in factories.
“I still feel some Italians don’t accept me,” Oya said. “But this is my challenge. It makes me grow.”
The diversity represented by Oya and Lagar remains small, and immigrants like them who are identifiably foreign still must overcome discrimination and rejection.
One of the most formidable hurdles they face, immigrants say, is boringly bureaucratic but which affects every aspect of their lives.
Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu last month spoke of the need to increase Italy’s quota for foreign-born workers. “We need immigration,” he said. “Welcoming these people is not only a humanitarian act but a necessity.”
“Over my dead body,” said Roberto Calderoli, minister of institutional reforms from the xenophobic Northern League political party, a member of Berlusconi’s coalition government.