Almost Italian, almost European – the long journey to integration

Posted on 22. April 2014

by Afrola Plaku

afrola-plaku-modifiedWhen asked “Where do you come from”, I have no hesitation in answering “Italy”, even if that is not entirely true. Indeed, it is not at all. Although I moved to the country when I was two years old, I had my entire education between Trieste and Milan and I am able to recognize more old cheesy Italian songs and movies than anyone I know, I am still technically Albanian, and will most presumably be in the next future. In Italy, second generation immigrants can automatically ask for citizenship only if they were born in Italy (ius soli), while for those of us who were born in their country of origin the process is way more difficult, with documents to be retrieved from a country in which you haven’t lived for years, money spent and loads of time required (the proceeding lasts more or less two years, and you can apply only three years after you started earning a regular income). No wonder it is difficult, even if perfectly included in the socio-economic environment of the country and knowing no other culture than the Italian one (what remains of my Albanian roots, unfortunately,  consist in clumsily speaking the language with my mum, having a weird name and using my nationality as an answer to people wondering why I speak a good English), not feeling at ease defining yourself as “Italian”.

Hence, as many second generation immigrants who face the same problem, I find myself in a limbo, not fully belonging to either world – not the country of origin, with which you feel no connection left, not the country of residence, who fails to accept you as a citizen with full rights: it is difficult to feel entirely part of a country when you have never had the chance to vote your representatives and you are asked to go to the police and register your finger prints every year due to the students’ permit of stay requirements.

The economic downturn has created huge uncertainty in young adults’ life: with 42% of youth unemployment and a very rigid labor regulation who protects senior workers and provides the young with flexible contracts which often turn into lack of certainty about the future and inability to plan the steps forward, family ties become more and more important and even those who have a job or an internship tend to live longer with their family, if they manage not to leave their home town. The choice of university may then depend on economic convenience and proximity rather than on an evaluation based on academic courses and comparative advantage of the institution, leading to reduced mobility and potentially to misallocation of students. This could be a problem especially for the middle class students, not rich enough to afford the “right university” and the costs associated to moving to another city, not poor enough to benefit from scholarships and other forms of financial aid.

In this scenario of reduced geographical and social mobility, no wonder most of people my age are aware they will have to spend some years abroad at the beginning of their career. Of course it is a good thing to study or work abroad, gain international experience and skills which can be useful for further professional and personal development: what is worrying is the diffused perception that there are no opportunities in the country, and that moving  somewhere else might be the only chance to start an adult life and be rewarded for one’s studies and ability.
The situation is, if possible, even less encouraging for university students who still lack EU or Italian citizenship: additional to the domestic difficulties faced by Italian students, for us every international experience comes at a (sometimes really prohibitive) cost, since any stay in another EU county longer than 90 days implies the need for visa and a permit of stay in the destination country as well. When two years ago I went on exchange in Maastricht, additional to my Italian permit of stay I had to ask for a Dutch one as well, which lead to a very high amount of money required both two pay for the two different procedures and to proof my financial stability to both countries. And this holds for any internship or job I would like to take abroad: despite my internationally oriented education, despite more than twenty years spent in a EU country, I will have to pay a really high price for moving abroad, either in terms of money or in terms of definitive loss of my (legal) links with Italy, in case I decide to permanently become a resident of another country in the future. This situation is far more diffused than expected between second generation immigrants, kids who have lived in Italy their entire life and still seem to face more legal barriers the more they want to advance in their studies and professional experience.

Hence I have no clue of what will be my answer to the  “Where do you come from” question in five or ten years time: even defining yourself as European is very difficult when, despite increased integration, mobility in the EU is so difficult for an unrepresented, small but precious part of the population.

This article is part a part of a series of reflections by young Europeans, prepared in cooperation between FutureLab and Süddeutsche Zeitung Online. To read the original click here.