Could immigrants drive a resurgence in Italy's economy?
Immigrants now account for 9.2 per cent of Italian GDP, official figures show. And nearly five per cent of the 3.5 million foreigners legally residents in Italy owns their own business.
Although the figure is half that of native Italians, the trend is sharply upwards, according to a report by the Ethnoland Foundation, Immigrant Entrepreneurs in Italy.
The study estimates 20,000 new immigrant-owned business are created every year – equivalent to one every 26 minutes. It has seen them multiply three-fold in five years. In contrast the number of Italian-controlled businesses is on the wane.
Report author Antonio Riccio said: "An important sea-change in Italy in recent times has been the number of immigrants who have established businesses after working as employees for a number of years. Around 165,000 immigrants now own a business here and the number is increasing. This is a source of development for Italy and for immigrants' countries of origin."
Foreign entrepreneurs currently remit some €6billion aboard, Bank of Italy figures from 2007 – the most recent available – show. Ethnoland believes that with sufficient support, the number of immigrant-run business in Italy could reach 365,000, providing jobs for more than a million employees, double the current workforce.
Confartigianato, which represents Italian tradesmen and craftsmen, believes it is a trend to be welcomed and says it echoes the growth of and difficulties faced by Italian small businesses in the 60s and 70s. Confartigianato leader Matilde Di Venere said: "What we are seeing is a very important phenomenon that must be property monitored and met with the right services and policies. It is also a sign of growing integration in Italy as it signifies a network of contacts with institutions and the local community."
Ms Di Venere was among a number of speakers who addressed a Rome seminar on the issue of immigrant businesses, also attended by Catholic aid groups Caritas and Migrantes.
Five main areas were highlighted as posing the biggest hurdles to immigrant-run companies: cumbersome Italian red tape; ignorance about the legal system; difficulties in accessing credit facilities; problems with residence and work permits; and difficulties in getting foreign academic and professional qualifications recognised in Italy.
Italy's Banking Association (ABI) says its figures from 2006 suggested three in 10 immigrant entrepreneurs do not have banking facilities. However, the number who do has risen 12 per cent in two years, the conference heard.
The 165,000 immigrant entrepreneurs control nearly 84,000 business, over three in four of which are are construction firms owned by Eastern Europeans. The number of Romanian-run companies has shown the biggest rise, up61 per cent. Then come Albanians (49 per cent), Tunisians (38.5 per cent), Bangladeshis 38 per cent), Egyptians (32 per cent) and Moroccans (27 per cent).
While Romanians and Albanians tend to own building enterprises, the overwhelming number of Moroccan employers run trading companies while the Chinese are concentrated in manufacturing and trading, Ethnoland found.
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