One of the hardest parts about moving to Italy for a non-EU citizen is finding a legal way to stay, usually in the form of a study or Italian work visa. Over the years of blogging, I’ve received countless messages from readers about how to stay in Italy in the long-term. You might have everything else lined up (TEFL certification, a job offer, apartment) but only one little thing is missing: a visa. And let me tell you, that one little thing is crucial.
Maybe I over emphasize this topic a little too much. Maybe it’s just my type-A perfectionist personality coming out in me, but I seriously don’t understand anyone who says you don’t need a visa to live and work in Italy. It’s one of those things that makes me want to go out in the streets and protest with a painted cardboard sign that reads “DON’T BE STUPID, GET THE VISA”.
Without proper documentation, you’re just a body who landed in Italy and never returned home. You’re not entitled to any of the benefits that someone who lives in Italy legally has; this includes healthcare, worker’s rights and the ability to travel in and out of the country without risking deportation.
A lot of people will tell you that you don’t need a visa to work in Italy. This is 100% true. It is also 100% illegal and stupid in my opinion. Many employers like to pay foreign workers “under the table”, or “in nero” (“in the black”) as they say in Italy. Why? Both parties get a tax break. The employer can avoid paying taxes on your wages and the employee doesn’t have to pay taxes on anything he or she earns.
Now, I get it. Income taxes in Italy are incredibly high, so skipping the whole tax thing might seem like a good idea. However, I don’t recommend this, especially not for your primary source of income. I’ve heard horror stories from English teachers working ‘under the table’ about not being paid on time or not being paid the full amount. I’ve also had friends who had to literally hide out in Italy for a year because they didn’t have a visa. After their 90-day tourist visa expired, they couldn’t travel outside of Italy because if they did, they wouldn’t have the proper documentation to come back in. So they were stuck until they decided it was time to go home. So…here I am…again…protesting on the screen of your computer or mobile phone or futuristic technology screen with the cardboard sign that reads “DON’T BE STUPID, GET THE VISA”.
Ok now that we’ve got my “DON’T BE STUPID, GET THE VISA” rant out of the way, let’s move on to the how to get a work a visa part.
I think the best way to do this is to tell you my Personal Work Visa Story. Keep in mind that this only one option and that there might be other options out there. I’m not an immigration lawyer so if you have other questions about this topic, contacting me isn’t really going to help. I’m just going to tell you to re-read this post because it’s truly, really cross-my-heart-hope-to-die (stick a needle in my eye) all the information I have. Contacting the Italian consulate might be more helpful (although they are not as polite as I am). Contacting someone else with a different story might be even more helpful. Hiring an immigration lawyer is probably going to get you the quickest and most helpful response.
My Personal Work Visa Story: Once Upon A Time…
So here we go. My long and laborious road to getting a work visa actually began with getting a study visa. Whaaaaaat? Sounds like some sick and twisted horror story, right? Yup. It was, but it worked.
I found that getting a study visa was much easier than getting a work visa. This is because work visas are: a) only issued to highly specialized workers (EFL teachers don’t count, but a university English language instructor would) and b) only issued to certain number of foreigners from each country in a set time period (probably to control the influx of immigration). Another difficult aspect of getting a work visa in Italy is that many employers are hesitant to sponsor a work visa for new non-EU employees because it requires a full-time and permanent work contract. This means that they have to really trust you because once it’s issued, it’s very very difficult for them to terminate it. In Italy, newly hired employees usually start out on a temporary contract and are then re-evaluated before setting a permanent contract.
No my friends, a work visa in Italy is no easy thing to come by. Which is why I went the study visa conversion route.
I had first heard about this from my boss, who had explained to me before hiring that if I maintained my study visa, I could still work part-time and I might be able to convert the study visa later on when the government opened up the immigration influx (known as decreto flussi). Determined to give it a shot, I decided to follow this advice and wait it out.
These were my steps over a two-year period timeline:
August 2012: Moved to Florence Italy and completed my TEFL certification course at Via Lingua; I started working part-time for My English School Bologna shortly after
February 2013: Returned back to the U.S. for a month; reapplied for another 6-month study visa at the Italian consulate in Boston and visa application was denied because, according to the consulate an Italian language course “was not an eligible course for study visa”; applied again at the Italian Consulate in Miami and visa was promptly issued; my program of study was an intensive 20-hour/week Italian language course at ARCA Scuola Italiana in Bologna, Italy
June 2013: Began my application to the University of Bologna for an undergraduate degree in Scienze della Comunicazione; sent my Dichiarazione di Valore application to the Italian Consulate in Boston; the next two months I was constantly in contact with both the consulate and the University of Bologna to enquire about my application; my application was finally accepted and my 1-year renewable study visa was issued in July.
April 2014: Decreto Flussi opened; with the help of my employer, I applied for a study visa – work visa conversion which was approved a month later and I was issued a renewable work visa
October 2015: Renewed my work permit at the questura in Genoa; time until next renewal: 2 years
I imagine some questions that might be running through your head right now. Let’s run through those scenarios.
Immaginary Interview between You and Me
You: Why did you apply for so many study visas?
Me: I was waiting for the decreto flussi to open so that I could convert my study visa into a work visa; I also was kind of naive and continued to apply for 6-month study visas when really I should have applied for a university program and gotten a longer, renewable visa. Let’s just say hindsight is 20/20 and I was doing the only thing I knew how to do.
You: How were you able to apply to both the Boston Italian Consulate and the Miami Italian Consulate?
Me: I’m from Georgia, where the Miami consulate has jurisdiction, but I also lived and went to college in Rhode Island, where the Boston consulate has jurisdiction. So I was a bit sneaky and used both of my addresses to my advantage. That might not be any help to you if you only have one address, but I will say that the people at the Miami consulate are much nicer than those at the Boston consulate so if you have the option go with those folks down south.
You: What is this decreto flussi thing you speak of?
Me: Sounds like some kind of Harry Potter wizarding spell, but it’s not (although it’s equally as mysterious). You really should check out this blog post I wrote, which talks all about this decreto flussi stuff.
You: How were you able to work part-time and still make enough to live?
Me: I worked around 20 hours/week which is a little under the average for an English teacher in Italy. I also did a lot of private work, such as babysitting, tutoring and translations, which helped boost my income a bit.
You: Was it worth it?
Me: It was crazy. I mean I was crazy to go through all that. I was really determined to stay in Italy and it seems like the longer I lived here, the more I felt like I belonged and needed to stay. I was also really lucky to have the financial means to attend so many courses and re-apply for so many visas. In the end, the courses helped improve my Italian massively and I got the work visa. I love my job now and I love living in Italy. So, yeah. For me it was worth it.
Helpful? I really hope so! Let me repeat: this is just my story and there are probably other options out there for non-EU citizens looking to live and work in Italy (some of these are outlined in my Moving to Italy Interviews). I’m happy to answer questions (I might take few days to respond, but I will get back to you eventually!), but again, please keep in mind that I am not an immigration lawyer. Most of the information I know about this subject is somewhere on my blog (like here and here and here) so please read carefully and do some research before contacting me.
Best of luck – in bocca al lupo!