Emigration, which traditionally provided relief from overpopulation and unemployment, now represents only a fraction of the millions of Italians who emigrated during the two decades prior to 1914. From 1900 to 1914, 16 of every 1,000 Italians left their homeland each year; by the late 1970s, that proportion had declined to about 1.5 per 1,000. Of the 65,647 Italians who emigrated in 1989, 26,098 went to Germany; 16,347 to Switzerland; 5,277 to France; 4,076 to the United States; and 23,849 to other countries. Immigration in 1989 totaled approximately 81,201 people, of whom West Germans accounted for 13,198. In 1990, 781,100 immigrants lived in Italy. This figure did not include some 600,000 who were believed to be illegal immigrants.
The overall impetus to emigrate has been greatly reduced by economic expansion within Italy itself and by the shrinking job market in other countries, especially Germany. Nevertheless, Germany had 560,100 Italian residents at the end of 1991, and France had 253,679 in 1990. Particularly significant in the first two decades after World War II was the considerable migration from the rural south to the industrial north, but by the mid-1980s, this flow had become insignificant.
In 1998, Italy received a total of 7,112 asylum applications, an increase of over 380% on the 1,858 applications lodged in 1997.
The main countries of origin were the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Turkey. Refugee status was granted in 29.6% of decisions on the applications made in 1998. Italy also hosts 5,816 people who arrived in 1999 from Macedonia under the UNHCR/IOM Humanitarian Evacuation Programme. In 1999, the net migration rate was 0.17 migrants per 1,000 population.