A Guide to Italian Work Visas

Cinque Terre, Italy pixabay.com CC0

Written by  March 28, 2017

Navigating Italy's convoluted work visa process can be a headache—but also worth the effort. Here's how.

After years of studying Italian and many trips to the country, I finally decided to move to Italy. I was ready for my own personal slice of the bella vita, so I took the leap and began researching how to get an Italian visa.

Unfortunately, it was more difficult than I expected. An Italian work visa is nearly impossible to obtain unless you’re a high-level manager or professional. Complicated bureaucracy and employment laws coupled with a residual fear from the recession means that few employers are willing or able to sponsor an employee’s work visa.

In today’s economic climate, few Italian or foreign workers are given permanent positions or a tempo indeterminato. Instead, most workers are offered contracts limited by a certain time period (a tempo determinate). These usually range from six months to a year, often with the possibility to apply for renewal at that date. Some Italians have worked their entire career with contracts they’ve had to renew year after year. The rest can find work on a project-by-project basis, usually after the worker has signed up for a partita iva or a value-added tax (VAT) identification number.

Getting an Italian work visa isn't impossible. It’s never easy navigating the bureaucracy of a new country, but for those dreaming of the dolce vita, it's worth it.

Be that as it may, getting a work visa isn’t impossible and people are still moving to Italy each and every year. It’s never easy navigating the bureaucracy to live in a new country, but for those dreaming of the dolce vita, it can be oh-so-worth-it in the end. So don’t give up hope; visas to legally live (and eventually work) in Italy come in a variety of forms. It’s all about doing your homework.

Work visa options

There are two work visa options for non-Europeans who want to work in Italy: a subordinate employment visa and self-employment visa. 

• Subordinate employment visa

One of the most challenging aspects of landing a work visa is that you must already have an Italian employer, which is a difficult task for someone not yet in Italy. It's perhaps made even more difficult by the visa cost, not to mention that you and your company will have to prove without a doubt that the position can’t be filled by a local. (For example, jobs that are by necessity bilingual, such as translators, foreign language teachers or other highly specialized work.)

If you are lucky enough to have lined up an Italian employer or are moving abroad for your current job, then you’re technically under subordinate employment and that employer will have to sponsor your Italian work permit.

• Self-employment visa

The self-employment visa is the same process, only this time you’ll need to vouch for yourself. Some accepted forms of self-employment include: artisans; translators and interpreters; and university professors and researchers “intending to fill an academic position or carry out paid research activities in Italian universities or educational or research institutes.”

There are a limited number of these types of visas issued each year.

Other visa options that may allow you to work

Sometimes it’s just not possible to obtain a work visa. In that case, the best option might be to apply for a different type of visa to legally stay in the country, and to transfer that visa into a permit-of-stay, ultimately obtaining a work permit-of-stay.

Many expats find that transferring their permit-of-stay (permesso di soggiorno) into a work permit-of-stay (permesso di soggiorno per lavoro) is a relatively simple procedure.

Italy’s Foreign Affairs website's “reasons for your stay” section shows a variety of different visa types available for Americans and Canadians including study, research, family reunion, religious reasons and ancestry.

• Study visa

For the most part, non-EU citizens must request an entry visa of some sort from an Italian consulate before arrival. The most common and easiest visa to obtain is the study visa. Once you have a study visa, you must then apply for a permesso di soggiorno per studio, or study permit-of-stay, within eight days after your arrival in Italy, at the central police station or the Questura office. After that, you can officially live and study in Italy—and can even work up to 20 hours per week.

If you are able to find an employer while on a study visa, you can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per lavoro or work permit-of-stay. Apply for a work permit at the Prefettura in your city and follow the instructions of the Prefettura.

Once the Prefettura approves your request, you can then apply at the Questura for a work permit-of-stay, just as you did originally for the study permit-of-stay. However, you might have to wait several months for them to process your request.

• Partnership visa

Some, like me, might skip the work visa and directly gain a permit-of-stay if they find they’ve fallen in love not only with the country—but with an Italian. Though you still have to gather your documents and take many trips to the various public offices, marriage sets you up with direct access to a permit-of-stay, allowing you to stay and work in the country for two to five years with easy renewal. (Of course, I’m not suggesting you marry an Italian just to stay in the country, but with a wedding already planned, for me it was by far the simplest option.)

How to apply

All visa requests should be made from your home country. Find the Italian consulate office nearest you. Begin your application as soon as possible, as the process can be slow.

For all visas you’ll need to have a visa application form, a recent passport photo and a valid passport. Some visas require different paperwork than others, all of which can be found on the Ministero degli Affari Esteri website. Though costs vary depending on your country of origin and the type of visa, the price is roughly 105 Euros. Still, you should plan for extra fees such as a marco da bollo stamp and other mailing costs.

Whatever your route, be patient. You’ll need a certain level of finesse to navigate the visa application process for a work visa, but if you dream of living in Italy, don’t let it hold you back. After studying abroad in Italy I came back multiple times before my relationship with Italy, and Italian boyfriend, was ready for the next level.

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Published in Work Abroad
Gina Mussio

Gina Mussio is an English teacher and American journalist living in Monza, Italy where she writes about travel, culture and food in Italy. Follow her @ginamussio.

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