Italian emigration across the Alps to central and western Europe has always been strong, even at the time of major transatlantic emigration. But its seasonal and somewhat temporary nature has always made precise quantification difficult.
Particularly following restrictions by the United States on new immigrants entering the country, Italians looked to other European destinations, especially France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and also Britain. These countries needed low cost labour and, in the immediate post-war period, had entered into agreements with the Italian government: young workers intended primarily for Europe’s mines in exchange for raw materials and energy sources, mainly coal.
Thus, in order to solve major unemployment problems in a country brought to its knees by the Second World War, the Italian government from 1945 onwards encouraged “assisted” emigration, almost exclusively of men, to European countries; this emigration would retain a clear sense of being transitory in nature, given the relative proximity to Italy, even though Italian communities began to become established in particular in Belgium, Switzerland and Germany.