Bangladesh is among the top six migrant source countries in the world. Even though the choice of the UK has traditionally been the top destination for long-term Bangladeshi migrants, Italy has recently emerged as one of their major European destinations

Last update: 2024-03-06 16:42:59

Bangladesh is among the top six migrant source countries in the world, with a significant number of Bangladeshis migrating abroad every year—an average of 0.4 million.[1] It is estimated that approximately 14.8 million Bangladeshis are living and working in 157 countries as permanent or temporary residents.[2] Temporary migrants usually opt for Middle Eastern countries and newly industrialised nations in South-East Asia. However, Europe has always been the preferred destination for Bangladeshi long-term migrants, mainly due to the influence of British colonialism. Among EU countries, the UK and Italy are the two most popular destinations for Bangladeshi migrants seeking long-term settlement. According to IOM (2021), Europe is currently home to 456,516 Bangladeshi migrants. The UK has the highest number of Bangladeshis (241,799), while Italy has the second-largest Bangladeshi community (135,468).[3]


Bangladeshi migration to Europe has largely been irregular for several decades. Although there has been a recent decrease in such flows, Bangladesh remains the top country for undocumented migrants to cross the Mediterranean Sea and various land borders to Europe. The majority of these migrants aim to reach the southern European countries, particularly Italy. For instance, in 2021, nearly 9000 Bangladeshis arrived in Europe following irregular pathways, with Italy being their primary destination. Of these, around 7600 migrants followed the Central Mediterranean route, while 600 arrived through the Eastern Mediterranean route and 437 entered via the Western Balkan route.[4]


This article presents the results of multi-sited qualitative research that was conducted in Italy, the UK, and Bangladesh between 2017 and 2022. It aims to analyze the dynamics of the migration process from Bangladesh to Italy. The article has three main objectives. Firstly, it discusses the history of Bangladeshi migration to Italy. Secondly, it evaluates the key drivers that influence Bangladeshis’s decision to migrate to Italy. Moreover, it sheds light on the routes and networks involved in the migration process. The following sections provide a brief history of Bangladeshi migration to Italy and then present and discuss the empirical findings of the drivers of migration, as well as the routes and networks in the process of migration.


History of Bangladeshi migration to Italy


Even though the choice of the UK has traditionally been the top destination for long-term Bangladeshi migrants, Italy has recently emerged as one of their major European destinations.[5] Whereas the migration of Bangladeshis to the UK has a historical connection with British colonialism, the process of migration of Bangladeshis to Italy has been explained as a result of new globalization as there are no geographical borders, colonial ties, or religious or linguistic ties between these two countries.[6] Furthermore, while other European countries such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands adopted restrictive immigration policies and made it difficult for undocumented migrants to legalise their status during the 1990s, Italy’s flexible immigration policy and periodic regularisation system encouraged Bangladeshi migrants to move to Italy.[7]


Bangladeshi migrants began arriving in Italy in the late 1980s, but their numbers rapidly grew in the early 1990s. Our findings have shown that the first settlement of these earlier Bangladeshi migrants was in Rome. They arrived in Italy not only from other European Union countries, such as Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Greece but also from Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, taking various statuses such as refugees, students, short-term trainees and undocumented. Our findings indicate that until 1990, the number of Bangladeshis in Italy was very small. For example, in 1987, there were only around 600 Bangladeshis in Rome. However, after the majority of undocumented Bangladeshi migrants obtained a residence permit in 1990 under the Martelli Law, the number of Bangladeshis in Rome started to grow enormously. From 1996 onwards, after the second declaration to legalize irregular migrants, Bangladeshi migrants began moving to other cities in Italy in search of better social conditions, employment prospects, and income. Since then, a large concentration of Bangladeshi migrants has been established in various locations throughout the country, for instance in Milan, Bologna, Padova, Venice, and Vicenza. Nevertheless, it appears that a large number of these Bangladeshi migrants left Italy for other EU countries, mainly the UK, soon after acquiring citizenship.[8]


Migration processing: drivers and role of social networks


Bangladesh is in a subordinate position compared to Italy in terms of global inequality. Therefore, Bangladeshi migrants are pulled toward Italy in order to access better employment and income, improved standard of living, and superior human rights conditions. On the other hand, they are pushed from their country due to the lack of job prospects, poor economic conditions, and political uncertainty. In this regard, their migration to Italy has often been considered a family strategy aimed at providing healthcare, education, and other daily necessities to maintain the standard of living of the family back home.


As stated by a Bangladeshi respondent,


I come from a middle-class family and migrated to support my father, mother, and brothers financially. My ultimate goal is to achieve economic and social success to make a better life for my family. This is what motivates me to choose Europe as a migration destination. (Sayed, in Italy)


Bangladeshi immigrants have historically seen Europe as a land of opportunity for achieving upward economic and social mobility. Aspirant migrants firmly believe that migration to Europe is the key to gaining economic power and material transformation, as they observe the gradual economic progress and material betterment in the lives of the migrants’ family members back home. This power of migration is reflected in the newly acquired houses, lands, household properties, and foreign goods displayed by their relatives or neighbours who have sent one or more members to Europe. According to the respondents, when these economic and material changes happen after migration, the migrant families in the country acquire a new social and economic position. Due to this, non-migrants also aspire to leave the country for Italy, with the hope of enhancing their family’s social and economic position by acquiring enormous wealth.


Many people from my local area have found to be successful by migrating to Italy. They have
been able to make notable improvements to their homes, including the construction of new buildings and the acquisition of lands. This aspect inspired me to migrate with hopes of earning a considerable amount of money to purchase lands and build new houses in my villages. Consequently, I migrated to Italy. (Shorif, Italy)


Among the EU countries, Italy’s inclusive labour market and relaxed immigration policy have made it a desirable destination for Bangladeshi aspirant migrants. In this connection, the transnational ties between non-migrants and their family, friends, or acquaintances living in Italy play a crucial role in shaping the migration decision. The transnational social network provides aspirant migrants with an image of Italy as the ideal destination. Before migration, they often confirm that they can easily earn money in Italy as undocumented migrants, which they may not be able to do in other EU countries. Additionally, they are motivated by the possibility of being regularized in a short time by the Italian amnesties. They are also motivated to migrate to Italy when they are informed that they have the opportunity to become an Italian citizen, which allows them to move to other EU countries later.


Our study also found the decision to migrate to Italy was also influenced by the “culture of migration” trend from Bangladesh to Southern European countries that emerged in the 1990s. Since then, many Bangladeshis have been leaving the country for Italy every year in irregular ways. The success stories of many of them who were able to change their status from undocumented immigrants in a short period and subsequently become Italian citizens after 10 years of continuous residence serve as inspiration for non-migrants to pursue similar migration journeys.


I was hoping for a better life. All of my friends at that time left the country for Italy. Some of them opened their own business and became successful people. They inspired me by sharing their own stories. They told me “we all came, you should come too.” (Moktar, Italy)


Furthermore, due to political instability in Bangladesh, there is a growing tendency among economically well-off families to invest in international migration instead of starting businesses locally. In this regard, respondents often express that their families were not interested in supporting their business ventures in Bangladesh, but were willing to contribute a large amount of money for their irregular migration to Italy, which is usually 12 to 14 thousand euros.


They [parents] think that investing money here [Bangladesh] means wasting it. But whatever it costs to migrate to Italy, they arrange it. By seeing the development of the migrants’ families, they think that if I go to Italy, they [parents] will get back twice or three times the money they invested in me within a few days. (Salam, Italy)



Migration Channel and Route: Regular and Irregular Migration


Studies have shown that Bangladeshi migrants use both regular and irregular channels to migrate to Italy. For regular channels, they usually migrate through short-term permits, such as sponsor visas, seasonal labour visas, tourist visas, and training visas, and even use Schengen visas from other EU states. However, many of them choose to overstay after their visas expire, as they find job opportunities in the shadow economy and hope to regularize their migration status through the Italian periodic legalization of irregular migrants. In recent years, family reunification visas have become more popular among Bangladeshis to enter Italy legally.


However, it is argued that a major portion of Bangladeshi immigrants entered Italy by following the undocumented way. Since Italy is surrounded by a long coastline, ‘ease of entry’ geared up the illegal migratory flows. More specifically, research has shown that the earlier Bangladeshi migration to Italy during the 1980s and 1990s was largely irregular. Our findings indicate that Bangladeshi irregular migrants usually follow six different routes to reach Italy, which include a combination of air, land, and sea.


In the case of air and land routes, we find that Eastern European countries served as important intermediate destinations for Bangladeshi migrants, especially those who arrived in EU countries during the 1990s. The first step of their journey was to fly to Romania, Hungary, Austria, or Bulgaria with a tourist visa for one or three weeks. The next part of the journey was to cross the borders of multiple EU countries before finally arriving in Italy. During our interviews, we found that the entry points were on the land frontiers with Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. In addition, during the 1990s, a significant number of Bangladeshi migrants also followed Eastern Border routes. They would typically first arrive in Ukraine, Belarus, or the Russian Federation with a student or business visa, and then cross Eastern EU member countries such as Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania to reach Italy. Furthermore, over the past few years, Bangladeshi migrants have also used the Western Balkan Route to enter Italy. This route involves travelling to Italy via North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia. According to IOM, 8,844 Bangladeshi migrants utilized this route to enter Europe in 2020.[9] In this case, illegal migrants, on the one hand, use the Italian-Slovenian border and also enter through the French, Switzerland, and Austrian borders.


However, since 2000, Bangladeshi migrants mostly followed air and sea routes in their irregular migration to Italy. In this regard, the Central Mediterranean has emerged as the most popular route in recent years. It has been reported that between 2009 and May 2021, a total of 62,583 Bangladeshi migrants entered Europe through the Central Mediterranean route.[10] Our interviews revealed that to follow this route, many Bangladeshi migrants usually first arrive in a Middle Eastern country with a tourist visa and then move to Libya to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea for Italy (Lampedusa, Sicily). Apart from the Central Mediterranean, Bangladeshi migrants also use the Western Mediterranean route to enter Europe illegally. Here they initially enter Algeria with a tourist visa and then cross the Algerian land border with Morocco. Eventually, they reach Spain by boat, mostly to the Canary Islands or Ciota Islands. Later many of them moved to Italy overland.


With regard to the combination of air, land, and sea routes, Bangladeshi irregular migrants used more than two routes in their irregular migration journey to Italy. They can also follow the Eastern Mediterranean route to enter Greece and Cyprus via Turkey in order to arrive in Italy. However, there have been various restrictions imposed on this path in recent years. For instance, Greece has built advanced border walls, employed high-tech surveillance aids, and implemented strategies to push back migrants from the Aegean Sea. Additionally, the Türkiye-Iran border has seen an expansion of its wall to prevent irregular entry and tighter controls on the arrest of illegal immigrants. As a result, the Türkiye-Greece route has become almost entirely shut down. Smugglers have discovered an alternate route to transport irregular migrants from the coasts of Turkey and Lebanon to Italy.


Transnational social networks play a crucial role in determining the migration route of Bangladeshi irregular migrants. In most cases, before migration begins, networks of brokers are arranged by the family members and relatives of aspirant migrants who have already settled in Italy. They negotiate and contract with transnational smugglers regarding travel costs, payment methods, and travel routes for the benefit of aspirant migrants. The networks provide prospective migrants with information about the route, transit countries, and brokers they will encounter during their journey from Bangladesh to Italy. However, for our respondents who did not have close family members at the destination, managing brokers became a personal task. In such cases, aspiring migrants choose brokers based on trust and reasonable prices, relying on the advice of neighbouring people who have previously used irregular routes to Italy.




The migration of Bangladeshis to Italy is largely influenced by the existing transnational social networks between Bangladeshi non-migrants and their family members, friends, and neighbours already residing in Italy. The decision to migrate is also shaped by observing the gradual economic progress and material development in their relatives or neighbouring families which have been achieved after migrating irregularly to Europe. Additionally, the trend of the “culture of migration” to Southern Europe that has arisen in Bangladesh since the 1990s also has a significant impact on their migration decisions to Italy. Furthermore, our research indicates that Bangladeshi migrants use six different undocumented routes to reach Italy, which includes a combination of air and sea, air and land, and even air, land, and sea routes. While most Bangladeshis followed Eastern European and Eastern routes to arrive in EU countries during the 1990s, the Central Mediterranean route has become more popular recently.




The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Oasis International Foundation

[1] International Labour Organization Country Office for Bangladesh (ILO),  Labour Migration from Bangladesh, (2023)
[2] The government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Bureau of Manpower, Employment, and Training (BMET), Overseas employment and remittances of Bangladeshi workers from 1976 to 2022, (2022)
[3] International Organization for Migration (IOM), Bangladeshi Migrants in Europe 2021: A multiple source snapshot, (2021)
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[7] Mohammad Morad and Jure Gombač, “‘Probashi’ in Italy. New Destinations: Trends, Origins, and Profiles of Bangladeshi Migrants in Padova and Cadoneghe,” Dve Domovini/Two Homelands, vol. 47, no. 1 (2018), pp. 37–52.
[8] Mohammad Morad, Francesco Della Puppa and Devi Sacchetto, “The dark side of onward migration: experiences and strategies of Italian-Bangladeshis in the UK at the time of the post-Brexit referendum,” British Journal of Sociology, vol. 72, no. 5 (2021), pp. 13111324; Mohammad Morad and Devi Sacchetto, “For the future of the children: The onward migration of Italian Bangladeshis in Europe,” International Migration, vol. 59, no. 6 (2020), pp. 142–155.
[9] “Bangladeshi Migrants in Europe 2020: A multiple source snapshot,”  International Organization for Migration (IOM), (2020)
[10]Irregular Migration: Over 62,000 Bangladeshis entered Europe last decade,” The Daily Star, July 30, 2021