Italy has recently emerged as the number 1 choice for Bangladeshis when it comes to acquiring citizenship of a European Union (EU) member state, according to Eurostat's latest data.
The United Kingdom comes in second place, even though it hosts the second largest Bangladeshi community in Europe. A sizable number of Bangladeshis are acquiring British citizenship every year, and the UK has historically been one of the top destinations for Bangladeshi immigrants.
Apart from Italy and the UK, Bangladeshis have also been opting for French and Spanish citizenships, but not in very large numbers.
Eurostat or European Statistical Office is a Directorate-General of the European Commission that provides statistical information to the EU institutions.
Eurostat's statistics from 2012 to 2017 show that 2014 was a defining year for the change in EU citizenship acquisition by Bangladeshis. Between 2013 and 2014, British citizenship acquisition declined by almost half, while Italian citizenship acquisition grew almost at the same rate.
Acquisition of Italian citizenship saw a small decline (8.7 percent) in 2017 but it was still the most preferred one, followed by the UK. Overall, the number of Bangladeshis acquiring EU citizenship in that year saw a 38 percent drop compared to the previous year, standing at 9,554.
Indians also share the same feature as the British and Italian citizenships remained their first two preferences between 2012 and 2017. However, unlike Bangladeshis, acquisition of British citizenship has been the highest among Indians, as well as Pakistanis, throughout the five-year period.
Interestingly, it is not only Bangladeshis who became Italian citizens in droves in 2017. Italy is the EU country where most foreigners acquired citizenship in that year. Of them, Albanians, Moroccans and Brazilians are the three biggest groups.
The allure of Italy
With remittance playing a crucial role in the economy, Bangladeshis have been migrating since 1971, mostly to the Gulf states, Malaysia and Singapore in search of better opportunities.
Over time, Bangladeshis began migrating to Europe because they no longer wanted to tolerate the harsh and severe working conditions in the Middle East.
The Bangladeshi community in Italy has grown steadily since 1990 when the Martelli Law was passed. The law facilitated the path to citizenship for irregular migrants already living in the country.
Benjamin Etzold, a senior researcher at the Bonn International Centre for Conversion and an expert on Bangladeshi migration, said Bangladeshis migrate to Italy in large numbers because of the 'established' and 'growing' Bangladeshi community.
"Italy is an especially desirable destination for Bangladeshi migrants, due to its lax entry controls and its beneficial initiatives to legalise migrants," according to Dr Mizanur Rahman, senior research fellow in migration studies at the National University of Singapore.
Benjamin Etzold echoes the same view, saying: "It is getting more and more difficult to get asylum in Germany and it is almost impossible to enter Britain. So, where else to go?"
Italy is now home to more than 100,000 Bangladeshis, and the number continues to grow.
Bangladeshi mini-markets steal the show in Rome
Bangladeshi small businesses, minimarkets to be precise, have mushroomed so much in the Italian capital, Rome, that they have become a crucial trade component of the city.
From basic groceries to fruits, vegetables and toiletries, these shops sell a wide range of products. One of their biggest appeals is that they are open even on the weekend, when most of the Italian stores are shuttered.
These minimarkets have helped Bangladeshis dominate a niche in the Italian economy, something no other migrant groups has been able to achieve.
In fiscal year 2018-19, there were 55,220 Bangladeshi wage earners in Italy, which is 0.44 percent of all Bangladeshi wage earners living abroad, according to Bangladesh's Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training. Of them, 464 were women.
In that fiscal year, Bangladeshis in Italy remitted a total of $757.88 million, according to Bangladesh Bank. This is 4.62 percent of the total remittance in that year.
Also, from 2010 to 2018, Bangladeshis in Italy sent home $2.7 billion, according to the central bank.
Opening groceries and restaurants is the usual trend for expatriate Bangladeshis who want to become entrepreneurs, especially in the Western world. Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine, often characterised by spicy foods, is widely popular in many Western countries.