Many foreigners have brilliant business plans and are willing to invest time and money in lucrative ideas in Italy. Some would like to start an import/export business in food, fashion or another of Italy’s signature sectors. Others hope that a self-employment permit is an easier solution than applying for a subordinated work visa, and that they might avoid the complex rules of the annual quota limits. Foreign real estate agents, graphic designers, architects, chiropractors, and the like often seek to start a business here or move one from their home country. Other foreigners seek to convert a student visa into a self-employment permit.
What is the procedure, for a non-EU citizen to start a new business in Italy? How can you apply for a self-employment visa? And most importantly, is it possible to convert one type of permit to a self-employment permit? I frequently field these questions. The scope of the topic is, obviously, too great for this article (which is a follow-up to one in TF 135), but I offer this summary of the key aspects of this complex matter.
Who can apply for the self-employment work visa as a non-EU citizen?
Self-employment work visas are intended for those in professions in which a person has a trade or a business; practises a profession; is a craft worker; has established a company or a partnership (or holds any executive positions in it); or is a freelancer who has contratti a progetto (project-work contracts), manages jobs independently and is not subject to the direct control of a boss.
Aside from a few exceptions discussed below, the self-employment visa is regulated by the same quota limits established by the Decreto Flussi (Flow Decree) for subordinate work visas. Therefore, unless you are among the exceptions, whether you apply for the conversion of your student visa or you apply for a visa from your home country, you will need to abide by the Flow Decree in order to obtain this type of visa. Those who reside in Italy can request a conversion of a permit of stay if they already have a permit that allows them to work (at least part time). The most common cases are these:
1. If you have a permit of stay that already gives you permission to work (such as the ‘non-seasonal’ work permit, or some family visas), you do not need to convert your permit until it expires, and there are no quota limits. You can start your own business using the visa that you already have. Once your old permit has expired, simply complete a special form to apply for the conversion of the permit to a self-employment permit, providing the information, documents and permits described below.
2. With a few exceptions, if you have a student permit, the conversion is normally subject to the limits of the quotas established by the Italian government through the Flow Decree. The most important exception to the quota limits (for which you can apply at any moment) are foreign students who graduated from an Italian university with at least a three-year diploma or a postgraduate diploma such as a PhD or master’s degree). In this case, graduate students do not need to worry about the quotas: they can apply for the self-employment permit whenever they want. But for all other types of diplomas (granted by private institutions, such as language, art, and fashion institutes), the students are subject to quotas established by the flow decree. Note: you must apply for the conversion of a student visa before the original visa expires; if the visa has already expired, this procedure is not feasible.
3. If you are a minor who resides in Italy for study or family reasons, you can apply for the conversion of the student permit into a self-employment permit upon your 18th birthday.
What is the conversion procedure?
If you want to convert a student visa to a self-employment permit, you must wait for the announcement of the quotas, then download, from the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, this software: https://nullaostalavoro.interno.it/Ministero/registrazione_user. This will direct the applicant to specific online forms (Z form if the applicant has a regular student permit, or the Z2 form if the applicant graduated from an Italian university or has reached the age of 18 while residing in Italy). You must submit the form directly via Internet to the Sportello Unico Immigrazioni.
The list of documents to be included in the application depends on the type of business that you are planning to start. For business activities that are not regulated by a specific law and do not require specific authorization, the required documents include but are not limited to the following:
1. Proof of an adequate place to live in Italy (e.g., a rental agreement signed by the landlord, or a declaration of hospitality signed by the person who will host you once in Italy);
2. Proof of sufficient financial resources to start a business. (An income tax report from the previous year may also be requested.);
3. A current, and still valid, permit of stay in Italy;
4. In Italy (pursuant art. 2229 of the Civil Code), many jobs can be practiced only after providing evidence of an appropriate academic or professional title or enrolment in a professional register. Therefore, depending on the type of job, it will necessary to include a formal declaration from the Chamber of Commerce (or the authority governing the profession/trade in the country where the applicant intends to settle), in which it is stated that there are no reasons to prevent the start of the business and that the applicant has the requirements to start that specific type of activity. (See the note on the application regarding the recognition of foreign titles.) Only with the approval of the Chamber of Commerce or the organization that overviews that specific profession is it possible to continue with the application. Note also that the declaration issued by the Chamber of Commerce is valid for only three months; therefore, it needs to be requested only when you are ready to apply. Because not all types of work require this type of declaration, it is important to know what you will need before you start the application.
5. Even if the profession is not regulated by specific laws, and if you do not need the declaration from the Chamber of Commerce, it is still useful (and sometimes mandatory) to provide evidence of the highest level of professional or school education, along with any other documents that show that you have experience or standing in your sector (a résumé, contracts, recommendation letters, tax returns from the last two to three years, and so forth).
6. If you want to use the professional qualification received in your home country, it will also be necessary to follow the procedure for the recognition of foreign titles (see below).
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice, and should not be considered legal advice. Communication of information or use of such information is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. We always recommend to specifically seeking professional legal advice. The description of the results of any specific case does not mean or suggest that similar results can or could be obtained in any other matter. Each legal matter should be considered to be unique and subject to varying results.
What else do I need to do?
If the online application is successful (because it falls within the quotas), the Questura will contact you via registered mail (raccomandata), inviting you to the Sportello Unico Immigrazione to present the paper versions of the documents that were included in the online application. If all the fees and taxes requested are fully paid, and all documents are complete, the new permesso per lavoro autonomo will be granted.
Can I apply for a self-employment visa from my home country, as a non-EU citizen not residing in Italy?
If you are applying from your home country, the procedure to obtain a self-employment visa is more complex. Again, the quota limits may apply. The necessary documents are similar, but because you are not in Italy, you will probably need to appoint a proxy (attorney-in-fact) in Italy to deposit and collect the documents at the Chamber of Commerce (when and if requested by the type of job) and at the Immigration Desk.
If the application is complete and correct, the Immigration Desk will issue a temporary permit to enter Italy (nulla osta provvisorio per l’ingresso in Italia), normally within 20 days. The proxy will deliver that permit to you in your home country. With this temporary permit, you have three months to request the self-employment visa at the Italian Consulate or the diplomatic authority in your home country. The Italian authorities can ask for further documents, such as the evidence of an adequate place to live in Italy, and bank reports that state an annual income above a pre-set limits (currently around 8,263.31 euro/year). If the documents provided are fine and if inflow quotas have not yet been met, the visa will be released within one month. Once the visa for self-employment is granted as a non-EU-applicant, you have 180 days to use the visa to enter Italy.
Once you have entered Italy, you have eight days to go to the post office, request a ‘permit of stay kit,’ complete all of the documents, pay the fees at the post office and wait to be called by the local police department to be fingerprinted.
After you obtain the self-employment permit, you have the freedom to change jobs as often as you want, or to be hired and stop working independently. If you are hired, once the permit expires, however, you will have to declare that you are now employed externally and ask for the proper visa.
Will Italy recognize my professional qualifications obtained abroad?
Art. 22 of the Unified Text on Immigration cites the possibility to ‘obtain the recognition of professional training qualifications acquired abroad; where no specific agreement exists, the Ministry of Employment and Social Policies shall consult with the central committee for employment and provide ways and means of recognising qualifications for individual cases.’
Whether you are planning to start a new business from scratch or you want to move an existing business from your home country to Italy, you first need to find out whether the business in question is included in the list of regulated ones.
The requirements to practice a qualified profession in Italy are (1) recognition of your professional degree by the ministry and the order that supervises that profession; (2) enrolment in the professional order; (3) successful demonstration of written and spoken Italian; and (4) a permit of stay in Italy (working visa or EU citizenship). (If you have a professional title from another European country, the process for obtaining its conversion is less complex, provided by the EU Directive 2005/36/CE as implied in Italy by the D. Lgs. 206/2007.)
1. Gather the documents that prove your qualification (including the tests, exams, courses taken, and final grades) authenticated in your home country, then legalized via the Italian diplomatic authority in the home country and formally translated.
2. The documents are first reviewed by the ministry that overviews that specific profession (such as the Ministry of Public Health for medical professions, Ministry of Justice for legal professions, and so on). If the result of this first screening is positive, the ministry will summon a commission to decide whether the academic and professional curriculum matches that required by the Italian law to practice that activity.
3. If the committee decides not to recognize immediately or completely your title (which can happen, especially if the academic curriculum needs to be integrated with some specific exams or if practice in the home country does not cover some aspects of the Italian practice), the ministry could require some ‘compensatory measures,’ such as a period of training or an aptitude test. At the successful conclusion of this procedure, the ministry will issue a decree recognizing the original titles, and you will be allowed to apply for enrolment in the Italian professional order.
4. From the issuance of the decree, the applicant has two years to register in the local order. The order will test your knowledge of the Italian language and your knowledge of the local laws that regulate your practice.
For official online information regarding the procedure for converting academic and professional qualifications, I found this website comprehensive and useful: www.enic-naric.net/index.aspx?c=Italy. Remember: each individual’s situation is different and it is difficult to find specific answers online for every situation. Therefore, after doing your ‘online’ research, get professional support.
Do I qualify for the new EU blue card visa for highly qualified third-country workers?
This is a new type of visa that is not fixed to inflow quotas. Recently introduced in Italy by the Legislative Decree n. 108/2012, implementing the European Directive 2009/50/CE, this visa is called the UE Blue Card and it is reserved only to highly qualified workers who are planning to work for or under the direction of a person or company in Italy, with a minimum gross salary of 24,789.00 euro per year (for 2012).
To obtain this new type of visa, regulated by art. 9ter and 27quater of the Unified Immigration Text, the immigrant has to provide evidence of his or her high level of professional or university education and training, together with other specific requirements. The procedure to obtain this type of visa is described in the Letter from the Minister of Internal Affairs, n.7591/2012.
Ready to begin? Maybe.
If you have all the necessary documentation to start your own business in Italy, I recommend that you meet with an English-speaking accountant or tax advisor to figure out whether you will need a Partita Iva or enrolment in a pension fund, and to discuss any tax-related aspects of the business.
Start collecting your documents now if you want to apply in time for the 2014 quotas! On the website of the Unified Immigration Desk, where you can find the complete list of documents for the application, there are also specific recommendations for those applying from abroad. These applicants are strongly encouraged to present a preliminary query to the Italian diplomatic authorities in their home country to determine whether there is a chance of getting the self-employment visa. In my (very personal) opinion, however, the diplomatic authorities will be reluctant to say ‘go ahead, there are still some spots available,’ as the quotas are met so quickly. Therefore, I suggest that you start collecting your documents at least six months in advance in order to be ready (especially if you plan to use your professional titles in Italy, because you will very likely need preliminary authorization from the Chamber of Commerce to get your self-employment visa), when the decree is issued. But remember that the formal declaration of no impediments is good for only three months.