Why would the Italian government pay for passage of Italians to the US? What were the contours of this policy and does it reveal meaningful information about the recipients?

In the manifest for a ship from Naples to Ellis Island in 1920, a number of the Italian passengers received passage paid by the government. On the manifest line under "By whom was passage paid?" it says "Ital. gover." with ditto marks all down the page for an entire page of passengers.

page 1

page 2

I know that Australia had a policy of paying for immigration and that the US promise of free land probably encouraged immigration. Why was Italy paying for emigration? I could infer that maybe they felt over-population or unemployment were problems and perhaps they wanted to encourage nationals to go abroad to earn money. Perhaps the recipients had to qualify for the passage by military or other service.

  • Could a link to the passenger list be added? Were the individuals unrelated or were they in 1 or more families? I have a Swedish case where a mother and 2 daughters were sent back to the US (where the father was living), apparently (from the notes on the page) to get them off the local welfare list.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 13:27
  • It was 30 individuals, plus more on other pages or other manifests, and from different areas - so not a family. It's possible that they were all on welfare payments, or that they were all from poor areas with unemployment issues. But I don't have evidence for either of those explanations.
    – NL7
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


With the first page of the passenger list, we can now determine that this was the S.S. Europa, arriving in New York NY in Feb 1920. The particular pages shown above are numbered 0658 & 0659 at EllisIsland.org & 659 & 660 at ancestry.com

There are at least 7 sets of pages noting that the passage was paid by the Italian government (at ancestry: pages 652, 660, 664, 668, 672, 673, 677)

  • these passengers (passage paid by Italian government) are grouped together, earlier manifest pages have the usual mix of self-paid and paid by others
  • adult men, mid-20s to mid-40s
  • various occupations
  • the only women and children are travelling in family groups with the husband
  • no obvious patterns for place of birth or destination
  • almost all had been in the U.S. as recently as 1915 (NB Italy was an ally of the western powers in WWI)
  • anomaly - nationality usually Italian but occasionally reservist

Possible reasons for institutional involvement

  • deportation/expulsion for crimes (but unlikely if family groups are included)
  • family re-unification (but not all are going to a family member already in the U.S.)
  • displacement of unproductive people, such as the poor, orphans, etc. (unlikely given mostly adult males, some with trades)
  • sponsorships (but are usually extended by individuals or organizations in the destination country)

The answer seems to come at the bottom of page 672 of 1061 at ancestry "ret. soldiers U.S. resid." These are Italian war veterans who are returning to the U.S.

  • I added page 1 in response to this answer.
    – NL7
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 19:06
  • It looks like the people in this group are primarily returning to the US having been former residents, plus some children and spouse. A few of the passengers were US-born. Maybe the passage was paid for nationals of another country? Family reunification seems plausible, but why pay to ship out couples when an American-born man came to Italy to get a wife and leave again? Seems counter-productive unless you expect remittances or are pursuing depopulation.
    – NL7
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 19:41
  • 1
    The only-US born individuals I saw were among the children, who were then claiming US-citizenship. None of the adults are noted as US-citizens and most have a NON-IMMIGRANT stamp in the margins. Probably the exact circumstances of their enlistment varied, whether they returned to Italy to volunteer or happened to be in Europe on a visit when the war broke out. Regardless, part of their discharge seems to have been travel funds. Also, the opportunity to have people in relatively-prosperous jobs sending money home to Italy after the chaos of war would have been a good deal for Italy.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 22:29
  • 1
    Thanks, this answer was very helpful. So while the official policy itself is not clear, we can probably infer that WWI veterans were getting paid passage back to the US in partial payment of their service.
    – NL7
    Commented Jun 20, 2014 at 21:54
  • 2
    The next step could be checking newspapers, not only for NYC reports of the returning veterans in 1920, but also for broadsides in 1916-1917 looking for volunteers (esp in Italian-language papers). Either set might mention enlistment promises to Italian volunteers. But I don't read Italian & don't have access to many newspapers right now.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 1:06

For a discussion of Italy's attitudes about emigration and how they changed over time, see Tina Bochicchio Woetzel's Italian Emigrants, Italian Immigrants: The Labella Family of Avigliano, Potenza, Basilicata, Italy and Port Chester, New York, United States of America. The section Italian Government Outlook toward Emigration starts on page 124. The author gives a chronology, statistics, and discusses the different groups that received assistance. The discussion continues through the end of Chapter Six and concludes with a Summary of Italian Emigration -- Why They Left Italy starting on page 137.

Also look at the bibliography to see if other works cited in or consulted for this book may hold the answer to your question.

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