​Arrivederci! Sardinian town pays jobless residents to leave

The mayor of the small Sardinian town of Elmas has promised to pay residents who agree to take intensive English lessons, board a cheap flight and leave to look for jobs elsewhere in Europe.

The program, called “Adesso Parto” (Now I’m leaving), is aimed at helping unemployed people aged between 18 and 50 who have lived in the town for at least three years. Higher education is not a necessary condition for the applicants, but their annual income must not exceed €15,000.

The council in Elmas, a town of around 9,000 people, has already allocated €12,000 ($15,500) – which means 10 people would be able to try their luck in European cities, but as it is expected, there will be many more applications.

“This is above all an idea born of common sense and experience. Over the past year and a half – especially in the past few months – I have been receiving young people almost every day who are despairing about their search for work,” mayor Valter Piscedda told The Guardian.

“So, my reasoning was this: put everything in place that the council administration can so that those who want to gain experience abroad are able to,” he said.

Sardinia is experiencing skyrocketing unemployment, like most of southern and central Italy, with rates at 17.7 percent in the second quarter of 2014, according to Istat, the national statistics service. The numbers of unemployed among people under 25 are dismaying, as 54 percent of them out of work.

“It’s a program for those with no other resource; it’s the last-chance saloon. It’s about allowing them the dignity of not having to ask a friend for money or place burdens on families who cannot do it,” the mayor said.

Reactions in the central market of Elmas were mixed. According to La Stampa, some were more optimistic than usual. Silvana Mele told the Italian newspaper that her 35-year-old son has been unemployed since 2011: “He wanted to go to London in search of work, but didn’t have money to do so. The council has had a beautiful idea.”

However, not everyone is so enthusiastic about the new project. “Why do [they] want to force us to emigrate?” asks Salvatore Floris. “If we, the youth, go abroad, the only ones remaining here would be the elderly.”

But Piscedda, who also heads of the regional branch of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, says the program won’t promote a brain drain and is a proper way out of the current unemployment crisis. “The work I can create [as mayor] is temporary. I can have a piazza cleaned. I can have it cleaned again. I can have the streets cleaned. But these are all temporary things that give nothing beyond that little bit of money for a few months. I want to go beyond that.”

He hopes that the participants of the Adesso Parto program will come back to their home town “and give me back 100 times what they were given.”