In the 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of Italians preferred immigrating to North Africa rather than going all the way to America.
Many Italians immigrated to Tunisia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first migratory wave comprised many professionals and traders, often Jews from Livorno in Tuscany. Mass migration of poor peasants and workers from Sicily began in the second half of the 19th century, alongside the to-and-fro movement of seasonal workers such as miners from Sardinia. In 1881, the number of Italians in Tunisia was just over 11,000 (72 per cent from Sicily); they formed more than half of the European population in Tunisia, a proportion significantly higher than that of the French community, which counted only 708 individuals. In 1921, a French census registered almost 85,000 Italians in Tunisia, a figure many historians believe to lie below the actual total of around 90,000–100,000.