Drawing on a longitudinal research we conducted over five years (2010–2015) with 40 documented migrant workers who lost their job at the beginning of the recession, this article analyses their routes to the informal economy in Northern Italy. Moving away from the expulsion and exit dichotomous theories on participation in underground work, we argue that it is necessary to take into consideration both the structural constraints pushing migrants to enter the informal economy and their subjective motivations, both economic and non-economic. Through two waves of in-depth interviews with Moroccan and Romanian workers, we investigate the migrants’ working paths in order to understand different conditions and motivations driving them to work off the books. First, we highlight that migrants who work irregularly are not only the unemployed, but also poor casual workers and deprived self-employed. Moreover, we sustain that working irregularly is not only a poverty escape strategy to deal with the casualization, worsening and reduction of formal working opportunities, but it is also a way to meet identity and social needs.