Just as on Article 18 of the Jobs Act, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has broken another taboo.
Renzi this time caused a stir on the matter of brain drain, and you just have to read what he said on September 22 to the many Italian professionals working in Silicon Valley: “I’m not asking you to come home; continue with your work to change the world.”
It’s a revolutionary statement, at least in Italy, where politicians at every level have clamored for years to complain about young talent leaving Italy’s shores. They periodically try, without success, to pass bipartisan laws and regulations that would encourage stray talent to return to the fold. It’s a futile and anachronistic strategy for two simple reasons.
First of all, it’s well established that brain drain isn’t an absolute evil. It can often actually be an advantage. Partly because migrants send what Peggy Levitt called “social remittance” back to their home country: habits, traditions, experiences and best practices from the host country.
This doesn’t just happen when an emigrant returns to the homeland but also more simply, says Levitt, through “the exchange of emails or telephone calls” with friends and relatives, to whom they transmit the positive and negative ‘germs’ of the migration experience.
The second reason is that the real problem is not that talented professionals are leaving but that others are not arriving. This isn’t an insignificant detail, especially if one takes into account that the process of globalization is not just about goods but about people–and therefore about “brains.” Adapting to this dynamic means we must become more competitive and attractive.
Rather than ‘”retaining” the key word is “attracting.” Governments and multinationals across the world have understood this for some time. The fact is that while we scratched our heads because young talent was jumping ship, others were sharpening their tools to attract the best grey matter available. They used sweeteners such as facilitated residence permits, tax breaks and even, in some private sectors, the option of unlimited leave.
It’s as if our main competitors were competing for the World Cup, while we were playing at the school tournament. But today it looks like this situation could be changing. We can only hope that this is the start of a new chapter in immigration policy.
Giuseppe Terranova is deputy editor of the online newspaper West. He has a PhD in politics and comparative law of the euro-Mediterranean region, from Università Kore in Enna, Italy. As an expert on immigration policies, he is a member of the European Centre for International Affairs in Brussels and assistant professor at the department for sustainable development (working with Prof. A Giordano) at Luiss University of Rome. Read other articles by Giuseppe.