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The pandemic helped reverse the brain drain in Italy. But can it last?



When the engineer Elena Parisi Leaving Italy at 22 to pursue career In London five years ago, she joined the huge Italian talent ranks and got rid of the weak job market And there is a lack of opportunities at home to find a job abroad.

But in the past year, due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing employees around the world to work from home, Ms. Passiri, like many of her countrymen, seized the opportunity to truly return to Italy.

Between the Zoom meeting and her other work at a recycling company in London, she strolled on the beach near her family’s home in Palermo, Sicily, and discussed recipes with vendors in the local market at dawn.

“The quality of life is a thousand times higher than here,” said the Parisian lady who is now in Rome.

Like many things, the virus has destroyed Familiar phenomenon-this time is a long-term brain drain from Italy. How many changes and how long these changes will last have caused controversy in the country. But it is obviously different.

According to data from the European Commission, Italy, Romania and Poland are among the European countries that send the most workers abroad. Moreover, the proportion of Italians living abroad with a university degree is higher than the proportion of the Italian population.

Confindustria, Italy’s largest chamber of commerce, said that considering the country’s expenditure on education, Italy’s brain drain costs the country 14 billion euros (about 17 billion US dollars) every year.

Italian parliamentarians have long tried to attract talented workers through tax cuts, but the severe job market, high unemployment, baroque bureaucracy and narrow promotion channels continue to attract many Italian graduates to go abroad.

Then, the virus seems to have played a role that has not been possible with years of incentives.

According to data from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the past year, the number of Italians aged 18 to 34 returning home has increased by 20% compared to the previous year.

The Italian government welcomes the return of some of the country’s best and brightest people to Italy as a glimmer of hope for the brutal pandemic in Italy, calling this transition a “huge opportunity”. There is also an economic benefit, because Italians who stay in the country for more than six months must pay taxes in the country.

Italy’s Minister of Technology and Innovation, Paola Pisano, said at a meeting in October that Italy has the opportunity to benefit from the skills and innovation brought back by returning Italians.

She also said that Italy needs to do everything it can to keep them there. She said that on the one hand, the country needs “a strong, decentralized, strong and secure Internet connection” so that those who have moved abroad can “return to their country and continue to work for the company they work for.”

A group of Italians formed an association called Southworking to promote remote work far away from the underdeveloped South of Italy, hoping that returning professionals would dedicate their spare time and money to improving their hometown.

“Their ideas, their voluntary service, their creativity stays in the land where they live,” said Elena Militello, president of the association, who returned to Sicily from Luxembourg.

To promote remote work, the association is establishing a network of cities equipped with fast internet connections, nearby airports or train stations, and at least one co-working space or library with good Wi-Fi.

To draw the map, the association was helped by Carmelo Ignaccolo, a doctoral student in urban studies at MIT, who returned to Sicily after being infected with the coronavirus.

In recent months, Mr. Ignaccolo has supervised Mediterranean exams against the backdrop of the Zoom screen, taught near his great-grandfather’s olive press, and escaped the heat by studying in the nearby Greek necropolis.

He said: “I support the American professional life 100%, but I live a very Mediterranean lifestyle.”

It is not only southern Italy that benefits from reverse traffic.

Roberto Franzan, 26, is a programmer who built a successful startup in London and then worked at Google. He returned to his home in Rome in March.

He said: “You go to a bar and you can have a conversation with almost anyone.” “This is great for me.” He said that many interesting startups and technology companies are emerging in Italy, and he can imagine investing in that country .

He said: “This moment makes us aware all the time that returning to our roots may be a good thing.”

Italian business leaders have urged the government not to waste opportunities.

“Coronavirus, the brain drain side,” former deputy labor minister Michel Martone wrote in the Rome newspaper Is Messaggero. He urged lawmakers to try to preserve the “extraordinary army of young people returning home in an emergency”.

But some experts say there are not many advantages to consolidate.

Although many Italians may have moved back to the Tuscan countryside or the Sicilian coast, their ideas still benefit American, British, Dutch and other foreign companies.

Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said: “Zoom cannot solve Italy’s problems.” He focuses on labor and urban economics, and he himself is part of the brain drain in Italy.

The London economist Brunello Rosa, another member of the diaspora, said that returning Italians “operate for foreign entities-they create value abroad and make money abroad”. He added: “The salary they spend in Italy has not really changed.”

He said that the more likely result is that once European countries lift the blockade, the virus will cause economic collapse and massive unemployment, which will set off another wave of immigration.

He and others said that to truly solve this problem, Italy needs to carry out profound structural and cultural reforms to simplify the bureaucracy and increase transparency, rather than relying on “people who go home because of poor food abroad and bad weather”. .

MIT doctoral candidate Mr. Ignacolo plans to return to the United States to continue his academic career, and the new company of programmer Mr. Franzan will be established in Delaware.

The drawbacks of working in Italy also worries Ms. Passi. She is worried that she thinks her professional development will be hindered because she thinks the range of young people in the Italian business world is narrow. She admits that the lack of sunshine in London is frustrating and that British food is bad for her skin, but she said other things are also important to life.

She said: “I am young, I am a woman, and I hold a very senior position.” She explained that she will return to work in London when her office is reopened.

“This is a rare opportunity. I can either keep my job or live in Italy,” she said of the time spent working in Italy. “But I always knew it would be temporary.”


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