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Prato, and Italy, stuck in low skilled migration trap

Posted on 06 November 2013


The city of Prato is stuck in a low skilled migration trap symptomatic of a problem experienced across southern Europe.

“People came because there were opportunities for low skilled work, but they don’t add much value,” says Dr Marco Sanfilippo, Research Fellow at the Global Governance Programme. “Countries like Italy remain stuck in the trap of low skilled migration. Italy does not attract massive investment from China, and does not invest in China. One of the reasons in my opinion is that people who can act as a bridge are very important to increase economic interaction with China.”

This new generation of highly skilled migrants and students act as a focal point for investment and new technologies forging links between their host country and potential investment from China by virtue of their expertise, language skills and two way local knowledge.

“Of course if you are a resource rich country you will attract a lot of capital from China,” adds Sanfilippo, “but Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece are not. The policy adopted by France, Germany, UK [promoting high skilled migration and student migration] allows them to take stock of this human capital. Prato tells a story that is not evolving compared to other European countries.”

Prato has long attracted special interest from migration academics. Despite its relative size, Prato has the second largest Chinese population in Italy, after Milan. When the first wave of mass migration arrived in Prato in the early 90s the region was in a period of decline, but has since shown economic improvement. However there remain tensions between the Italian and the Chinese populations, and the region remains heavily focused on industry and susceptible to global supply chains.  

“You can say made in China had a detrimental impact on the industrial district in Prato,” says Dr Agnieszka Weiner Coordinator of the CARIM East project project within the Migration Policy Centre “but at the same time it gave an impetus for change. Prato moved up the value chain, and the change can be read as a strategic reaction to the Chinese competition.”

“This has big social implications, because you have to two big communities but they don’t really integrate because one sees the other as a challenge.”

“There are two Chinas in a way. The Chinese arrival in Prato helped the district to survive.” Summarises Sanfilippo, “The Chinese in China, and the results of globalization were the real reason for the decline in Prato.”

“In Europe you have a two track system, low skilled and high skilled migration that brings with it capital and investment that is very useful in a financial crisis.”

Dr Marco Sanfilippo and Dr Agnieszka Weiner were discussing the 6th Annual Prato Conference on Chinese Migration arranged in collaboration with the Migration Policy Centre at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, Monash University, University of Florence, and Business School of Wenzhou University.

They are planning a screening of the documentary “Made in Prato” on the EUI campus later in the year.  

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