France is producing more talent but struggling to recruit

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Published on 2023-11-27 at 13:00 by Asaël Häzaq
France is perceived as a land of paradoxes. On the one hand, uncertainty and division are prevalent, yet the country also demonstrates significant acts of unity. While it welcomes international talent with open arms, it grapples with internal conflicts regarding immigration reforms. The latest Insead report highlights another paradox: France is acknowledged for its innovations but faces challenges in attracting foreign talent. 

France's strengths in attracting foreign talent

Positive outcomes are evident, but ongoing efforts are needed, according to a study by Insead, released on November 7. In its 10th edition of the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, the European Institute of Business Administration assesses and ranks countries based on their appeal to foreign talent. Switzerland tops the list as the most attractive country in the Index. Singapore and the USA take second and third place, respectively, out of 134 countries surveyed. Switzerland and Singapore retain their spots from 2022. The United States climbed one spot to the third spot, Denmark's position in 2022. Meanwhile, Denmark drops to the 4th place this year, and France is at the 19th spot.

Bruno Lanvin, who leads the Index, highlights that France, previously hovering between the 20th and 25th spots (still a respectable ranking given the extensive survey), breached the coveted top 20 in 2021. Remarkably, for the third consecutive year, France retains the 19th spot. Among its strengths are the notable advancements in innovation and apprenticeships, especially since the establishment of the "French Tech" in 2013. French Tech is a public administration dedicated to supporting French start-ups and promoting French Tech internationally.

French innovation and the industrial sector, a key focus of substantial government investment, are thriving. Launched in September 2020, the €100 billion "France Relance" strategy aims to modernize the economy, bring about transformative changes, and attract talent by 2030.

The welcoming of foreigners needs to be improved

However, the results need to catch up to expectations. French benefits are drawing in less foreign talent than anticipated. According to Bruno Lanvin, the country needs to be mindful of international perception. Like the stock market, where a single statement can influence prices, perceptions carry significant weight, even if they don't capture the complete picture. Even the French people feel that "France is a country of strikes and demonstrations."

Granted, social movements in France tend to be more frequent than in other nations and occasionally involve incidents of violence. When viewed from abroad, these outbursts during demonstrations are alarming. The image of disrupted transportation, paralyzed businesses, and employees unable to reach their workplaces is quite unsettling. The perception of France's supposedly hefty tax burden adds to the apprehension. Despite some available support, such as assistance for foreign entrepreneurs, the perception of France's intricate bureaucracy persists.

However, the area where France has the most ground to cover is in terms of embracing immigration. In 2021, the French Economic, Social, and Environmental Council's report had already pointed out the state's lack of openness, emphasizing its crucial role in fostering growth. This issue persists in 2023 as France revisits its immigration laws once again. The well-known Article 3 of the law, which proposed the introduction of a residence permit for "short-stay occupations" for undocumented workers, sparked strong opposition from the right wing of the political spectrum.  

Need for foreign talent vs. tougher immigration bill

The tone of the debates has taken a rightward turn, focussing primarily on illegal immigration and seemingly conflating "immigration" with "irregularity." On Tuesday, November 14, the Senate approved a more stringent version of the law. The removed Article 3 will be substituted with a new, more restrictive provision. This has caused dismay on the left and created tensions within the majority, as this version of the text deviates from the original proposals. The Senate is being accused by associations and NGOs of adopting key measures reminiscent of the far-right Rassemblement National party. However, the text has yet to be examined by the National Assembly.

Opponents of this revised law are hoping for increased awareness among French citizens. The very title "Projet de loi pour contrôler l'immigration et améliorer l'intégration" (Bill to control immigration and improve integration) reflects the ambivalence of the French initiative. It stands in stark contrast to Canada's declared openness.

Nevertheless, there are initiatives, such as the Talent Passport, aimed at attracting foreigners. However, these measures lack promotion from politicians, especially the most influential ones, whose rhetoric primarily centers around tightening immigration regulations. Such speeches can be misinterpreted by foreigners considering a move to France.

A Swiss paradox?

How about Switzerland? Is the top-ranking champion also facing a paradox? In April, a survey conducted by the Tamedia agency for the 20 Minutes newspaper revealed that 61% of respondents (a panel of 50,740 people from all over Switzerland surveyed in Oct-Nov 2022) expressed a desire "for stronger limitations on immigration." Surprisingly, 51% of foreigners share this opinion. Once again, it appears that the debates are combining all forms of immigration into one and focusing on a "certain image" of immigration. In Switzerland, there is greater support for restricting the right to asylum.

But unlike France, Switzerland stands out as one of the most sought-after destinations for expatriates. In France, experts recommend a fundamental change in discourse and approach for the country to attract and retain more foreign talent.