Proposal for new law on immigration adopted

In May 2006, the French parliament adopted the proposal for a new bill concerning immigration and integration. The proposed legislation aims to enforce a policy focused on ‘selective immigration’ and on stricter controls of immigration procedures. Issued in the run-up to the 2007 presidential election campaign, and as various employee and employer organisations are negotiating an agreement aimed at combating ethnic and cultural discrimination, the legislative proposal has come under severe criticism.

Background

The law on immigration, passed on 26 November 2003, was seen as the first step towards a comprehensive reform of France’s immigration policy. On 29 March 2006, the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, presented a new proposal for legislation on immigration and integration, which constitutes the second phase of this reform process. Considering that very few residence permits are delivered for professional reasons, Minister Sarkozy has stated that: ‘France is the only developed country which denies itself the right to select the migrants who are essential for its growth and prosperity’.

On 17 May 2006, the proposal for a new law relative to immigration and integration (projet de loi sur le Code d’entrée et de séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, CESEDA) was adopted by the majority in parliament.

Main provisions of bill

The new bill contains two main sets of provisions. The first set of provisions is aimed at promoting ‘selective immigration’, namely, through:

  • the creation of a new category of residence permit, called ‘skills and talents’, which is to last three years. This permit will be delivered to immigrants whose ‘personalities, abilities and projects’ may strongly contribute to the country’s development and international status;
  • greater flexibility in granting residence permits to prospective workers whose skills match job categories and geographical areas characterised by recruitment difficulties. In addition, overseas students will now have to validate their study project in their country of origin (in order to avoid any projects that conflict with the interests of their country of origin), prior to their departure.

The second set of provisions aims to further channel this policy of selective immigration:

  • immigrants who have settled in France will need to have lived in the country for 18 months (as opposed to one year as is currently stipulated) and to prove that they have enough resources to raise their family, in order for their immediate relatives to benefit from immigration rights;
  • the automatic right to a long-term residence permit after a person has lived in France for 10 years is to be abolished;
  • a residence permit will be granted to the spouse of a French national only after three years of marriage (instead of two years as currently specified), provided that the spouse proves that they have integrated into French society and that they have sufficient knowledge of the French language. French nationality will be given to the spouse of a French national after four years of residence (instead of two years as currently stipulated) and they will have to provide proof of their legal entry to French territory with a long-term visa.

Moreover, the relevant authorities will have the right to issue an ‘obligation to leave French territory’ as an accompaniment to any decision involving refusal or retrieval of a residence permit. The maximum deadline for any appeal to an administrative tribunal concerning the suspension of such a decision will then be limited to two weeks (instead of one month).

While the aim of establishing immigration quotas is not explicit in the legislation, this is, nevertheless, referred to. A report on current immigration policy orientation will also be submitted every year to the parliament.

Reactions to proposed legislation

The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT) views the measures outlined in the new bill as repressive. The union claims that the legislation will undermine a series of fundamental rights, and that it will promote a work-based immigration system, in which immigrants would be ‘selected’ according to the country’s needs.

According to the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the bill is clearly utilitarian in nature and aims to ‘ransack skills and talent’ throughout the world. For the CGT, one of the most unacceptable aspects of the bill is the abolishment of the automatic right to a long-term residence permit after living in France for a period of 10 years.

The General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT–FO) argues that the new legislation will impose stricter conditions of residence and that it treats migrant workers in a mercenary fashion. It described the bill as a ‘double punishment’ for migrant workers, who could be sent back to their country of origin as soon as their contract of employment terminates.

The Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) – which, since February, has been involved in negotiations with the major trade unions regarding the issue of diversity and in particular discrimination – has not yet commented on this matter.

Mouna Viprey, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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