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French government unveils new immigration bill

The prime minister and other members of the government called their plan a balancing act between integration and severity.

PARIS (CN) — The French government presented its new immigration bill before the Senate on Tuesday, one week after a declaration at the National Assembly.

The reform, pushed by President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, was prepared by two ministers. Gérald Darmanin, a former member of the liberal-conservative party The Republicans and interior minister since 2020, is known for his hard line on immigration. Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt, on the other hand, is a former member of the Socialist Party.

“Our reform will cover four aspects: firmness, simplification, integration and labor,” Darmanin said on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. The final version of the bill has not been made public yet. Debates and votes in both chambers of parliament will begin in early January 2023.

The main change to the immigration policy currently in place in France is the creation of a new residence permit for undocumented migrants already working in understaffed sectors. Dussopt mentioned hospitality and construction as industries needing manpower.

According to Dussopt, this new permit would help combat unscrupulous employers who would “force undocumented migrants to work for several weeks without rest or to be housed in undignified conditions.” An economic interest also lies at the heart of this provision. “More than a left-wing measure, the issuance of these residence permits for understaffed sectors was requested by the MEDEF [France’s largest employer federation],” said Matthieu Tardis, research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations and head of the institute’s Center for Migration and Citizenship.

Migrants’ rights advocates welcomed the possible regularization of more immigrant workers. However, they criticized the temporary nature of the measure. “Granting a foreigner a residence permit and a few years later deporting them because their job is no longer deemed in high demand is shameful,” Marie-Christine Vergiat, vice president of the French Human Rights League, said. Guy Benarroche, an ecologist senator, denounced “a utilitarian vision of the foreign worker that is particularly problematic,” while Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, reacted to last week’s declaration at the National Assembly by saying she was against any regularization of undocumented workers.

The government also wishes to foster the integration of foreigners in the country through the knowledge of the French language. If the bill is adopted, immigrants would have to pass a language test to be granted a residence permit or renewal. This would concern 270,000 foreigners each year. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 25% of foreigners who are legally staying in France have a poor level of written and spoken French.

Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, Renaissance, does not hold an absolute majority in either chamber of parliament. For the bill to be voted on next year, the government will have to convince députés and sénateurs from other parties to side with them. “The government will likely try to reach an alliance with The Republicans,” Tardis said. 

In line with this desire to attract right-wing votes, the future bill will provide for an expedited procedure for the deportation of foreigners who committed criminal offenses in France. During her speech today, Prime Minister Borne reminded senators that “more than 3,000 foreigners were subject to deportation measures in 2021 and 2022.” But “too many rules in French law prevent the deportation of a criminal on our soil,” Darmanin told Parliament’s lower house this past week. 

The proposition did not seem to be enough consideration for Republican senators. “It is clear that five years after Emmanuel Macron was elected, his successive governments have not managed to improve the immigration policy,” Senator François-Noël Buffet said. He announced that the Republican-led Senate will propose an amendment to the bill to add a “citizenship test” as an additional requirement for the granting of a pluriannual residence permit. The task will not be simple for the government, and concessions will have to be made.

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