July 11, 2006
French Immigration Policy: Proactive vs. Endured
Editor's Intro: While the subject matter of our commentator, Shaheen, may seem far afield from our Middle East-North Africa concerns, in fact the problems of French immigration laws, French labour laws and the like are really 'domestic' to North Africa. French models are slavishly copied by the North African states, and the environment in France especially has large echoes back in the Maghreb where hundreds of thousands of French residents return like lemmings every year. Both directly then, and indirectly, this has a large social, political and legal echo in the Maghreb, and especially in connexion with the lack of economic opportunity and cancerous growth of ghettos - in France, in Europe and yes, in the Maghreb itself. Certainly this editor deeply believes that 'social exclusion' tied to ethnicity is a key driver of extremism. Eerie, our benevolent Editor in Chief and myself are grateful to Shaheen for taking the time to comment with an insider's view of the situ. - The Lounsbury
Unlike the United Kingdom which aligned its immigration policies with Canada's and Australia's a few months ago, this law doesn't make France a more attractive destination to skilled migrants despite its stated goal. It also further restricts the limited legal options for unskilled ones (essentially marriage and asylum) even though they will continue to move to Europe anyway, without legal status. I will focus on skilled immigrants here, since the issues surrounding unskilled and illegal migrants would require at least one entry, if not more.
Basically, the law assigns a new status to skilled migrants. In fact, this is just bureaucratic acknowledgement of an already existing situation. After a long and difficult process, skilled migrants who are lucky enough to find an employer willing to pay and go through the byzantine maze of French administration, receive a renewable status allowing them to work. Three years after having obtained this precious authorization, they can apply for the equivalent of a US green card. This "resident" status enables access to about two-thirds of French job types and grants many rights other foreigners don't have. However, it does not grant a quasi-automatic right to citizenship like North American or Australian permanent residency, though if they're assimilated enough and aren't unemployed, they stand a good chance of obtaining it. It also doesn't grant quasi-citizen status, as skilled non-nationals are deprived of far more than national security jobs and electoral rights.
Still, the law doesn't sound so terrible on paper. Let's take it from a skilled migrant point of view though. Most migrants in France come from North Africa, or to a lesser extent, the francophone parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. For any other group, France naturally loses its cultural competitive advantage in attracting skilled immigrants, so they're statistically a small minority. The first obstacle is finding a job in a country where the mere presence of Arab-sounding name on a resume drops the chances of getting an interview by 80% (five times less). Once that is accomplished, the employer must be convinced to endure months of bureaucratic procedure to obtain work authorization. Since most of the skilled migrants capable of finding such an employer are already in France, they have to effectively sustain themselves while jobless, without legal right to do anything besides wait. Now, suppose the government approves a given application to work. Regardless of whether the employer is Airbus (or any other technological jewel) or a start-up that contributes to French economy, the migrant will still be referred to as "Arab scum" on a regular basis by colleagues and of course be treated accordingly. The rights of these workers are severely limited. They can't, for example, try new activities because they don't have permission until resident status is granted. They can't purchase or start a small business or opt for a career in a different sector. Prior to obtaining resident status, workers have to maintain the necessary paperwork on a regular basis to guarantee their stay, with the long-term goal of finally obtaining French citizenship. Before this happens, bringing a spouse or other dependents is virtually impossible. Even after citizenship is granted, options for sponsoring other family members are extremely limited.
Now, unless being in France is the ultimate goal in itself, why would any skilled migrant choose this country over Australia, Canada or the UK? As usual, opposition to this law came from the Left and (mainly Sub-Saharan) African associations. Like any opposition in France, the Left opposes for the sake of opposing. It offers slogans ("no to a disposable immigration" - immigration jetable) without presenting realistic alternatives or criticizing the content of the law. Ironically, the Left has never done anything to improve the state of French immigration. In fact, it has added significantly to current bureacratic process each time it has been in power. Meanwhile, African associations emphasize France's indifference to immigrant contributions and its historical responsibilities. There has been no discussion of the economic cost/benefit of immigration, even though France is clearly in need of skilled workers.
If France is serious about encouraging skilled migration, it should start by addressing the bureacuratic and social challenges described above. Colonial complexes aren't enough to keep skilled migrants there anymore. At the very least, these policies deter the most dynamic among them. And while France can easily get rid of skilled migrants who are able to choose from a variety of destinations, getting rid of the unskilled is another matter. For those, extralegal residence might be a better option than staying home. Unless France does what is necessary to shape its immigration policy into something workable and incentive-based, rather than pursuing a fantasy of stopping the influx of migrants altogether, it will achieve nothing except to serve as a dumping ground for Africa's mobile poor.
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A couple of points of professional curiosity:
After a long and difficult process, skilled migrants who are lucky enough to find an employer willing to pay and go through the byzantine maze of French administration, receive a renewable status allowing them to work. Three years after having obtained this precious authorization, they can apply for the equivalent of a US green card.
How long does it generally take, start to finish, from commencing the process until reaching a point where you can work for anyone and in any industry you want? (In the U.S. these days, it can take anywhere from 2 - 8 years and up, AFTER documenting that there are no qualified and available U.S. workers for the job.)
Before this happens, bringing a spouse or other dependents is virtually impossible. Even after citizenship is granted, options for sponsoring other family members are extremely limited.
What are the mechanics/timing for this? In the U.S., it's relatively straightforward to bring dependents once a temporary work visa is granted - all you normally have to do is document the qualifying family relationship.
a few observations:
First, the 80% figure is entirely true, and is tied to unemployment. When an employer gets 100+ applications to a job, he/she just sorts away those with funny names. Has been completely the same in Denmark until quite recently when the heating economy has made involuntary unemployment a thing of the past. This also kept down the willingness to get educated among immigrants' children, since there was little chance of getting a job anyway.
Second, the Roman/Catholic countries have traditionally been states of strong centralism, and lots of bureaucracy. Tied with the French love of ideology and its resulting mental rigidity, the French red tape is the hallmark of a nation. Not going to go away anytime soon. I was once stunned to learn one had to show one's passport to pay with a credit card in southern France. Wonder if it's still this way. The Brits' pragmatic approach to most stuff is far more flexible and sensible.
Third, the highly skilled third world people are usually going for the lowest tax rate country, which mostly means USA. UK is a strong contender, though. A more liberal economy favours the skilled, of course. They want to get rich, after all. It also promotes meritocracy, which is healthy in the face of massive immigration. Most immigrants are hard workers, provided they get the chance. The poor have scummy jobs that lead nowhere and pay nothing, but at least they have that.
Posted by: Klaus at July 12, 2006 12:21 AM
One last thing: Bureaucracy is usually made to counter corruption, which in turn becomes necessary to circumvent bureaucracy. That's Italy.
Posted by: Klaus at July 12, 2006 12:23 AM
Thank you for this informative article. The events of the past year in France must closely be followed as I believe they will continue to stir up controversy.
Post 9/11 the US has not been a comforting choice for Arab/Muslim emmigrants and US immigration laws and screening processes have not made it easier either. Therefore, the emmigration shift has been made towards Europe, but with France's new laws, it has only changed the difficulties for skilled immigrants, while the difficulties remain.
I have just recently started to follow the situation in France and French politics (away from my Middle East domain) and it seems to me that if Segolene Royal continues challenging the status quo the way she is, there will be some major shift in French domestic and labor policies. What are your thoughts on her positions and how do you think they would affect skilled immigrants?
Posted by: Chic Politika at July 12, 2006 02:10 AM
How long does it generally take, start to finish, from commencing the process until reaching a point where you can work for anyone and in any industry you want?
It depends on your situation. Details of the application of the new law have not been decided yet AFAIK (it has always changed for the worst so far). So the information given below is the one that is currently applied for what I know.
Usually, you have to be in France as a student first. It takes at least a few months to find a job with an employer willing to put all the money and energy for a status change. You probably have to go through a studies related training that would make an employer willing to take the risk for you and who's certain to have a long term need for you (this is a constraint that's strongly related to the nature of the French labor market, not just to immigration laws). There are no sponsored jobs per se for which you can apply. So you virtually can't do that from outside the country and you can't do it as a tourist, if they ever give you a tourist visa that is. So at the very least, that's one year.
A successful status change takes 6 months in average.
Then three to five years of restricted temporary permit (depends on many parameters I don't remember - but with the new law it'll just be three for any skilled migrant if I understand it correctly). You have to renew this permit every year (though this might change with the new law, I'm not sure, it all depends how they will decide of its practice). The renewal itself is more or less a 6 months procedure.
Then you can apply for the resident status. The change can take 1 year, slightly less if you're lucky, during which you live on police receipts.
So currently, it's 4-5 years at least in theory, but I don't know anyone who made it in so little time. Those delays are for North Africans. Delays are different according to where you come from, and they tend to be longer for Maghrebis. Resident status only becomes a right after 10 years of uninterrupted legal presence on French territory and possession of a working permit. Add to it a few months in procedures at least, and you're up to 11 years. So long as bureaucrats don't decide to drag their feet on that is (they can make you live on police receipts for as long as they feel like).
Many immigrants end up having citizenship before achieving resident status (resident status is not a condition sine qua non for citizenship even though it helps). It takes at least 8 years to get citizenship from the day you set foot in France, between fulfilling requirements and procedure delays (can be reduced to 5 if you're very lucky and are eligible to some exemptions). Naturalization is not a right though, and the outcome of a citizenship application can be quite random.
What are the mechanics/timing for this? [bringing dependents]
I have less information about this since I've known less people who went through it. Take the following with a grain of salt then. If memory serves, it's somewhere around 3 years of procedures for a non national sponsor and 2 years for a French citizen. You can only bring a minor child or a spouse (no parents, siblings, etc.). Non nationals have to fulfill income requirements (out of reach of most unskilled migrants). They receive the visit of social inspectors who verify they have enough space and minimum required living conditions to receive the dependents (again, out of reach of most unskilled migrants). Authorities can block the procedures for many reasons. Once the sponsorship procedures are successfully done, the dependent himself goes through more or less the same temporary restricted permit to resident status process as skilled migrants, although with shorter delays.
I didn't insist on the US as an example because it tends to be harder than Australia, Canada, etc. But my impression is that it's still way easier than France because they follow clear rules. Results of procedures in France are often random, unnecessarily heavy in paperwork and aching to police harassment. There aren't quotas like in the US, laws tend to be interpreted in the most restrictive way, and there are plenty of unwritten rules and practices that immigration police/bureaucrats apply quite arbitrarily. As a result, France has the lowest immigration level per capita in the EU and is not statistically comparable to the USA.
Segolene Royale is a classical socialist old timer, of the kind that's becoming old-fashioned in most of the rest of the developed world. She's had many opportunities to challenge the status quo before, as she's been a minister quite a few times already. Worst, she's an enarque (from the Ecole Nationale Administrative). That's THE bureaucracy engineers factory. You can't be more pro-bureaucracy and pro-status quo than that. Socialists haven't done anything to improve the state of immigration as mentionned in the entry, quite the opposite, despite their lip service in its favor. Not only they added to the weight of immigration procedures, they also cluttered the economy by adding to the French dirigist mentality a socialist strata. The rigidity of French labor market, even in sectors where there's strong demand, has as much to do with the problems immigrants face as immigration laws themselves. And that's even more the case for their descendants who aren't affected by immigration laws, the ones who rioted.
Thanks for the details, Shaheen. On the question of paperwork and how long it takes to get authorization, I knew dozens of Americans who simply worked under the table (they didn't need visas for three months or less), sometimes for years on end, for organizations that needed English speakers in Paris when i lived there. And I'm pretty sure things were easier also for those from other European countries who were attending HEC, for example. So I wonder if there is something of a don't-ask-don't-tell approach to legality when it comes to skilled people who are not black or brown.
Posted by: SP at July 12, 2006 08:01 AM
SP: Yes, if you're the right kind of background the system works smoother and the workarounds to the system work smoother and better than if you're not.
I've added by the way an editor's intro to highlight the importance of what Shaheen has written about, it's timely and very important.
And I agree re Segolene. More Enarque Socialist snobs is not a solution to France's issues.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 12, 2006 10:30 AM
Generalisation Of The Day:
The French are the Americans of Europe: Self-assured, culturally arrogant, center of the world.
Posted by: Klaus at July 14, 2006 04:26 AM
Just in case you want to get a good laugh... this one is MUCH better than the official Segolene websites:
Posted by: jill22 at August 5, 2006 04:40 AM
thanks Klaus, but it's all in French?!!
One of the (wrong) assumptions with a strong hold in France is that everybody in the world should speak French. I guess it's with this type of self-assured arrogance that you can keep your #1 spot for tourism (2005 stats just released are quite good for France).
Good caricature on the first page though - Klaus contact us again when a translation of the remainder is available, I certainly would like to understand some of the legends......... D
Posted by: Derek at August 8, 2006 03:40 PM
uh. eh. Shaheen wrote the article. I'm just a bolshy bungling ignorant comment whanker.
Posted by: Klaus at August 8, 2006 06:44 PM