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Current Developments

Marcus Engler

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Immigration policy

Since a conservative government under Jean-Pierre Raffarin (UMP) took over in 2002, a trend towards a more restrictive immigration policy has become apparent. In the following a few important aspects of this development will be illustrated.

On June 30, 2006 the French Senate adopted a new Immigration Law (loi relative à l‘immigration et à l’intégration) which substantially reformed immigration and integration policy. The aim is a more purposeful, demand-oriented regulation of immigration. Accordingly, the law became known under the term “selective migration” (immigration choisie). It contains tougher criteria for family reunification, a newly created residence status for especially qualified workers (carte compétences et talents), as well as a required “Reception and Integration Contract” (contrat d‘accueil et d’intégration - CAI) for third country nationals who would like to stay in France long-term. The integration contract requires the participation in civil society trainings and language classes. As mentioned before, the automatic legalization of immigrants who lived without a residence permit in France for at least ten years was repealed. The law has been severely criticized by human rights organizations and parties on the left. They have described the concept of immigration choisie as immigration jetable (“disposable immigration”), since in their opinion only economic benefits – and not the people themselves – take priority. Several opposition parties brought a legal action protesting against the law; however, the constitutional court (Conseil Constitutionnel) dismissed the action on July 20, 2006.

In 2007 there followed the Law on the Control of Migration, Integration and Asylum (loi relative à la maîtrise de l’immigration, à l’intégration et à l’asile), with the aim of fighting irregular immigration, limiting immigration opportunities (especially in the context of family reunification), and strengthening immigration of (highly qualified) workers.

The Law requires proof of adequate financial means to support immigrating family members, measured according to the size of the family. Additionally, families are required to sign an integration contract for families (Contrat d’accueil et d’intégration pour la famille), wherein parents declare that they will foster their children’s integration into French society. As a result of these more restrictive policies, a decrease in family reunification between 2006 and 2008 can be observed. In 2010 a total of 82,235 residence permits were given to immigrating family members from third countries.

The Law on Immigration, Integration and Nationality (loi relative à l’immigration, à l’intégration et à la nationalité, published June 16, 2011) mainly serves to implement three European Directives which regulated the immigration of highly qualified workers, the sanctioning of employers of irregular migrants, as well as the deportation of sans-papiers. The Law continues in the same course as the 2006 policy of immigration choisie. It introduces the European “Blue Card”, which is supposed to ease the access of highly qualified third country nationals to the employment market.

Integration policy

Since the mid 1980s, there has been debate about the integration of immigrants, in particular as regards those from the Maghreb states, as well as about the limits of the republican integration model. Time and again, for example in the fall of 2005 and 2007 as well as in summer 2010, there has been violent conflict involving predominantly young people with an immigrant background. At the same time, since the 1980s the extreme right – especially the Front National (FN) - has been enjoying increasing success on the political stage. These two symptoms of crisis are, however, only the most visible phenomena. In addition, the tension between the secular republican values (laïcité) of the republic and the right to the free practice of religion, in particular among the growing Muslim community, has intensified since the 1990s and has become a central issue (see “Dealings with Islam”).

Against this background, the law of equal opportunities (loi pour l‘égalité des chances) of the 31st March 2006 represents an important development in the area of integration policy. Although it had been planned for some time, it was presented by the government as a response to the unrest in the suburbs in autumn 2005. It contains a large number of measures to prevent discrimination and is therefore intended to improve the chances of integration for young people with an immigrant background, especially on the labor market. Central measures include programs to promote education and to open up the labor market for young people from disadvantaged social backgrounds, particularly in the suburbs where families with an immigrant background are concentrated. The legal measures provide further for the establishment of an office for social cohesion and equality of opportunity (Agence nationale pour la cohésion sociale et l‘égalité des chances, Acsé). In addition, the law in its original form contained the much disputed “first job contract“ (contrat première embauche, CPE). However, this was withdrawn after weeks of protest.

Since January 1, 2007, all newly immigrating third country nationals must sign an integration contract (Contrat d’accueil et d’intégration), with which they pledge to obey the laws and values of the French Republic and to learn the French language. To this aim, the State makes language and orientation classes available. If immigrants do not fulfill their integration obligations, their residence permits might not be extended.

The implementation of French integration policy is the responsibility of the Office français de l’immigration et de l’intégration (OFII), which was created in 2009.

Roma Controversy

The close connection between migration and the discourse on France’s national security could be witnessed in 2010. The eviction and destruction of illegal Roma settlements and the deportation of hundreds of Roma to their countries of origin, especially to Romania and Bulgaria, gained international attention. After violent conflicts between police officers and Roma youths in Grenoble and Saint-Aignan in July 2010, the Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux introduced a package of measures against Roma who were living illegally in France. Their settlements were referred to by Nicolas Sarkozy as “hotbeds of criminality”. The following mass deportations of Roma residents raised vigorous international critique. The UN-Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination demanded that the deportations stop immediately, claiming that collective deportations violate human rights. Also the EU-Commission reacted and accused France of violating the EU-Treaty’s right to freedom of movement of EU-citizens within the European Union. France defended the deportations with an EU-Directive of 2004 (2004/38/CE), which says that EU-citizens and their families only have the right to stay in another EU Member State for longer than three months if they have a job and enough financial means to sustain their existence, as well as proof of adequate health insurance protection. Most Roma who live in France do not fulfill these requirements. At the same time, the Minister of Immigration Eric Besson emphasized that these were voluntary departures, since the state granted these people a departure payment of 300 euros per adult and 100 euros per child. People who took these departure payments were, however, forbidden to return to France. EU Minister of Justice Viviane Reding threatened to sue France for the violation of the Charta for Basic Rights of the EU. France then gave in and declared that they would fully implement EU rights.

Dealings with Islam

France is the home of the EU’s largest Islamic community, consisting of about five million Muslims. For some years, and increasingly since the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001, the French government has tried to encourage a moderate Islam compatible with the French constitution. In 2003, the first French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, CFCM) was elected. This is intended to provide united representation before the government of all Muslims living in France and also to be responsible for the training of imams (Muslim religious leaders). At the same time there has been a stronger attempt to defend the secular values of the republic as laid down by law in 1905. To this end a law was passed forbidding religious symbols in schools, which came into force on the 2nd September 2004 at the start of the new school year. The law was preceded by a long discussion about secularity, in other words about the form of division between the state and the church/religion. According to the law “conspicuous” signs of religious expression are banned in schools, including the wearing of the headscarf by Muslim schoolgirls that had triggered the discussions. For the most part, however, the introduction of the new regulation went through virtually without conflict. Another law has been introduced to combat religious fundamentalism. It regulates the treatment of persons “inciting violence against any individual,” and allows in such cases for the possibility of deportation. Headlines and fierce debate ensued when a law came into effect in April 2011, under which wearing a full body veil in public would be cause for punishment. This is assessed as a symbol of the subjugation of women and of fundamentalist Islam. Estimates indicate that about 2,000 Muslim women living in France wear such a full body veil and would thereby be subject to this law. Opponents of the law see this as a violation of the freedom of religion and opinion.

Since September 2011 Muslims are no longer allowed to pray in public. This law affects especially those Muslims who have to lay their prayer rug on the sidewalk, because there are not enough prayer rooms in French cities. President Sarkozy is being accused of using this law to secure right wing votes for the presidential election in the spring of 2012.



  1. Jean-Pierre Raffarin was replaced as Prime Minister in 2005 by Dominique de Villepin. Under Nicolas Sarkozy, who succeeded Jacques Chirac in 2007 as President of the French Republic, François Fillon (UMP) became Prime Minister.

  2. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung’ 4/06.

  3. Secrétariat général du Comité interministériel de contrôle de l’Immigration (2011).

  4. In this model, integration of immigrants takes place as part of a total social integration strategy committed to the model of cultural homogeneity. It is predicated on a political concept of the nation in which all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law regardless of their different ethnic identities.

  5. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung‘ 10/05.

  6. The contrat première embauche (CPE) (“first job contract”) would have been applicable to employees below the age of 26 in companies with more than 20 employees. During the first two years of employment the employee could have been dismissed without reason and without warning.

  7. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung‘ 7/10 as well as the country Profile France in Fischer Weltalmanach 2012.

  8. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung‘ 4/03.

  9. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung’ 1/04.

  10. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung’ 5–7/04.

  11. See newsletter ‘Migration und Bevölkerung’ 08/11 and 6/09

  12. Spiegel Online: Wahlkampf in Frankreich. Sarkozy verbietet Straßengebete, 9-16-2011.

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