Le Pen’s immigration referendum pledge: What the latest figures show

The far-right leader said her first act as president would be to hold a referendum on border control, but data shows a sharp drop in immigration from 2019-2020, mainly due to Covid-19

25 March 2021
By Hannah Thompson

Far-right politician Marine Le Pen has said that if she were elected President, her first decision would be to hold a referendum on immigration. It comes as the latest figures show a sharp drop in the number of immigrants coming to France in 2020, primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of immigrants coming to France was increasing slightly.

Official figures show that the percentage of France’s population classed as immigrants was stable at 9.7% in 2017 and 2018 and increased slightly to around 9.9% in 2019.

In an interview with FranceInter, Ms Le Pen - who is leader of the Rassemblement National party - said: “[My] first decision would be to organise a referendum on immigration. For decades now, different governments have been taking decisions on immigration without the public in France ever being heard or asked about the subject.”

She said that her second move would be to “go to the European Commission, to explain to them what I consider to be non-negotiable in terms of national sovereignty, especially control of our borders, because I believe that to be a national sovereignty issue”.

Ms Le Pen then said that she would also impose fiscal reform, to reduce economic pressure on the middle class. She said: “The tax pressure on the middle class today is unbearable.”

Figures from the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (Insee) show that in 2019, there were 6.7 million immigrants living in France. This equates to 9.9% of the total population. Of these, 2.5 million - around 37% - have acquired French nationality.

Sharp drop in immigration from 2019 to 2020

But data published in January 2021 by the Interior Ministry suggest that immigration dropped sharply in 2020 compared to 2019.

France issued 712,311 visas in 2020, versus 3,534,999 in 2019 - a drop of 79.8%. This is largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The total number of “undocumented” immigrants to France is estimated to have dropped by 47.8% in 2020 compared to 2019, largely due to the pandemic.

Figures from the Interior Ministry also show that around 220,535 first titres de séjour were issued in 2020, a drop of 20.5% compared to 2019.

Economic immigration also dropped by 31% in 2020 compared to 2019.

There were 38.2% fewer demands for asylum, official figures show, with 81,669 first demands in 2020.

There were also 33.5% fewer requests for refugee status or extra protection in France, with 24,118 such decisions made in 2020 compared to 36,275 in 2019.

The number of people to have acquired French nationality in 2020 - by decree, and by association such as marriage - dropped 20% in 2020 due to the system being closed during the first lockdown.

In total, 61,371 people acquired French nationality in 2020.

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