The French Senate has made modifications to an immigration bill toughening rules for immigrants in areas such as healthcare and citizenship as well as one helping British second-home owners spend more time in France.
The wide-ranging bill on immigration matters, lodged by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin at the start of the year, is very likely to be voted through by the Senate next week.
However, the senators have proposed 676 amendments to the bill, which it is debating until November 14.
Some have now been adopted and added to their version of the text, others rejected. Over 200 proposed amendments remain for the senators to debate.
Many amendments were proposed by right-wing senators who want to restrict immigration, access to citizenship and the burden of immigrant families on the social security system.
If the bill is accepted, it will then be debated by MPs in the Assemblée nationale from December 15.
However, the French Assemblée nationale is significantly more left-leaning than the Senate, and many of the amendments are likely to meet with fierce opposition.
Here are some key elements which have been accepted, changed - or rejected in the bill so far.
Automatic long-stay visas for British second home owners - ACCEPTED
Senator Berthet’s successful amendment was widely supported by senators from Les Républicains. One socialist senator spoke against it.
This has now been added to the bill as a new article, which reads:
“The long-stay visa is awarded automatically to British citizens who own a second home in France. They are therefore exempt from having to apply for a long-stay visa". The text adds that the precise details will be worked out in a decree by the Conseil d'Etat.
Mrs Berthet put forward the idea, “in light of the unique ties that bind our two countries and the significance of this public to the French economy”.
Streamlined visas for job sectors ‘that face recruitment difficulties’ - REJECTED
Right-wing senators rejected this much-talked about article, with Les Républicains senator Bruno Retailleau (Vendée) calling it a “red line” that amounted to giving immigrants an “automatic right” to regularisation.
Mr Darmanin said that the removal of this article from the bill was acceptable to the government.
As an alternative, senators proposed that prefects issue visas for occupations that face recruitment difficulties “on a case-by-case basis” and only “as exceptions”.
Automatic citizenship for children born in France with foreign parents - MODIFIED
According to the droit du sol or ‘territorial principle’, anyone born in France has an automatic right to citizenship, even if their parents are not French.
Parents of younger children can claim French nationality for them at certain ages, as long as they meet the condition of having lived in France for a certain number of years when the request is made.
Otherwise, French nationality is automatic for young people reaching 18 and living in France, if they have been resident at least five years when they apply. They are asked to request a certificate proving their nationality to use for official purposes.
However, senators voted to modify this long-held staple of French republican values by removing the ‘automatic’ nature of this right and saying that children of foreign parents must apply for citizenship between the ages of 16 and 18 stating their desire to become French.
They also added the stipulation that applicants must not have spent more than six months in prison.
The modification of the droit du sol, which was first introduced in 1804, would be a “huge regression,” according to sociologist Patrick Weil.
“How can we forget that it was the [Nazi collaborationist] Vichy government that first proposed the restriction of the droit du sol?” asked Communist senator Pascal Savoldelli (Val-de-Marne).
It is likely to meet with fierce opposition from MPs when the bill is presented to the Assemblée nationale.
Free medical care for immigrants - MODIFIED
Senators voted to reduce the scope of France’s free state medical care for undocumented immigrants, the Aide Médicale d’Etat (AME).
At present, people resident in France who do not have a French social security number can apply for the AME, which is valid for one year.
The amendment proposes reforming the AME into a system of ‘urgent medical care’.
The proposal met immediate criticism from Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau, who called it a “profound error.”
The Assemblée nationale is likely to oppose this amendment.
Expulsion of ‘dangerous’ resident foreigners - ACCEPTED
French residents who are foreign nationals and commit “criminal acts” may be sent back to their countries of origin.
“People who at present would be held in detention centres either due to criminal acts or due to their radicalisation, will be sent back,” said Mr Damanin.
Family reunification - MODIFIED
Senators voted an amendment to restrict the ability of residents to bring their families to live with them from their countries of origin.
Under this amendment, residents will have to wait for 24 months before applying for family reunification (increased from 18 months at present), have social security cover, prove that they can speak French and that they have “sufficient and regular income” to support their incoming family.
Their family members will also have to prove that they speak a minimum level of French (level A1).
“If all of these measures are adopted, I don’t see why we need to continue the debate since there will hardly be anyone left coming who would be affected by them,” said Communist senator Cécile Cukierman.
Will MPs support the immigration bill when it reaches the Assemblée nationale?
The difficult legislative journey of the immigration bill, which has been postponed several times, is likely far from over.
Many of the amendments to Mr Darmanin’s immigration bill were proposed by senators from Les Républicans, who are the largest group in the Senate, with 133 senators out of 348.
However, President Macron’s Renaissance party is the largest group in Assemblée nationale, with 170 MPs out of 577. Les Républicans only have 88 MPs.
Several of the amendments, such as the droit du sol and access to the AME, represent major sticking points for long-held republican values that are unlikely to find much support in the contentious arena of the Assemblée nationale.
Having said this, Mr Macron’s Renaissance party, together with its allies from smaller parties, have only a total of 251 MPs, compared to 326 from opposition parties.
As the government does not have an overall majority, it will need to draw on support from Les Républicans for the bill to pass into law.