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Nationality, visas, asylum: Why immigration rose in France in 2021

The pandemic had a major effect on migration in 2020, but figures are now rising again

People silhouetted against a pavement in the colours of the French fla

Immigration began to rise in 2021 in France, after numbers plummeted due to the pandemic in 2020 Pic: Robsonphoto / Shutterstock

Immigration increased in France over 2021, rising to almost pre-pandemic levels, figures suggest, in an issue that is considered key to the upcoming presidential election. We explore why numbers are up, with analysis from Le Figaro.

More long-term visas issued

Official figures show that the number of visas issued in 2021 increased by 2.9% year-on-year, to 733,069. Yet, this is still far fewer than the 3.5 million that were issued before the pandemic, as a result of a major drop in international travel.

Short-stay visas dropped, however (10% fewer than in 2020), while long-term visas increased (up 54%).

Visas granted to UK nationals under the ‘Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’ are not included in these statistics due to an “unprecedented influx of applications”, France’s interior ministry stated. 

A total of 96,632 residency permits were granted under the withdrawal agreement procedure in 2021.

Soaring numbers of people getting French nationality

More people got French nationality in 2021 than in any of the previous five years; there were more than 94,000 (a rise of 53%) during the year. 

The interior ministry celebrated this, saying that the rise was partly due to the number of “[former] foreigners on the front line, actively involved in the fight against Covid” and also because of “efficiency gains at all stages of the procedure”.

More than 100,000 integration contracts signed

France signed 109,000 Republican Integration Contracts (contrat d'intégration républicaine or CIR) last year (legal immigration agreements). This measure was up by 1.2% compared to 2019. Immigration and integration office l'Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration (OFII) said: “We are gradually returning to the level of immigration before the health crisis.”

Rising numbers of medical care permit requests

Residence permits for medical care rose in 2021. The number of applicants rose from 26,000 to 27,760 (a rise of 6.6%). OFII has dubbed the scheme "a French exception in the world", which "has enabled tens of thousands of eligible foreigners to receive treatment each year since its creation".

The scheme is in addition to state medical aid given to other immigrants.

Numbers rising after brutal drop in visa application due to the pandemic

Many of the figures in 2021 suggest “rises” in numbers compared to 2020, but are actually still lower than 2019 figures.

For example, requests for visas rose to 982,100 in 2021 compared to 870,800 in 2020. Yet, this is far, far lower than the 4,290,500 requests submitted in 2019. The figures need to be taken in that context.

Asylum seeker requests restarted in 2021

Asylum seeker requests dropped considerably in 2020 due to the pandemic (down to 81,531 in 2020 compared to 138,420 in 2019) but grew to 104,577 in 2021.

A total of 54,094 requests were approved in 2021, compared to 33,201 in 2020. Most asylum seekers in 2021 came from Afghanistan, followed by Côte d’Ivoire, Bangladesh, French Guiana, and Turkey.

Rising family immigration

The reuniting of families in France rose by approximately 18% in 2021, after having already increased by 28% in 2020. 

The rule mainly covers spouses of French nationals and spouses of foreigners who have been living in France for more than eighteen months (for Algerians, one year's residence is enough). Similarly, in 2018, the Collomb law (loi Collomb) extended "family reunification" to include the brothers and sisters of refugees.

More ‘Dubliners’ in France

Named after the Dublin Regulation, 29% of those who sought asylum in France are migrants who technically should have been taken in by another country (but were rejected) such as Germany, Sweden, or Belgium. 

Once these “other” migrants have been in France for 18 months, France must consider their application.

Very simply, the Dublin Regulation gives member states the right to require migrants to be taken in by the first country they enter in the EU (although the regulation is set to be replaced with a new system).

Calais crisis

Figures show that out of 52,000 attempts to cross the Channel in 2021 (from Dunkirk and Calais), 28,000, or a majority, were successful. 

A total of 24,000 people were given accommodation in France. Yet, some migrants refuse the accommodation offered to them by authorities, as they are far from the coast and away from the smugglers' networks as they attempt to cross to the UK.

Fewer expulsions due to Covid

The pandemic put a hold on many expulsions of illegal immigrants last year, with 10,000 in 2021, compared with just under 19,000 in 2019 (these are separate from orders to leave the country to others with different visas). 

The closure of borders and the difficulty of testing illegal immigrants for Covid added to the issue.

But…France still has fewer immigrants than other nations

Every year, around "600,000 to 700,000" illegal immigrants arrive in France, according to Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.  

Yet, in an interview with Le Parisien on November 21, he highlighted: "France has far fewer illegal immigrants than most of the major European countries, such as the UK, which has between 1 million and 1.5 million.”

He added that France would continue working on the issue during its presidency of the EU.

President Emmanuel Macron has previously stated that immigration is an “opportunity” for the country. 

In an interview with the magazine Zadig, he told immigrants, especially those from Africa:  “You are here because of the cruelties of history, through the will of your grandparents, your parents or your own will, and you are an opportunity for our country.”

He added: “France is what we want it to be every day. It is not a fixed identity.”

Related articles

Immigration is an opportunity for France, says President Macron

UK immigration shake-up to prioritise skills and means 

UK's immigration stance worrying, says French MEP 

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

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