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President Macron faces battle over immigration crackdown in France

Right-wing politicians call for tougher measures, including making overstaying a visa a crime, as parliament prepares to debate bill

President Macron is known to need support from the Right as he lacks an overall majority in parliament Pic: Victor Velter / Shutterstock

Immigration will be a key political topic this autumn, and one of the major subjects of the remaining years of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, as debate around a new law on the subject looms.

Right-wing opposition politicians propose reinstating a délit (medium severity crime) for a non-EU person found to be in France illegally.

This could apply to situations such as overstaying a visa, or staying in France more than three months in the case of nationalities who have a visa waiver under the 90/180 rule.

A délit de séjour irrégulier for foreigners was removed from the statute books in 2012, but it is now proposed to bring it back and make it punishable with a €3,750 fine and a three-year ban from France. 

Another proposal would remove the automatic right for children born here to foreign families to obtain French nationality.

Read more: Difference between contravention, délit and crime in France

Macron considering right-wing proposals on immigration

The Les Républicains (LR) proposals would require anyone seeking citizenship to show integration, including speaking French and having knowledge of the nation’s culture and history. 

Currently, this is not applied to people born in France to foreign-nationality parents. 

They would also give France the right to expel foreigners who are given prison sentences.

President Macron is known to need support from the Right as he lacks an overall majority in parliament, although he has not ruled out using the controversial 49.3 rule to force the law through. 

Commentators also say he already faces pressure from Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National party in view of the 2027 presidential elections. He is, therefore, expected to be open to including some LR proposals and has said he is willing to “enrich” the text with additions. 

He told news magazine Le Point that “the current situation isn’t sustainable and we must significantly reduce immigration, starting with illegal immigration”.

EU border agency Frontex says detections of irre­gular entries into the EU (especially over the sea to Italy and Malta) in the first seven months of 2023 rose 13% compared to 2022, to the highest January-July total since 2016.

Read more: France’s immigrants: We look at the trends in the latest official data

Tougher restrictions on multi-year residency cards

In their original format, the government plans would toughen the law in several areas, such as requiring a language test to obtain a multi-year residency card for workers and those coming due to close family links.  

It would relax it in others, such as bringing in new kinds of residency cards for some understaffed sectors and making it easier for asylum seekers to work.

Several senators and MPs previously told The Connexion they supported adding amend­ments to help non-resident second-home owners currently subject to the rule of staying no more than 90 days in 180, who they said contribute to France without being a burden to the state. 

Debate on the law would also be a chance to modernise the procedures for non-EU foreigners seeking to move to France. 

We have, however, not had feedback from lawmakers so far about any concrete moves in these areas.

Calls to clarify process of moving to France

Linda White, administrator for Facebook group How to move to France after Brexit, which has 3,700 members, said she would “like to see the whole visa application process made much easier and clearer, where everybody sings from the same songsheet”.

She said it would help if rules were clarified on means tests for self-supporting people and pensioners. For example, the consulate takes into account factors such as home ownership but it is unclear exactly how this reduces the amount required.

“At the moment, it is pure guesswork,” Ms White said, and people risk wasting their time. The amount needed by couples, as opposed to a single person, is also vague.

She added: “I would also back the idea of a new visa for second-home owners, and I would like the delay to be reduced between visa appointments and knowing whether or not the visa is granted. Currently this can be several weeks.”

Right-wing media covering anti-immigration arguments

Articles on immigration regularly appear in many French media.

Jean-Paul Gourévitch, known for his essays on immigration, is being widely covered in the right-wing media saying that “no scientific economist” would argue that immigration brings in more money than it costs. 

He says this is because the number of working immigrants is much smaller than those who do not work, or are too young to work. 

He claims a new independent study organisation is needed to look into the matter as there are too many grey areas and no credible body can undertake a proper analysis.

France’s statistics body Insee says 10% of the population are immigrants, of whom 35% have obtained French nationality.

Some 48% were born in Africa and 32% in Europe, with those coming from Algeria, Morocco and Portugal being the most numerous.

Figures for 2022 show some 1.7 million visas were issued, more than double the number in 2021 but still fewer than the 3.5 million issued pre-Covid in 2019.

Macron refused to blame summer riots on immigration

The issue of immigration also came to the fore when right-wing politicians accused people from immigrant backgrounds of being in the majority in this summer’s riots.

President Macron, however, refused to draw such a link, saying people must not confuse “integration”, about which there is “clearly a problem”, with immigration. But, he stressed a need to “re-civilise” society.

Other key political priorities cited by Mr Macron also reflect conservative ideas, such as a more chronological teaching of history and an expanded focus on civic values in schools, including weekly reading and discussion of “foundational texts of our values”. Teachers responded by saying this is already being done.

He also pledged to hold discussions with all political parties to identify areas of consensus for future laws, saying he may hold referendums on some of the ideas.

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