Senators have begun their public debate of the controversial immigration bill, which had been held up since the spring.
Containing a mixture of more hardline rules, such as a tougher policy on deportations, as well as more pro-immigration ideas such as new kinds of residency cards, it has already created divisions between France’s political parties.
The Senate debate which started on Monday (November 6) is the first main step in what is likely to be a difficult legislative journey – the bill has been postponed several times and matters are made more complex by the government’s lack of an overall majority in parliament.
Presented by the Minister of the Interior as a way to "be nice to the good guys and bad to the bad guys", the text being examined was submitted by the minister early this year but has already been added to with many amendments from senators.
These include several aimed at making the rules more flexible for foreign people with second homes in France.
Here are some of the key ideas in the bill.
Residence permits for jobs in short supply
This article aims to allow the creation of a one-year residency permit for “occupations in short supply" for undocumented workers. These include the construction trade, hospitality industry, hotel trade and care workers.
This card will be issued automatically under certain conditions, including a presence on French soil for at least three years and a minimum of eight months of professional experience in the last 24 months.
This residency permit will be tested until the end of 2026 and possibly maintained if the system is deemed conclusive by the Interior Ministry.
Employers will not have to take any steps as the card is equivalent to a work permit.
At present, undocumented workers employed in these sectors can obtain an ‘employee’ or ‘temporary employee’ card, but these are exceptional regularisations which are sometimes applied for at the initiative of employers.
This article – the third in the bill – has been contested since its proposal, particularly by the right-wing Les Républicains.
Special visa for second-home owners
Something Les Républicains are supportive of, however, is seeking more flexible rules for non-resident foreign second-home owners in France.
Amendments such as a new five-year homeowner visa, an ‘automatic’ visa right and a new long-stay visa home owner category were added to the immigration bill.
These are expected to be debated this week, and appear relatively high in the order of amendments being considered.
The five-year visa idea, which has the most backing, would reduce the need to undertake visa formalities for extended stays to only once every five years.
Currently it is necessary to start a new application each time a person plans to spend more than 90 days out of 180 days in France – this is once a year for many second-home owners.
French language for residency permits
Foreign people applying for a first residency permit would all be required to have a minimum level of knowledge of the French language. This level has not yet been set.
Today, some residency permits are issued on condition that they have learned French as part of the Republican Integration Contract, but without any obligation of result.
The main exception, requiring a certain minimum level, is the granting of a 10-year resident’s card to people of working age, and for access to French nationality.
Another new obligation is the commitment for the person applying for a residence permit to respect "freedom of expression and conscience, equality between women and men, the dignity of the human person, the motto and symbols of the Republic".
This condition is not currently always required depending on the residence permit applied for.
New residency permit for caregivers
The government also wants to create a new multi-year residence permit (up to four years’ validity) that will benefit doctors trained outside the EU but also midwives, dentists and pharmacists.
The aim comes as the country is finding it difficult to recruit in the hospital sector.
Asylum-seekers to work immediately
Another article unpopular with the Right, is article four which would see asylum-seekers from the most at-risk countries able to work immediately and be provided with training to learn the French language.
A list of these countries will be drawn up on an annual basis.
Among the most dangerous countries are currently Afghanistan and Sudan.
As the law currently stands, asylum-seekers are only allowed to work six months after submitting their application.
Grounds for withdrawing a residence permit
Another new idea in this bill is that "serious threat to public order", which includes convictions for crimes or offences punishable by at least ten years in prison (murder, rape, armed robbery, etc.), becomes a ground for the withdrawal or non-renewal of residency permits.
This new provision seeks to be broad, and may concern people who have lived in France for several years, are married to a French national or have children born in France.
It is thought by some commentators that this measure could contravene the European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates the "right to respect for private and family life".
At present such expulsions are ‘exceptional’ and usually only relate to undocumented migrants, according to the official website service-public.
Obligations to leave French territory
Another part of the bill seeks to make it easier to issue orders to leave France even where people have personal and family ties in France, which has been rejected by the Left.
As the law currently stands, it is impossible, for example, to expel a foreign person who arrived in France when he or she is 13 years old, even if he or she is in an irregular situation.
This provision was widely cited by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin after the fatal stabbing of Professor Dominique Bernard.
The alleged assailant Mohammed Mogouchkov had applied for asylum when he came of age, which was denied in 2021, but he had not been deported because of his arrival in France as a child.
However, the law already provides for exceptions, including "conduct likely to harm the fundamental interests of the state, or related to terrorist activities".
Fight against irregular immigration
The text also multiplies measures to combat irregular immigration. It will now be possible to fingerprint undocumented foreigners without their consent.
A new administrative fine of up to €4,000 for firms that employ an undocumented worker is also contained in the text.
Penalties against people smugglers as well as so-called marchands de sommeil (eg. landlords charging high rents to irregular migrant tenants who are not properly declared) are also being increased.