Foreigners among the losers amid France’s ‘excessive digitisation’

A new report has criticised French services moving online, saying digitisation had brought dehumanisation

The ‘excessive’ digitisation of key public services in France can put non-French people, the elderly, and the vulnerable at a major disadvantage, a new report says
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The “rights of non-French people are too often brushed aside ”by the growing digitisation of services in France and this is “unacceptable”, a new French report has said.

The French Défenseure des droits (Defender of Rights) Claire Hédon said digitisation could be seen as a positive as it offers access to key information at “any time of day and night”.

But, when it leads to the closure of local desks and offices “digitisation also brings dehumanisation”, she said.

Ms Hédon - who in her independent role is tasked with defending citizens’ rights - said that in 2022 her office received 125,456 complaints about consumer rights. This is 9% more than the year before.

Read also: Callers often cannot reach key public services in France

Non-French among those most affected

Non-French people living in France are the group most likely to be negatively affected by the growing digitisation and lack of physical places to find information, the report said.

“Many foreigners turn to the Défenseur des droits to report difficulties in asserting their rights, even if it is only to obtain a physical appointment at the prefecture for the application or renewal of their residence permit, with delays that have serious consequences,” read the report.

“More and more foreigners who have been living legally in France for many years are experiencing a breakdown in their rights, and due to an administrative error, fall into an illegal situation, with serious consequences.

“This situation is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of foreigners and is not acceptable.”

“The fundamental rights of foreigners are too often put aside,” continued Ms Hédon. “ The number of complaints about this reached, in 2022, unprecedented levels for our office, often simply due to people trying to get an appointment with their local prefecture office to submit their file to renew their carte de séjour.”

Lise Faron, from the non-French citizens’ association Cimade, told FranceInfo: “For these foreigners, digitisation has a considerable impact. When a foreigner tries to apply for a residence permit, it is almost impossible to go to a prefecture without first having taken a digital step.

“There are certain cases where you have to make an appointment on the Internet via an online schedule to get to the prefecture. Then, more and more, there are also procedures that are really completely digitised. So the person will have to scan their entire file.

“In the case of a titre de séjour, this could be dozens and dozens of documents. We have people that we help who sometimes can take up to two years to submit their request.”

Read also: Macron’s pledge to cut French bureaucrat jobs will cause more problems

Elderly and poor also affected

The elderly and poor people are also among those most affected, Ms Hédon said.

The ‘MaPrimeRénov’ eco-renovation platform, in particular, had attracted more than 500 complaints in three years, mainly due to technical problems.

One example was an elderly woman who was left without hot water in the middle of winter because she was not able to finish the MaPrimeRénov online form about repairing her boiler.

The Défenseur des Droits office said that it did not want to become “the Doctolib” (an online website that allows people to book medical appointments) of access to prefecture offices. But, it added, there were still too many people finding themselves alone and confused in front of the computer.

How can I contact the Défenseur des droits office?

The office offers assistance to people who feel their rights are being infringed, are being discriminated against, struggling with French administration access, or need assistance in legal cases or mediation processes.

If you are not sure if you need the office, or want to ask a question, you can seek advice from a representative in person (find your closest representative here), or call the office on 09 69 39 00 00.

A full list of reasons that the office might step in to help is online here.

You can also ask the office to investigate a case, you can contact the office in a range of ways, including in person, by video call, by freepost letter, or via an online form. There are also options for people who are hard of hearing.

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