Language test, new residence permit: ministers share immigration plans

Proposals aim to give a ‘balance’ between tougher measures and easier immigration for workers

A photo of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin joined Work Minister Olivier Dussopt to lay out a new package of immigration laws in an interview with Le Monde newspaper
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The French government has announced a series of new immigration measures, including new titres de séjour for in-demand workers, tougher rules on orders to leave France, and a proposed French language test for partner titres de séjour.

“We will be tough on misbehaviour and kind with rule-abiders,” said Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin and Work Minister Olivier Dussopt in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde.

They spoke of a “balance” between exclusions for rule-breakers and offering an outstretched hand to genuine immigrants who wish to work.

The new law package, set for the first quarter of 2023, is expected to bring in measures to make existing immigration law more effective, including the much-discussed ‘obligation de quitter le territoire français’ (obligation to leave France order, OQTF).

The package is the 29th on immigration in France since 1980. It will now be debated in parliament in the coming months.

It would not affect Britons in France with Brexit Withdrawal Agreement cards or the right of their close family members from abroad to join them under the WA rules. It will also not affect the right of people with EU nationalities to live in France. It would apply to people of non-EU nationality coming to France.

Family immigration and French language exams

The ministers also discussed family immigration, much of which is made up by partners and spouses who come to live in France with their French partners.

Mr Darmanin said: “We want to make multi-year titres de séjour conditional on passing a French language test. It will change a lot of things. Today, a quarter of foreigners with titres de séjour speak and understand French very poorly.”

Currently, those seeking multi-year cards are asked to take language lessons if their level is poor but are not obliged to already have a certain level and do not need to sit a test.

Read also: Language tests for multi-year residency cards on agenda for French MPs

Measures to make legal work easier

Mr Dussopt said that the “tougher” rules were to be balanced with other “initiatives…to make legal immigration easier”. He particularly focused on people who come to work for professional reasons.

He said: “There is progress to be made, because in the first quarter, unemployment was at 7.5%, but among immigrant workers, it was at 13.5%. Work must once again become a factor in integration and independence.”

The minister said that he wants to:

  • Put an end to – under certain conditions – the rule that stops asylum-seekers from working during their first six months in France
  • Introduce a new type of residency card dubbed ‘métier en tension’ (professions under pressure), to recruit for sectors that are experiencing a worker shortage
  • Implement a system that would enable non-documented workers to request their own documentation, without having to go through their employer first, as the latter may “have a vested interest” in keeping them illegal. This measure has long been called for by workers’ unions
  • Stop law-abiding but undocumented people who are already working in under-pressure professions from being issued with OQTFs, which the ministers called an “absurdity of the system”

Mr Dussopt said: “Professional organisations are telling us that we need to make it easier to hire foreigners. We are offering them solutions with this bill.”

Mr Darmanin added: “We perhaps do not give out enough titres de séjour [for workers].”

OQFT measures

OQFTs have been in the news more recently after the murder of 12-year-old girl Lola, which was allegedly committed by a woman who was under an OQTF but had not complied.

Read more: Suspect in murder of Lola, 12: What is a OQTF order to leave France?

Mr Darmanin said: “From now on, we will register all OQTFs on a list of wanted people (fichier des personnes recherchées, FPR). This will determine that the person has left, and in this way we will count all of the foreign departures.”

Even people without criminal records who are issued with an OQTF will be monitored to see if they have left the country as ordered. Mr Darmanin said: “[The accused killer] had arrived on a student visa and overstayed in France for three years. No-one had asked where she was. That’s a problem.

“At the moment, when a prefecture issues a OQTF, there is no follow-up other than for dangerous individuals.

“I am asking prefectures to follow up with people with an OQTF. Prefects will aim to make their lives impossible, for example by ensuring that they can no longer access social payments or housing benefits.”

The government has been criticised, particularly by those on the far-right, for the number of OQTFs that are not enforced. Around 120,000 orders are issued each year, but less than 10% result in the person leaving the country.

Mr Darmanin defended the rate, saying that “nearly 50% of OQTFs are subject to appeals that suspend them". However, he added that he wished to "greatly simplify procedures" and reduce the current 12 possible categories of appeal to just four.

Young people, asylum seekers and lawbreakers

The government also wants to “let judges decide” if people who arrived before the age of 13 should be allowed to stay in France, therefore ending the current system that offers them a blanket allowance to remain.

This measure is designed to stop people who have been issued with an OQTF from staying illegally and then having children, meaning that they can no longer be expelled. “This situation is no longer tenable,” said Mr Darmanin.

New asylum seeker measures are also planned, with court cases now only needed for “very difficult cases”. A rejection of an asylum request will result in the applicant being issued with an OQTF, with a chance of appeal “within 15 days”.

The minister recalled comments by President Emmanuel Macron last week. Mr Macron promised to “harden the rules” at a time when “at least half of the lawbreakers” in Paris are “foreigners”, he said. Mr Darmanin said: “This is true in the 10 largest cities [in the country].”

He added that France would renew people’s visas and rights to be in France automatically for people who “cause no problems, and who have no criminal record.

“This means that several hundred thousand people would be saved from lining up in a prefecture. I hope, therefore, that prefectures will be able to focus their resources on people arriving for the first time, people subject to OQTFs and those with criminal records.”

Mr Darmanin did not add how exactly this automatic renewal would work.

The bill is now set to be debated by MPs and the Senate.

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