French Parliament approves new immigration legislation

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Amid controversy, France approved a new immigration law on 30 June that toughens up restrictions on immigrants who do not have skills and qualifications targeted by the French government as important to France. The bill had already been adopted by the lower house in May, and the law has been under debate since late last fall.

One key provision is a new type of three year residence permit, called a "skills and talents permit," which encourages selective immigration for persons with higher qualifications and more thoroughly documented work opportunities. Unskilled workers are still able to enter, but the regulation of which industries actually have shortages and require them and their skills is increased.

Human rights and liberal groups, along with the Catholic Church, issued statements that generally opposed the law and various of its provisions. The view is that France will continue to participate in a 'brain drain' of lesser-developed nations while denying more working class immigrants opportunities.

This general trend in immigration policy might be somewhat more pronounced in France as a result of this new law, however most western nations have similar policies in place already. Nearly all nations today are competing for skilled and educated workers and have many provisions in their immigration policies toward that goal.

By contrast with more historically liberal policies in the country, the shift in French immigration law is seen as conservative and somewhat harsh by some. The law is not restricted to the new residency permit. Several other provisions in it are dramatic changes from previous regulations.

Non-EU migrants must now sign an "integration contract" that commits them to 'respecting the French way of life.' Generally, this is interpreted as making significant progress toward learning and using French in every day life and the workplace, among accepting other French traditions. The contract specifies that language and civics lessons must be taken.

Foreigners will now only be allowed into the country if they can demonstrate income or other financial means, and will generally have greatly reduced eligibility for social assistance. This is in response to a large population that relies heavily on the French social services system, many of whom are illegal immigrants. Many in France resent the perception that many foreigners come to the country without sustainable income and end up on various forms of welfare and assistance.

Family members that wish to join foreign workers in France will also see increased difficulty and expense via the new law. Waiting periods are extended in many cases, and documentation has become more rigorous. Proof of economic support for family members is one key regulation that the law now requires be rigorously adhered to.

Spouses of French citizens also face longer waiting periods and increased documentation. This is in direct response to marriages of convenience, a documented and increasing trend in recent years.

Previously, illegal immigrants in France could obtain documents that they could use to obtain legal status if they could demonstrate a stay in-country of ten years or more. These regulations are now scrapped, leaving each immigrant to make their individual case with immigration.

One key point raised is that the children of illegal immigrants may face deportation. Final decisions on that are not set, but the administration has issued statements indicating that each family and case needs to be evaluated and treated individually. Human rights interests are calling the possibility of deporting the children "inhumane," while the government points out that children born to illegal immigrants should not necessarily allow the entire family to remain. The government specifically states that there will be no immediate deportation of children.

The governments official estimate is that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 illegal immigrants in France currently, and is planning approximately 26,000 deportations this year. In 2005 approximately 20,000 persons were deported.



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