This is at least the twentieth law in forty years. Since the mid-1980s, invariably, there has been hardly a government, right or left, that has not shown the desire to control immigration. And, indeed, over the years, the legislation has continued to tighten, with a few exceptions. But with what results?
In a century, the share of immigrants living in France has increased from less than one in twenty in 1921 to more than one in ten in 2021. And the phenomenon has only accelerated in recent years, with some oscillations. Between 2011 and 2019, according to INSEE, the number of foreigners legally entering the territory increased by 27%. And, after the Covid parenthesis, it accelerated sharply again. And that’s without counting the people who enter the country illegally. While in 2003 there were only 180,000 beneficiaries of state medical aid, which allows undocumented immigrants to seek treatment, they will exceed 400,000 in 2022.
International immigration, “a fundamental movement”
So does this mean that nothing can stem this progression? “International immigration is a fundamental movement,” believes Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, director emeritus of research at the CNRS. It is explained by the multitude of conflicts and disasters which constantly produce refugees, and this phenomenon will further increase with future environmental crises. It is also favored by the average age of emigration countries, which is for example 19 years in sub-Saharan Africa. This increases the number of young people who want to realize their life project and who, more and more, imagine being able to do it elsewhere than in their country. Indeed, the emergence of the Internet brings to light the economic, political, social and health inequalities between rich and poor countries. »
We must therefore understand that the increase in immigration to France is part of a global phenomenon. “While we had 120 million international migrants at the beginning of the 20th century, we have 287 million today,” continues the researcher. Faced with this fundamental movement, “we can only act at the margins,” she says.
“We can think that immigration is an imponderable that we cannot influence, but we can also look at things differently,” said Didier Leschi, director general of the French Office of Immigration and Immigration. integration (Ofii). In fact, there are residence permits that can be granted or refused. We particularly have control over student and economic immigration. As for legal, humanitarian and family immigration, we can more or less open the pipes. However, France has, over the last forty years, been much less restrictive in terms of family immigration criteria than many other European countries. »
In fifteen years, student immigration increased by 88%
However, it is striking to see that the two reasons for admission that would be easy to control have increased significantly. Thus, according to INSEE, since 2007, student immigration has increased by 88%, while economic immigration has tripled, as France has sought to attract qualified foreigners. Conversely, we note that so-called legal immigration, which results from respect for the Geneva Convention on asylum and the right to private and family life, has progressed less. If humanitarian admission has almost doubled, family immigration is stagnating. Finally, we can see that the United Kingdom, which has gone very far in restrictive measures, experienced record net immigration in 2022.
“We hear a lot in the political debate the idea that we can do nothing, neither nationally nor at the European level, but this is false,” says Mathilde Tchounikine, project manager at the Fondapol think tank, marked right, and co-author of a note entitled “Immigration: how European states do it”. Beyond the countries that brutally curb immigration and those that take liberties with the law, “we went to see how other legal states in Europe do things and we found that the regulation works,” she continues.
The Danish model based on deterrence
Denmark is the country which has gone furthest in this restrictive policy, launched twenty years ago by a right-wing government but since taken up by the social democrats. Right to stay, conditions of integration through language and work, asylum… Absolutely everything has been toughened. With spectacular results, since between 2014 and 2019 the total number of migrants fell by 14% and that of asylum seekers by 82%.
“Denmark has clearly used deterrence,” explains Mathilde Tchounikine. During the migration crisis, the government bought pages of advertising in Lebanese newspapers detailing the reduction in social benefits for immigrants. A year later, the “Jewellery Law” made it possible to confiscate the property of asylum seekers to cover their costs. And there is this project, not implemented, to send asylum seekers to make their request to Rwanda. »
But, beyond Denmark, which has negotiated clauses with Brussels which allow it to free itself from numerous European rules, “many countries have harsher rules than in France”, continues Mathilde Tchounikine, who details: “ For example, in France, a foreigner who obtains residence must sign a republican integration contract, which includes language courses aimed at level A1, the lowest, without failure being prohibitive, and four days of introduction to the values of the Republic. In Germany, the required level is A2 or B1, in Austria it is A2, in Finland and the Netherlands it is B1. In Spain and Germany there is a test of understanding the values of the country. »
“A lower immigration flow than our European neighbors”
“France is also the only country in the world which has a residence permit for sick foreigners,” she adds, continuing: “As far as family reunification is concerned, someone who wants to bring their family with two or three children must only have €1,353 of monthly income in France. In Austria, it’s €1,752 for a couple plus €171 per child. »
But are these differences, very real in the daily lives of foreigners, effective in controlling migratory flows? “It is unlikely that a person who leaves their country will engage in a comparative analysis of social rights in European countries,” reacts Matthieu Tardis, co-director of Synergies migrations. Moreover, if we compare ourselves to other European countries, we see that, despite these social conditions considered better, we have lower immigration flows than our neighbors. »
While, in the 2000s, France was one of the main countries of immigration, with 10.6% of its population born abroad, now this share (12.8% in 2021) places France behind Sweden (19.7%), Germany (18.2%), or even Spain (15.2%). It remains to be seen whether the political debate which opens in the Senate this Monday, November 6 will reflect the complexity of the subject.