The ADA card issued to asylum seekers in France will no longer function as a cash withdrawal card from November 5. It will only work as a "payment card" in shops and markets. This has sparked criticism from migrant rights groups.
The French Office for Immigration and Integration (Office français de l’immigration et de l’integration, or OFII in French) has confirmed that a cash withdrawal card for asylum-seekers will function only a "payment card" from November 5, 2019.
The OFII, a French interior ministry agency, had previously said the allocation for asylum-seekers card – known as Allocation de demandeur d’asile, or ADA, in French – would turn into a payment card in early September. However the application date was postponed to November 5 to give the agency more time to update ATMs and other transaction systems, the OFII announced on August 12.
People who arrive in France and file an asylum application are entitled to ADA payments. The amounts vary. A single person gets 6.80 euros per day (about 190 euros per month). For a couple with two children, it's 17 euros per day (about 476 euros per month). A family of six people gets 23.80 euros per day (about 660 euros per month). The ADA is the only financial allowance that asylum seekers can receive.
Under the new system, the ADA will function only as a payment card, which means holders will no longer be able to withdraw cash with their cards. All payments will have to be made in shops with electronic payment machines. The first 25 payments will be without a service fee. After that, card-holders will be charged 50 cents per transaction, the OFII announced.
With the ADA card, asylum seekers will not be able to pay for purchases over the internet.
Under the old system, asylum seekers could withdraw cash from ATMs. That will not be possible anymore.
Addressing problems and abuses
Speaking to InfoMigrants, Didier Leschi, OFII director general, said "the ADA amounts will not change" and that "only the operation of the card will change." ADA card-holders will not be required to do anything to shift to the new system since the old cards will not be replaced by new ones, but merely updated electronically, Leschi added.
OFII officials say the new measures are designed to address some of the problems ADA cardholders have been facing and to curb abuses to the system. "We've seen problems with unused funds – for example, when you have less than ten euros on the card, you cannot withdraw that money because cash machines do not provide five euro bank notes," explained Leschi.
One goal of the new system is to improve the security of the asylum seekers. "Because the card was limited to a maximum of five withdrawals, it forced asylum seekers to keep cash on them. This can be dangerous, especially since some of them do not have accommodation [and live on the streets],” Leschi told InfoMigrants.
In some cases, asylum seekers also send ADA money to their families back home instead of using the full amount to support themselves. The new system will make that much more difficult.
When questioned about the fact that only 25 payments per month are free, OFII said it was due to the costs of banking transactions. "Payments by card are not free, that's why banks slap a charge on bank cards. To limit the cost while trying to address the needs, we have limited the number of payments to 25," explained Leschi.
To design the new system, OFII relied on a pilot project that has been operating in the French overseas territory of Guyana since February. The "positive" results in the South American territory convinced immigration officials to extend the new measures, according to OFII. "This is a good base of experimentation," said Leschi. "Guyana [...] has several thousand asylum seekers, mainly located in [French Guyana’s capital] Cayenne."
Migrant associations blast new system
Many migrant rights associations however have criticized the new system. Some of them, including Coordination Urgence Migrants (CUM) and Collectif pour une Nation Refuge (CNR), have signed an online petition, addressed to the OFII and the Directorate General for Foreigners in France (DGEF). In two days, the petition gathered more than a thousand signatures.
The associations maintain the cap of 25 free payments per month is too severe, noting that, "it amounts to a single purchase per day” (excluding Sundays). They also oppose the payment system in its entirety since social and cooperative grocery stores as well as flea markets are rarely equipped with card machines and since some establishments require a minimum purchase to pay with a card. They also argue that in some emergency situations, asylum seekers are forced to pay in cash.
Responding to the criticisms, Leschi said the agency was in discussions over how cooperative grocery stores could get card machines at a modest price. He also noted that there have been no such complaints in Guyana, where there are fewer card machines than in mainland France. OFII maintains that the new system is in line with the "general trend" of a decline in cash transactions.
Information regarding the changes to the ADA card will be available in a dozen languages for asylum seekers, the OFII added.