French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe present France’s new policies at a press conference in Paris, on November 6, 2019 | Photo: REUTERS
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe present France’s new policies at a press conference in Paris, on November 6, 2019 | Photo: REUTERS

As of next year, France will introduce quotas for migrant workers and impose stricter rules on asylum seekers’ access to French healthcare. While the government argues the measures will provide France with the type of workers it actually needs and curb the “misuse” of its generous welfare system, critics say it’s a move to appease right-wing voters by tightening its immigration rules even further.

According to the center-right government, the new rules will be applied from the summer of 2020 and can be likened to the qualification-based immigration policies of Australia and Canada. The government intends to work together with employers to identify sectors where France lacks the proper candidates and make it easier for employers to hire foreigners to fill vacancies in these industries.

"This is about France hiring based on its needs. It's a new approach, similar to what is done in Canada or Australia," Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud told BFM television on Tuesday.

During a news conference on Wednesday, France’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said that "it's about sovereignty. We have to take back control of our migration policy," adding that this new approach offers a "fair balance between rights and obligations".

Despite an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent, France is in sore need of workers in (often lower-paying) jobs in sectors like construction, hotel and catering and retail. It also lacks qualified professionals within specialized industries such as information technology and engineering.

Up until now, French employers have had to justify why a French national cannot be hired instead of a migrant. Last year, France granted 33,000 visas to economic migrants.

Tougher for asylum seekers

The new measures also include tougher rules for asylum seekers, including a three-month waiting-period before they can gain access to basic French healthcare services (PUMA). Currently, migrants can benefit from French healthcare as soon as they file their asylum application.

France received a record 122,743 asylum requests last year, up 22 % from the year before.

French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn recently said the system was being abused by asylum seekers from Georgia and Albania “which are basically safe countries.”

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron also drew the ire of Bulgaria's government after saying in a magazine interview that he wanted migrants from Guinea or Ivory Coast, who worked in a legal way, rather than "clandestine networks of Bulgarians and Ukrainians."

In addition, the government said it wants to crack down on suspected “misuse” of social aid, and plans to introduce more controls on asylum seekers who have been granted financial support.

Critics, however, say President Emmanuel Macron is simply trying to woo right-wing voters who have accused the government of allowing too many foreigners  in to the country despite soaring unemployment rates. According to analysts, Macron's main political rival in the run-up to the 2022 presidential elections remains the far-right National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen.

French NGO La Cimade, which works closely with migrant issues, tweeted: “Quotas, reduced access to healthcare, more controls: the migration policies of @EPhilippePM @EmmanuelMacron are going to be tightened even more […] We thought we’d reached rock-bottom already, but they’re going even further, ever deeper to the right.”

Manon Aubry, an MEP representing the left-wing Republic on the Move party, said the measures were “irresponsible from a public health point of view” and “disgraceful from a human rights point of view”.


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