As France protests pension reform, InfoMigrants takes stock of the situation for foreign workers. How are their rights affected by the time spent in France and country of origin? And how are entitlements accurately calculated?
France is caught up in a fiery debate over the government’s proposed pension reforms, which would push back the retirement age by two years. But what about foreign workers and their pension rights?
According to the latest figures, in 2019, 1.7 million foreign workers worked in France, alongside 24.8 workers with French citizenship. InfoMigrants met with Antoine Math, a researcher on social welfare a the Social and Economic Research Institute (IRES) and a volunteer at the information and support group for immigrants GISTI.
InfoMigrants: Can a foreign worker claim the same pension benefits as a worker with French citizenship ?
Antoine Math: When it comes to contributive pension, we can say that it’s one of the rare domains of social welfare where, legally, foreigners are equal to citizens.
But there’s a catch: when a foreigner applies for their pension, they have to justify the legality of their stay in France. They can have contributed to the pension system for 40 years but if at that exact moment they aren’t on a visa, whatever the reason may be, they cannot claim their pension benefits.
Mind you, when I say there is a legal equality in people’s rights to pension benefits, that does not mean there aren’t massive inequalities in practice. Foreigners, for many reasons, have much lower pensions than nationals.
What are the reasons for these inequalities?
The pension is based on your life, what you’ve done. It takes into account your work, of course, but also your children, your illnesses, the discrimination you faced, part-time work, unemployment. It crystallizes the whole of one’s adult life. But foreigners have particular life trajectories.
We know for example that they are overrepresented in precarious employment, especially unskilled workers. There are many foreigners with discontinuous, incomplete and low-wage employment histories. All of this has consequences on their pensions.
Another reason for this is the low position of foreigners on the French job market. Their starting salaries are lower, and they are fired more often. Working conditions are also often harder in the sectors hiring foreigners, and can lead to more illness or even disabilities. There is also discrimination in hiring and throughout their careers (when a foreign employee is not promoted, for example).
We also know that abusive employers are not rare in the sectors that hire many foreigners in France, such as construction. And foreigners, unfortunately, often do not know their rights. Some employers do not pay their mandatory share of the pension tax on wages, which means that when employees get to the retirement age, they realize they are missing one, two, three years, sometimes more in their career history summary (relevé de carrière, a document recapping all rights acquired throughout a person's employment history). They then realize that their employers did not pay their share of taxes, or not completely. In this case, a pay slip is not enough to prove work and does not make up for the lost taxes.
What can one do to avoid this?
When you’re working, you have to ask yourself: am I certain my employer is paying their share of taxes? It's possible to ask URSSAF or the CNAV (caisse de retraite de sécurité sociale française) for a career history summary. Don’t wait until you are 50 years old to do this. You also have to pay attention to pre-filled tax information: if you notice any inconsistencies in the amount that is pre-filled, there is a problem.
When you detect a problem, you can go to the employer that did not pay its share of taxes and, if necessary, go to court with a lawyer. That’s not easy. In some cases, the employer does not even exist (the company has shut down, etc.).
[editor’s note: this advice is also is useful for undocumented workers working for a legal employer, often under a false identity.]
In terms of pension, what rights does a foreigner have if they arrived in France in the middle or end of their career, and so cannot prove a full career in France?
A foreigner who arrived on French soil as an adult or as an older person will not have worked enough time in France to qualify for a full pension. But if this person worked in other countries before coming to France, this work can be taken into account when pension benefits are calculated, under the condition that the country where that person worked struck an agreement with France around pension benefits.
[editor’s note: In addition to EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, the list of countries that have this agreement with France are: Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Congo, South Korea, Ivory Coast, United States of America, Gabon, the Channel Islands, India, Israel, Japan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Monaco, Montenegro, Niger, the Philippines, Quebec, San Marino, Senegal, Serbia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay.]
If there is an agreement, the time worked in those other countries can be taken into account, but it will only be a reduction in the financial loss. Do not get high hopes based on what I am saying: you will still be penalized if you do not have a full career history in France.
People living in poverty in France can claim the Allocation de solidarité aux personnes agées (ASPA), [editor’s note: the amount of ASPA depends on income and assets. It is an addition to your personal income, up to a specific limit determined by the government]. To claim it, foreigners must prove at least 10 years of continuous legal employment and residency authorization.
[editor’s note: statutory refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, stateless people, and war veterans also have the right to ASPA without the 10-year requirement. Thanks to international agreements, Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Malians, Togolese, Gabonese and Beninese can also claim it without the 10-year requirement.]