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French interior minister calls for less immigration

Interior Minister Claude Guéant (pictured) has asked the government to reduce the number of people entering France through work, family reunification and other visas.


French Interior Minister Claude Guéant says the government intends to reduce the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally, in statements evoking a divisive and little-understood aspect of contemporary French society.

“I have asked that we reduce the number of people admitted under work immigration visas,” Guéant told the conservative Figaro Magazine in an interview to be published on Friday.

“We also continue to reduce the number of foreigners coming to France for family reunification,” he said.

Some 20,000 people are allowed to enter France on work visas and another 15,000 for family reasons each year, according to the Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for immigration.

Guéant also said he would not exclude changes to France’s policy on asylum seekers, suggesting a cap on asylum visas was also on the table.

The opposition Socialist Party and the organization SOS Racism have already condemned Guéant’s statement as a “provocation”.

Socialist MP Sandrine Mazetier said cutbacks to family reunification visas violated “fundamental rights” and accused the government of exploiting the issue of immigration to divert attention away from the country’s unemployment.

Guéant had already enraged rights groups earlier in the week by saying that the “increase in the number” of Muslims in France posed “a problem”.

His statements come amid widening divisions within President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, where conservatives embrace a hard line against immigration that party centrists reject.

Missing statistics

According to Mirna Safi, a sociologist and research director with the Paris Institute of Political Studies, France’s policy of restricting immigration has remained relatively consistent for the past 30 years.

The only exception has been the so called “competences and talents” visa, proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy in 2003 when he was interior minister.

“It was a small and isolated recognition of a need for immigrant workers,” Safi says.

Sarkozy said at the time that the new visa would allow immigrants chosen for their professional capacities to enter France and reverse what he said was a trend of unskilled immigrants leeching on the state’s social programmes.

But the competences and talents visa did not produce a significant increase in legal and professional immigrant workers after 2003, says Xavier Thierry, who tracked immigration flows for France’s National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) until 2008.

“A stable figure of five percent of immigration for professional reasons may have increased to eight to 10 percent,” Thierry says, adding that a pronounced change in immigration flows could not be determined immediately by annual statistics.

Thierry admits that he was the only researcher at INED to study immigration flows and asked to be taken off the subject after feeling “discouraged”. No one has taken over from him, and data relative to immigration in France, legal or not, is scarce after 2008.

As to the contradiction between France’s intense interest in the subject of immigration and the lack of information to encourage or oppose further immigration, Thierry is reluctant to answer.

“There is a problem,” he awkwardly offers.

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