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Moving on from Sarkozy’s immigration policies

Blasting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial immigration policies as “random and discriminatory,” new French Interior Minister Manuel Valls (pictured) has called for more objective procedures, a move welcomed by immigrant groups.


French Interior Minister Manuel Valls wants to wipe the slate clean. At a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, Valls announced the new French administration’s intention to axe some of the controversial immigration procedures introduced under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In a swipe at his predecessor, former Interior Minister Claude Gueant’s immigration policies, Valls said the previous administration’s naturalisation criteria were "random and discriminatory".

Valls noted that he would like to see more objectivity in the process without necessarily making broad concessions on France’s immigration policy.

The "naturalisation criteria surreptitiously introduced by my predecessor" were like a "random, discriminatory obstacle course,” he told the Senate committee Wednesday.

Discretionary powers to local immigration centers

During his presidency, Sarkozy made the integration of immigrants a key domestic issue, implementing several policy reviews during his five-year term before he was voted out of office in May 2012.

Until 2010, naturalisation decisions for immigrants across France were made at a central office in the western city of Nantes, making it a fairly straightforward administrative procedure.

But after the previous administration transferred the responsibility for that process from the Nantes office to local prefectures, naturalization decisions were made at the discretion of each jurisdiction. As a result, between 2010 and 2011, the number of naturalizations dropped from 94, 573 to 66, 273.

"Earlier, naturalisation was a gateway to integration. Today, the logic is completely reversed. Naturalisation has become a certificate of good conduct," wrote immigration specialist Catherine de Wenden in the left-leaning French daily, Libération, in May 2012.

‘Whom do you associate with the Arc de Triomphe?’

By addressing the naturalisation requirements of the previous administration, Valls said he intends to put an end to the arbitrariness of immigration policies.

High on the list of procedures Valls intends to axe is the test of French culture and history. A new decree, published in January 2012, which comes into effect July 1, officially scraps the culture and history test.

The old test, which was for immigrants with primary school level education, featured multiple choice questions such as, “Whom do you associate with the Arc de Triomphe? a) Napoleon b) General de Gaulle c) Julius Caesar?" Another question asked candidates to select the date for the abolition of slavery - from a choice of 1848, 1918 or 1968.

In his hearing before the Senate committee Wednesday, Valls noted that many “ministers and senators would find it difficult to answer the question because it is so out of line,” he said, adding that the test was "like a game show ".

‘The law must be the same for all’

According to Valls, the previous administration’s "deliberate policy to exclude deserving people” from the process has resulted in a "free fall” in naturalisations.

"If nothing is done, this number will drop by 40% between 2011 and 2012 after falling 30% between 2010 and 2011,” said the minister, who is of Spanish origin and was naturalised about 30 years ago.

"The challenge of immigration is to ensure that naturalisation is no longer seen, or perceived, as the end of an obstacle course, but as a process of integration,” he said.

The new procedures were welcomed by France Terre d'Asile, a Paris-based immigrant rights group. "It’s a step in the right direction, but we need more information and details,” said Matthew Tardis, head of the organisation, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “We need to limit the arbitrary nature of naturalisation procedures where local prefectures hold discretionary powers. The law must be the same for all. We need a clear framework."

It’s a sentiment echoed by Eduardo Rhian Cypel, a Socialist parliamentarian and spokesman for France Terre d'Asile. “We need objective criteria. These are conventional criteria in the French Republic: residency in the country, for how many years, do you have a job, do you have children who are in school? These new rules will be much simpler,” said the Brazilian-born politician, who is himself a naturalised French citizen. “A strong France is a France that is capable of accepting newcomers to the national community."

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