France to 'take back control' of immigration, says French PM

Dominique Faget, REUTERS | French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe leads a meeting focused on immigration policies, next to French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, at the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France November 6, 2019.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday unveiled the government's new immigration measures, including the first ever quotas for migrant workers, as President Emmanuel Macron's administration seeks to toughen its stance in response to right-wing criticism.


Philippe said France needed to “take back control” of migration as part of a government push to listen to voters' worries about migration that risk playing into the hands of the far right.

“It’s about sovereignty. We have to take back control of our migration policy," Philippe told a news conference, adding that the government’s new approach would offer a "fair balance between rights and obligations."

The prime minister confirmed reports that the government planned to fix quotas on certain aspects of migration, without elaborating.

"Our will is to make choices in how we welcome [immigrants]: set quantitative goals or quotas, both expressions suit me, for professional immigration", Philippe said.

His announcements came a day after Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said France would introduce migrant quotas for the first time next year.

In a major policy shift, authorities working with employers will identify industries lacking qualified candidates and facilitate the hiring of foreigners to fill the gap, Penicaud said.

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

Currently employers have to justify why a French citizen cannot be hired in a complex administrative process, which resulted in around 33,000 economic migrants being granted visas last year.

Construction, hotels and restaurants, and some retailing sectors have long complained of a shortage of people willing to take what is often low-paying work.

Information technology and engineering industries, by contrast, say France does not produce enough qualified candidates.

Penicaud did not say how many foreign workers would be granted visas, nor if an applicant's nationality would be taken into account, a proposal aired by Philippe last month.

Far-right threat

Philippe is spearheading Macron's move to toughen rules on immigration in a bid to woo right-wing voters who accuse the government of allowing in too many foreigners despite unemployment at 8.5 percent in the second quarter.

Analysts say Macron's prime political rival in the run-up to 2022 presidential elections remains the far-right National Rally (RN) leader Marine Le Pen.

The prime minister is to unveil a raft of measures Wednesday signalling the tougher line, after France received a record 122,743 asylum requests last year, up 22 percent from the year before.

The measures could include restrictions on migrants bringing over family members, or limiting access to health care for asylum seekers while their claims are processed.

France has also called for overhauling the EU's efforts to halt the surge of migrants fleeing conflict and misery in Asia, the Middle East and Africa since 2015.

Macron also wants more EU members to share the burden of taking in migrants allowed to stay, a move opposed by several countries in Eastern and Central Europe.

Macron drew the ire of Bulgaria's government last week 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".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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