By proposing new rules on immigration, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has firmly placed the issue at the top of France’s political agenda.
Like other European countries, the emphasis is on limiting the numbers according to what the host economy really needs.
The one-and-a-half- million foreign workers in France account for five-and- a- half-percent of the working population.
Of those who could be working 19 percent are unemployed -Sarkozy says compare that with around nine percent of the natural born French workers.
In the year 2004 around 140,000 immigrants entred France, some for professional reasons ie they had jobs, but far more came to join families already there.
Here-in lies the problem for Sarkozy. He says the country needs more of the professionals coming in, bringing their skills and education to make a numerative contribution to the economy.He would only let famlies join their breadwinner 12 to 18 months later.
The new proposals also include a changing of the granting of residency permits – three years for qualified workers four for top graduates.
But the main issue here is the scapping of the automatic right to apply for a permit after living in France for ten years.
In the wake of last year’s riots in the suburbs of Paris and other major cities, the accusation that immigrants were feeling excluded was denounced by the right. Sarkozy wants a new citizen test on French values and the compulsory learning of basic French language skills.The message is integrate or leave.
The reaction of immigrant groups and the opposition left has been predictable.
Demonstrators complain that the economy needs the foreign workers – that France uses them and then seeks to throw them out
Critics say with the falling domestic birth rate, more workers of ALL kinds are needed and that the proposals discriminate against the poor.
But Sarkozy is adamant. He rejects the accusation that his ideas are devisive and says that they will improve race relations.