By Layli Foroudi and Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS – The French government wants a new residency permit for foreigners to plug skills shortages and to allow some asylum seekers to enter the workforce quickly under proposed revisions to immigration rules.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt told Le Figaro newspaper that draft legislation to be sent to Parliament in early 2023 sought to balance labour market needs and voter concerns over identity, integration and security.
Dussopt said the bill reflected the government’s “pragmatism and realism”.
The French reform comes at a time when other European countries are also loosening immigration rules to deal with labour market pressures, although it is a particularly sensitive subject in France.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this month said Europe’s biggest economy should attract more foreign workers and make it easier for women and older people to work to avoid labour shortages and a pension system crisis in the years ahead.
Spain modified its residency permit rules this year to reduce restrictions on foreign students working and to allow temporary work permits for overstretched sectors, while Egypt will provide seasonal workers to help meet the needs of Greece’s agricultural sector under a pilot scheme.
In Britain, however, where Brexit has exacerbated labour shortages, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pushed back against calls from companies to liberalise immigration to help boost growth.
Under the French plans, the new work permit for stressed sectors of the economy would run until end-2026 and would seek to ‘regularise’ certain groups of foreigners already working in the country, rather than new arrivals.
A report published by the INSEE national statistics agency in November highlighted builders, care assistants, butchers and plumbers as among professions suffering acute shortages.
Unemployment in France fell to its lowest levels in 14 years in the third quarter but still exceeded 7%. Even so, many voters are against using immigration to fill the gaps.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government lacks a working majority in the lower house of parliament and will need support from the conservative Les Republicains party for it to pass in a vote.
Some right-wing lawmakers warn the immigration bill is not tough enough and will lead to a wave of foreigners illegally present in France obtaining papers. Left-wing opponents say the proposals are too repressive.