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More French saying 'au revoir' to homeland

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More French saying 'au revoir' to homeland
Many young French people head for New York. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP
12:08 CEST+02:00
Jessica caught the travel bug and never came back, Frederic wanted a bigger market for his start-up and Nicolas was just tired of the vexing daily grind in France that was eating away at his joie de vivre.

So they left to Australia, New York or Canada, becoming part of the growing wave of young French citizens seeking a future elsewhere.

The official statistics agency INSEE said this week that between 2006 and 2013, the number of French emigrating jumped from 140,000 a year to 200,000, 80 percent of them between 18 and 29 years old.

In a globalised world the French have been slow to jump on the expat train that has long seen thousands of young Australians or Brits flit across continents and put down roots abroad.

But "a greater openness to the world, better language skills and more international study options" have lured more French to explore the globe, said Jean-Christophe Dumont, head of international migration at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

France's stagnating economy, high taxes and soaring unemployment have also been cited as factors.

"It is curiosity and the desire to explore that pushed me to leave," said Jessica Viven-Wilkisch, 31, who studied in Ireland and Germany before settling in Australia as a law professor where she met her husband.

She tried to return to France in 2008 but at the peak of the financial crisis there were no jobs, and now she does not plan on leaving Australia with its "quality of life (and) give-it-a-go attitude".

- 'Country of irritation' -

The conservative opposition has seized on the rising number of departures as proof that Socialist government policies, such as high taxes, are forcing people to flee.

A parliamentary inquiry launched by the centre-right party The Republicans last year sparked a furore just over its title, "The Exile of France’s Lifeblood", leading the Socialists to accuse them of "French-bashing".

Nicolas Poirier, 32, a legal consultant, is an example of the opposition’s concerns, running away from "stifling taxes" and "administrative hell".

"I only saw France as a country of constraints and irritation, and elsewhere I saw joie de vivre and above all, freedom," added Poirier.

He said he adopted a "scorched-earth policy", selling everything and never looking back when he left for Montreal four years ago.

The parliamentary report found that there are at least two million French living abroad.

However Dumont said this is a relatively small diaspora, with 2.6 percent of the French population living abroad, compared to 4.6 percent for Germany and 6.7 percent for Britain.

  - 'Catch-up phenomenon' -

He said that France was experiencing a similar increase in emigration to the United States, while departures have slowed from Germany and Britain in recent years.

France is expected to grow at just 1.1 percent in 2015, and unemployment is hovering at 10 percent, though Dumont said it was not in the same situation as Italy, Spain or Greece which has seen much higher levels of departures linked to the economic crisis.

"Instead, we are seeing a catch-up phenomenon compared to the history of French emigration which has always been very weak."

Frederic Montagnon, 38, an entrepreneur who has created several start-ups and now lives in New York, is one of those kicking back against the attitude that France is a sinking ship.

Montagnon says he moved to New York for a "personal adventure" and to access a much bigger market. "If you don't have access to a wider area when you develop technology you lose out to your competitors who do," he said.

However, he keeps his technical teams in France and remains very positive about his homeland, saying he is one of a large community of French entrepreneurs in New York taking advantage of globalisation to grow their businesses.

And Montagnon maintains it is "really much easier to start a company in France" than in New York, and that he pays much higher taxes in the Big Apple.

"The cost of living here is much higher. Here nothing is free -- education, healthcare -- and it is very expensive," he told AFP.

He sees the growing French diaspora as a positive thing.

"Having a presence elsewhere, that is when you can really talk about an influential culture," he said.

 

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