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Macron scraps plans for compulsory French language tests in favour of ‘immigration debate’

A proposed new law that called for foreigners in France to pass a French language test in order to get a long-term carte de séjour residency card has been scrapped - but will be replaced by a 'national debate' on immigration and a new law next year.

Macron scraps plans for compulsory French language tests in favour of 'immigration debate'
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a reception for France's prefects at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Photo: Ludovic Marin / POOL / AFP)

President Emmanuel Macron told a gathering of local officials at the Elysée that reform of immigration rules in France was still on the table, and would be the subject of a general debate in the coming weeks.

However an Immigration bill proposed by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – which included among other things proposals for foreigners in France to pass a language test before they are granted the long-term carte de séjour pluriannuelle – has been pulled from the autumn parliamentary schedule.

French language tests for residency: What we know so far

Instead, Macron said that a new bill, shaped by the nation debate, will be introduced early in 2023. 

“Our policy today is absurd,” Macron said, because it “consists of putting women and men who arrive, who are in the greatest misery” into poor neighbourhoods.

This “is both ineffective and inhuman,” he said. “Ineffective because we find ourselves with more foreign people in a difficult situation than many of our neighbours; inhumane because this pressure means that they are too often badly received.” 

And he called for asylum seekers to be moved to areas where population numbers are falling. 

In these regions, “the conditions of their reception will be much better than if we put them in areas that are already densely populated, with a concentration of massive economic and social problems”, he said.

More easily available access to education in areas that are under-subscribed would lead to “faster learning of French, investment in vocational training”, while helping keep underused resources open. He did mention a language requirement for residency cards.

He also pledged  to “improve the effectiveness of deportation policies” for illegal aliens, and said France needed to make the granting of visas more conditional on “the spirit of cooperation to take back illegal foreigners, starting with those who disturb public order”.

During his recent trip to Algeria, Macron and his counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune opened the way for a relaxation of the visa regime between the two countries, in exchange for increased cooperation from Algiers in the fight against illegal immigration.

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POLITICS

EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

As Iranian women burn their hijabs in protest at the country's repressive laws you might have heard people contrasting this to the French 'hijab ban' - but is the Muslim headscarf actually banned in France?

EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

What are the rules? Does France have a hijab ban?

No, France does not have a ban on hijabs in public spaces. However, the rules differ when it comes to headscarves and full-face coverings and this can be confusing because both the full-face veil and the Muslim headscarf are often referred to a voile in French.

In 2010, the country brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings – including the burka and niqab. These cannot be worn in any public space in France, at risk of a €150 fine.

The hijab or headscarf, however, is completely legal in public spaces including shops, cafés and the streets and it’s common to see women wearing them, especially in certain areas of the big cities like Paris.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no restriction on women’s freedom to wear the Muslim headscarf.

In line with France’s laws on laïcité (secularism) it is forbidden to wear overt symbols of religion – including the Muslim headscarf – in government buildings, including schools and universities (with the exception of visitors).

Public officials such as teachers, firefighters or police officers are also barred from wearing any overt symbol of their religion while they are at work.

In 2004, President Jacques Chirac’s government banned all religious signs from state schools. While the law also banned crucifixes and kippas, “it was mostly aimed at girls wearing Muslim headscarves,” explained The Local’s columnist, John Lichfield.

Burkinis are also subject to certain rules. They are not allowed in public swimming pools in France where there are strict regulations regarding dress (Speedos only for men and compulsory swimming caps), but they are allowed on beaches and in other public spaces.

READ MORE: Burkini: Why is the French interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

This became a source of controversy during the summer of 2022, when Grenoble challenged the ban on the full-body swimsuit by relaxing its rules on the swimwear permitted in public pools.

In response to the challenge, France’s highest administrative court voted to uphold the countrywide ban in June. 

What about in athletics?

Some federations, such as the French Football Federation, have banned players from wearing the hijab, along with other “ostentatious” religious symbols such as the Jewish kippa.

A women’s collective known as “les Hijabeuses” launched a legal challenge to the rules in November last year.

Other sports, such as handball and rugby, have a more open position.

Are there plans to change these rules? 

Currently, there are no government plans to reverse the ban on full-face coverings including the burka and niqab or to allow the symbols of religion in public buildings, like schools.

There have been attempts to change the current legal framework on the headscarf, however.

In 2021, Senators proposed an to the government’s “anti-separatism bill” that would ban girls under 18 wearing a hijab in public. Several other amendments also targeted Muslim women – such as banning mums from wearing the hijab when accompanying school trips – however these were all defeated in the Assemblée nationale and therefore did not become law.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Are the rules followed?

The rules around the niqab are generally followed and it has become quite rare in France.

However sociologist Agnès De Féo, believes that in the years following its ban, the full-face covering became more popular, rather than less.

She wrote that “the law had an incentive effect: it incited women to transgress the ban by embracing the prohibited object. Prohibition made the niqab more desirable and created a craze among some young women to defy the law.”

As of 2020, however, fewer women wore the niqab and burka in France than they did in 2009.

The rules around the wearing the headscarf in public buildings are generally respected, but it’s not uncommon for rules around any form of Muslim dress to be over-zealously interpreted – sometimes by accident, sometimes with a cynical political intent.

One key example was in 2019, when Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage after posting a video of himself confronting a headscarf-wearing woman who accompanied students on a field trip.

He cited “secular principles” – arguing that the headscarf’s ban in schools should also extend into school trips.

In response, the country’s Education Minister at the time, Jean-Michel Blanquer, clarified that that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children.”

There was also controversy at election time over candidates who appeared on posters wearing the hijab, although again this is perfectly legal and doe snot contravene secular principles. 

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