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What's the latest on France's new immigration law?

The Local France
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What's the latest on France's new immigration law?
France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is pushing the new immigration bill. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

In a surprise move, French MPs on Monday voted in favour of a motion to reject the government's immigration bill, before the debates ever began. Here's what could become of the contested bill


The immigration law has been the subject of a political tug of war for more than a year, and has been withdrawn from parliamentary debate several times as the government judged it too controversial.

On Monday night, a majority of deputés voted for a motion de rejet (motion of rejection).

In total, 270 MPs supported the motion, submitted by Green party MPs, and 265 voted against it. The lower house of parliament had been set to begin debating the bill - and its nearly 2,600 amendments - on Monday.

The motion by the Greens passed after it won cross-party support from left-wing MPs as well as the centre right Republicans party and members of Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National.

What is next?

According to reporting by French daily Le Parisien, there are a few possible scenarios. 

The government could choose to withdraw the text entirely or it could be sent back to the Senate (where right-wing lawmakers have a majority).

The bill could also be sent back to the joint committee (the 'CMP') which is made up of seven National Assembly MPs and seven senators, where it would to be re-examined to try to find some compromise on the basis of the bill that was adopted by the Senate in mid-November.

The former head of the Constitutional Council, Jean-Éric Schoettl, told Le Point magazine that if the bill goes back to the CMP, the resulting text could end up closer to that which was originally passed by the senate, as it "the CMP is more right-wing than the Assemblée".


A new law on immigration that includes - among other things - French language tests for certain types of carte de séjour residency card was first announced by interior minister Gérald Darmanin and labour minister Olivier Dusspot in a newspaper interview back in November 2022.


However after several delays in presenting it to parliament, prime minister Elisabeth Borne pulled it in May 2023, judging it too sensitive to bring before parliament directly after the bruising battle over pension reform.

It was pushed back until the autumn, but Macron's political opponents were not content to sit and wait.

First out of the starting blocks were the formerly centre-right Les Républicains party, which not only has enough MPs to pass the bill in partnership with Macron's centrist block but would be the logical partner on matters pertaining to tough immigration rules.

However in late May, LR leader Eric Ciotti and two of his colleagues gave an interview to the Journal Du Dimanche newspaper in which he slammed the government's proposed bill as ineffective and laid out his own extremely radical demands.

These include changing the French constitution and departing from EU laws on migration, expelling all undocumented migrants, making it a criminal offence to be in France without the correct paperwork, cutting healthcare provisions to non-French citizens and imposing tougher rules on seeking asylum. 

The proposals were described as "copied and pasted" from Marine Le Pen's far-right Rassemblement National.


Then in September it was the turn of the left - on September 12th the leftist daily Libération dedicated its front page to an open letter signed by 35 leftist and centrist politicians - including 6 members of Macron’s party - on the subject of immigration.


The letter calls for three things - an immediate amnesty for all undocumented workers in sectors such as the building trade, hospitality, deliveries and domestic care; an end to the rule forbidding asylum seekers to work while their claim is processed; and an end to the chaotic situation at certain préfectures, which the letter says ‘every day creates new undocumented workers’ due to a lack of appointments at the préfecture or delays in processing applications.

Why is there such a political row about it?

It's hardly unusual for politicians on the left and right to disagree about measures on immigration, but at the heart of all this is the fact that Macron's government does not have an outright majority in parliament so it will need the support of at least some opposition MPs to pass this bill.

OPINION The immigration row could force Macron to finally abandon his 'both sides' approach

The bill in its current form tries to take a 'tough cop, soft cop' approach with something for everyone - tougher rules on removing from the country people who have been served with a notice to quit, but at the same time a partial amnesty for undocumented workers in certain under-pressure industries.

It seems, however, to have pleased no-one.


If Borne cannot muster the support to get the bill passed she has two options - a humiliating withdrawal of the bill (which Macron has described as a priority for this term) or using the constitutional tool known as Article 49.3 to force it through without a vote. If she does this, she risks triggering a vote of no confidence in the government.

If this happens and if the vote of no confidence is passed by a majority of MPs (which is far from a foregone conclusion) Borne will have to resign and Macron will have to either call fresh elections, or enter into a 'cohabitation' with the leader of the opposition.

So what's in this bill?

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this bill - given the controversy it has already caused - is how little there actually is in it.

There will undoubtedly be some political horse-trading with certain clauses removed or altered in order to garner support - but in its present form, here are the main points;

Language tests for residency cards - Any foreigner in France applying for the long-term carte de séjour pluriannelle will have to prove that they have "mastered a minimum level of French language" - the first time that formal language tests have been required for residency cards (at present it is only required for citizenship).

This does not affect new arrivals or anyone on the short-term 1-year or 5-year cards, nor does it affect Brits in France who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement (since they either already have a carte de séjour permanent or have the right to apply directly for the carte de séjour permanent once their 5-year card nears expiry).

At present the Office français de l'immigration et de l'integration (OFII) can order people who have no or very little French to attend language classes, but there is no requirement to pass any kind of test.

The new law specifies that a multi-year residence permit will be conditional on a minimum level of French, and no longer only on attendance at courses to learn the language. That suggests, therefore that there will be some sort of test.

The Interior Ministry told The Local that the level is not expected to change from the current requirement, adding: "To obtain a carte de séjour pluriannuelle, an A1 level is required."

The language level A1 in the international DELF scale is defined as: "The most basic level at which a language is used, called the "discovery" stage. At this stage, the learner can interact in a simple way: he/she can speak about him/herself and his/her immediate environment."

QUIZ Test your French language level on the A1 to C2 scale

Easier expulsion for foreigners who 'do not respect the values of the republic' - There are already provisions to either refuse a residency permit or expel from the country foreigners who commit crimes in France, but the new law contains several provisions to strengthen these and speed up the process.

In speaking about the main lines of the bill in December, Borne referred to a "balanced text" combining "humanity" and "firmness".

Article 9 will make it possible to "facilitate the expulsion of foreigners who do not respect the values ​​of the Republic and who commit offences on national territory", while article 10 aims to "reduce the scope of protections against decisions imposing an Obligation de Quitter le Territoire Français (OQTF - an order to leave France), including removing the age barrier.

At present foreigners cannot be expelled from France if they arrived in the country aged 13 or under, but the bill would remove this barrier - this became a political hot topic after the terror attack in Arras in October in which a teacher died. The man in custody over the attack is a Russian national of Chechen background who arrived in France at the age of five. He was on a terror watchlist but could not be expelled from the country under the current laws.

Overstaying, working without a permit and polygamy - what can get you expelled from France?

Article 13 contains a proposal to "require foreigners applying for a residence permit to undertake to respect the principles of the Republic and to make it possible to refuse, withdraw or not renew certain residence permits for new reasons linked to their behaviour".


At present only citizenship requires a formal declaration of adhering to French values.

The "principles" include gender equality, freedom of sexual orientation and freedom of speech.

A similar provision was initially included in the anti-separatism law in 2021 and was rejected by the Constitutional Council because it was too vague. 

Temporary residency cards for 'under pressure' industries - This is essentially an amnesty for undocumented workers, since it concerns only foreigners who are already living in France in an 'irregular situation'. They must have lived in France for at least three years and have worked for a minimum of eight months out of the last 24 in one of the affected industries. 

Anyone who is already living in France and has worked in a job connected to one of the listed industries experiencing a worker shortage can apply for a one-year carte de séjour which will make them legal workers. This will mainly affect industries that find it hard to recruit and are known for employing undocumented workers such as construction and hospitality.

If the bill is adopted, the system will come into force "on an experimental basis" in 2026. An assessment of the measure's effects will then be submitted to Parliament.


Special residency cards for healthcare workers - A new type of carte de séjour is proposed for healthcare workers - particularly doctors or pharmacists - to address a shortage of medics in French hospitals.

The card would last for a maximum duration of 13 months and would give qualified health professionals the right to bring their families with them. It can only be used by medics recruited by public or not-for-profit hospitals or health centres, not private ones.

People-smugglers - The government wants to strengthen the fight against smugglers who organise the arrival of undocumented migrants in France. In Article 14, the ministers intend to "criminalise the facilitation of the entry and stay of illegal aliens in an organised group". Offenders would now be liable to 20 years in prison and a €1.5 million fine.

The executive also wants to authorise the "use of coercion to take fingerprints and photographs of illegal aliens" controlled at the borders.

Asylum-seekers - The bill also aims to establish a number of "France Asylum" centres, responsible for receiving migrants and registering their applications. They would bring together agents from the French Office of Immigration and Integration, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, and the prefectures. "We want to reduce all asylum procedures to a maximum of nine months," Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told Le Figaro.

"Regional chambers" would also be created to make the National Court of Asylum more efficient.


Extra bits

The parliamentary journey of the bill began on November 6th in the Senate, where senators added a bunch of headline-grabbing amendments including scrapping state-funded medical care for undocumented workers, restricting the right to citizenship and toughening the rules for family visas. They also added an amendment to exempt British second-home owners from post-Brexit visa rules.

Almost all of these amendments were scrapped at the committee stage in the Assemblée nationale, including the second-home owners amendment. 


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Sasha 2023/11/06 17:17
Although mentioned in the Local’s original summary of the bill, I’m not seeing any reference to “healthcare re: non-citizens”. Please speak further to this topic?

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