(Sept. 9, 2015) The French National Assembly (Assemblée nationale, one of the two houses of the French Parliament) approved legislation on immigration on July 23, 2015. (Projet de loi relatif au droit des étrangers en France [Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France], Senat [Senate] website (last visited Sept. 9, 2015).) The legislation, which was first introduced on July 23, 2014, aims to deal with the three immigration policy priorities identified by the French government: improving the reception and integration of legal immigrants, facilitating and encouraging the arrival of skilled immigrants, and addressing illegal immigration more efficiently while respecting fundamental rights. (Projet de loi relatif au droit des étrangers en France [Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France], No. 2183 (Explanatory Statement), Assemblée Nationale website (July 23, 2014).)
The principal features of the “Rights of Foreigners” legislation are outlined below.
Improving the Reception and Integration of Legal Immigrants
The legislation would introduce a new multi-year stay visa, which would be added to the existing one-year stay visa and the ten-year residency permit. (Id.) This multi-year stay visa would be conditional on the applicant’s attending language and civics courses to facilitate her/his integration into French society. (Id.) The visa’s multi-year nature is seen by the sponsors of the legislaton as a way to enhance the stability of immigrants’ lives in France. Currently, many legal immigrants who do not yet have the ten-year residency permit are required to spend countless hours at the prefecture, several times a year, to keep and renew their visas, which is seen as an impediment to their successful integration into French society. (Id.; Immigration: les trois mesures phares du projet de loi “droit des étrangers” [Immigration: The Three Principal Measures of the “Rights of Foreigners” Bill], FRANCE-TV INFO (July 20, 2015).)
An amendment to the legislation that was introduced by the National Assembly would make it possible for a child who has lived in France since the age of six, who has attended French schools, and who has a sibling who obtained French citizenship to acquire French citizenship upon reaching the age of majority, which is 18. (Droit des étrangers [Rights of Foreigners], Amendment No. 431 Assemblée Nationale website (July 23, 2015); Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France, VIE-PUBLIQUE.FR (July 24, 2015) (in French).)
Facilitating and Encouraging Entry of Skilled Immigrants
The “Rights of Foreigners” legislation aims to improve the conditions under which foreign students can stay in France and to attract qualified and “talented” immigrants to work in France. The legislation would ensure that student visas remain valid long enough for the students to complete their curriculum. (Explanatory Statement, supra.) Visa requirements would also be modified to facilitate the stay of foreign students who, after obtaining at least a Master’s degree, either find a job related to their studies or create their own company. (Id.)
The legislation would also create a new type of four-year visa specifically for highly qualified or talented individuals and their families, with the goal of making it easier for them to settle in France and contribute to the French economy. (Id.)
Fighting Illegal Immigration More Efficiently
The third main aspect of the “Rights of Foreigners” legislation is to counter illegal immigration more efficiently, while simultaneously reinforcing respect for the basic human rights of illegal immigrants. To help combat visa-related fraud, the legislation would allow local prefects (préfets) to obtain information from other government bodies and from certain private sector institutions such as banks about potential immigrants. (Immigration: les trois mesures phares du projet de loi “droit des étrangers,” supra.) The legislation also provides for increased fines against transportation providers (such as airline companies) that fail to adequately implement legally-required identity verification measures. (Projet de loi relatif au droit des étrangers en France, supra; Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France, supra.)
Asylum seekers whose applications have been denied would see their window to appeal the decision reduced to 15 days. (Droit des étrangers [Rights of Foreigners], Amendment No. 377, Assemblée Nationale website (July 16, 2015); Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France, supra.) The legislation further provides that individuals facing possible deportation should be placed under house arrest, rather than being sent to detention facilities, the latter being reserved for those who present a particular flight risk. (Projet de loi relatif au droit des étrangers en France, supra; Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France, supra.) The legislation also gives the immigration authorities more options for arresting the subjects of deportation orders and escorting them back to their countries of origin. (Projet de loi relatif au droit des étrangers en France, supra.) In addition, local prefects would be given the authority to issue administrative orders barring individuals who present a “real, current, and sufficiently serious” threat to “the fundamental interests of society” from being present in French territory; the ban would be in force for a period of three years. (Id.; Bill on the Rights of Foreigners in France, supra.)
Context, Controversies, and Next Steps
Although the “Rights of Foreigners” legislation was first introduced a year ago, the National Assembly’s vote on it comes in the context of an ongoing migration crisis throughout Europe. Record numbers of people, many of them fleeing conflict zones such as Syria, have been seeking refuge in Europe, often after extremely perilous journeys. (Europe’s Border Crisis: Storyline Chronology, NBC NEWS (last visited Sept. 9, 2015).)
The legislation itself has proven controversial on both sides of the political spectrum. The conservative opposition parties oppose the draft law as being too permissive towards immigration. Some left-leaning parties, on the other hand, as well as most pro-immigrant advocacy groups, criticize it for being too strict and giving too much power to prefects. (Le projet de loi sur le “droit des étrangers” en 6 points [6 Things to Know About the “Rights of Foreigners” Bill], LE POINT (July 21, 2015).) The legislation’s provisions granting prefects increased authority to obtain private information about immigrants from other government bodies (such as schools, public hospitals, or the French social security administration) and from certain private sector institutions (such as banks) appear to be particularly controversial. (Id.)
Having been adopted by the National Assembly, the legislation was officially sent to the Senate on July 24, 2015. (Projet de loi relatif au droit des étrangers en France, supra.) It must be adopted with the same text by both the National Assembly and the Senate before it can be signed into law by the French President.
This article was prepared with the assistance of Law Library of Congress Intern Chloé Gillenwater.