MPI: France Reckons with Immigration Amid Reality of Rising Far Right

A few of the excerpts that I found of interest:

A Significant Increase in Immigrants’ Educational Attainment

Perhaps in part due to the efforts of successive French administrations, immigrants’ level of education has risen sharply in recent decades. In 1975, just 3 percent of immigrants had a higher education degree (which includes a postsecondary diploma or a certificate from a professionally oriented program), compared to 28 percent in 2018.

Immigrants tend to be at one end or the other of the education spectrum: Compared to the overall population, a greater share of immigrants had only a primary-level education (33 percent of the foreign born and 14 percent of the total population in 2018) or a university degree (19 percent and 22 percent respectively; see Figure 3). At the same time, the proportion of immigrants with some postsecondary education (which may include certificates from professionally oriented programs) but not a bachelor’s degree are lower than in the resident population. However, recent immigrants who have been in France for less than five years tend to be better educated.

Immigrants Who Enter as Students Increasingly Stay on to Work

In recent years, France has had one of Europe’s largest populations of international students, with 283,700 at the start of the 2018 academic year (including EU nationals), second only to the United Kingdom and representing 11 percent of France’s students in tertiary education. Between 2000 and 2018, an average of 47,400 third-country students entered France each year, with steadily increasing numbers after 2012 and as many as 65,800 in 2018, when students represented around one-quarter of all immigrants.

Many of these students stay in France for multiple years. Between 42 percent and 50 percent of international students who arrived from 2000 to 2014 continued to hold a valid residence permit five years later, a range that has remains remarkably stable over time (see Figure 5). Most were still students, although since 2006 an increasing share has obtained work permits (notably for highly qualified individuals), reflecting greater labor market integration of immigrants arriving as students. The figures decreased slightly for the cohorts that arrived in 2007 and 2008, reflecting actions by the interior and labor ministries in 2011 asking prefectures to “rigorously” examine students’ applications for change of status, although these provisions were repealed the following May, after François Hollande became president.

Conclusion: Outsized Focus at Odds with Reality

Despite these political pressures, immigration trends in France are comparable to other countries and not, as some of the far right have claimed, a reflection that the government has lost control. Immigrants represent just about 10 percent of France’s total population and the numbers have not increased dramatically in recent years, yet issues of migration were prominent during the 2022 election and appear likely to persist.

In particular, government efforts today are focused on encouraging immigration of highly educated people deemed to be good for the French economy, and limiting arrivals of everyone else. In many ways, this is simply an updated version of France’s decades-old focus on welcoming immigrants whose characteristics and skills are considered useful to the economy, as it did in the years after World War II. Yet the distinction between beneficial and detrimental migration is misplaced, both because it can be deeply hurtful to those who are deemed unwanted, but also because economic analysis by the author and others shows that family migration has led to an increase in France’s per capita gross domestic product and that asylum seekers do not burden European economies.

Political figures on France’s far right have advanced an apocalyptic and radical vision of how immigration is changing their country, which is out of step with current realities. During her campaign, Le Pen promised to stop family reunification, make it harder for children of immigrants born in France to be citizens, and limit welfare benefits to French citizens. Even in defeat, her performance in 2022 underscores how willing many French voters are to embrace these kinds of approaches.

Source: MPI: France Reckons with Immigration Amid Reality of Rising Far Right

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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