Despite political disagreements over integration, illegal immigration and asylum policy, France maintains a pro-growth immigration policy. As a member of the European Union (EU), its doors are open to the 500 million citizens of the EU who can work in France without the need for immigration processing. This compensates for a limited process for lower-skilled visas and complements the country’s policies to attract highly skilled foreign nationals.
The EU Blue Card allows non-EU citizens with the equivalent of an associate or bachelor’s degree (or five years professional experience) to work in France with a one-year employment contract offer and an annual salary 1.5 times France’s gross average annual salary, which is 52,750 euros (about $59,000 in the United States).81 There are no quotas on the Blue Card.
Permanent residence for a foreign professional can be obtained after five years of working in France, except for intracompany transferees. However, intracompany transferees have an easy time gaining approval in France, according to immigration attorney Karl Waheed.82 Waheed noted a proposed French law would allow foreign professionals outside the EU to work for up to 90 days in France without immigration processing.83
Immigration from its former colonies has remained a flashpoint in political debates in France, which have often featured controversies over Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have been the three largest source countries of immigrants to France in recent years. The debate has manifested itself less on immigration numbers than on symbolic issues, such as headscarves, stronger citizenship requirements and mandatory singing of the French national anthem in schools.84
While opponents of immigration have protested and supported like-minded candidates at the ballot box, stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration has also created controversy. In 2013, protests erupted in France after a 15-year-old girl was arrested in front of her classmates on a school field trip and deported with her family back to Kosovo after losing an asylum hearing.85
France’s rigid labor laws, which have often kept the national unemployment rate above 10 percent, have exacerbated the cultural clashes. Unlike in America, where Muslim immigrants meld into the labor market, including many professionals and business owners, the focus on job protection for incumbents in France limits opportunities for newcomers.
“During the past 20 years the goal has been to establish a secure immigration framework due to the links to France’s old colonies in Africa,” said Raphael Apelbaum, an attorney with LexCase in Paris. “More recently the goal has been to attract investment and highly skilled people to France. The economy has been globalized, so immigration rules need to follow this globalization.”86
81. French Office of Immigration and Integration. This is different than the minimum salary, which is lower than the gross average annual salary.
82. Interview with Karl Waheed.
84. “National Debate on French Identity Ends Amid Immigration Controversy,” Deutsche Welle (August 2, 2010).
85. “Migration Debate: Deportation Scandal Grips France,” Spiegel Online International (October 21, 2013).
86. Interview with Raphael Apelbaum.