CATHERINE Wihtol de Wenden, director of studies at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), is an expert in immigration into France. She tells Connexion how France is too tough on people wanting to live here.
Which countries produce the most immigrants into France?
The most numerous are the North Africans - Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians, who make up about 1.5 million - but in terms of a single nationality it is the Portuguese, so we have a lot either from nearby countries or for colonial reasons. There are many from French-speaking Africa, like Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and a few from the Congo and Cameroon. Others come, due to increasing globalisation, from countries like the Philippines, Pakistan or China and also from Eastern Europe, notably from Romania or Poland. Then there are those from neighbouring countries like Italians and Spanish - part of the old immigration to France.
The reason for the high number of Portuguese is those who came between 1965 and 1974 because of poverty, dictatorship, or to escape their two or three years of military service in the colonies. Things improved there after the country joined the EU.
What are the current trends?
We have seen a fall in the number of asylum seekers, who were at about 100,000 five years ago and are now about 40,000. Immigration as a whole is at about 150,000 a year, which is quite stable. About half of immigrants come to join family - the rest are a mixture of asylum seekers, students and people coming for work.
Then there is "Britishland" - those areas where the Britons come to take their retirement, to do teleworking or to set up small businesses. The main areas are Normandy, Brittany and the south-west - you do not tend to find British people in Alsace and the east, for example. The biggest area is Aquitaine, the old Plantagenet lands you might say. They do up villages that were a bit abandoned before, which is helping preserve France's heritage. They sometimes carry on living a bit of a British lifestyle - like all foreign immigrants they sometimes tend to live among each other, and some of the popular villages now have quite a British feel. Sometimes the French feel their villages have lost some of their local identity, but in general the British are well-accepted.
Are there estimates of numbers of British immigrants?
It is hard to be precise because immigrants from the EU are not counted in the same strict way as others due to freedom of movement rules. Another difficulty is that some come as tourists and then prolong their stay longer than the three months that is considered a tourist stay - a lot spend part of the year here and part in the UK. The figures we have are a bit fanciful. They mainly come from the tax authorities and censuses, though we no longer have a national census in France - just a sample is done at a time, to give a snapshot.
There was controversy recently over the issue of collecting statistics on racial origins
The Conseil Constitutionnel [France's highest constitutional authority] ruled against it, though it was agreed studies of limited population samples could be made for research purposes only - to measure discrimination, for example - with authorisation from relevant bodies like the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés [Cnil - which protects people' s freedom and private life in connection with digital information]. I think that is for the best. What matters in France is the social contract, [ie. shared values] not someone's origins. Also, if we produce figures on how many people of racial minorities are in prisons or hospitals etc. they could be used by the Front National for political purposes. Such information can be useful in limited circumstances, if it can help identify police brutality or discrimination in employment and so on, but it should not be too generalised.
The idea of making people wanting to join families take DNA tests was also controversial
Yes, but it has now been dropped. That is preferable. It's used in some countries like Germany, but the links between people are not always biological - some people raising a child, an adoptive parent for example, have no DNA link.
Is it too easy to come to live here, or not easy enough?
It is too difficult - like a lot of European countries, the policies are very dissuasive and the conditions for staying have been made stricter. If someone wants to bring their family to join them they must show their income is from work, not from any benefits, and rules on the size of their accommodation and the ages of children have become stricter.
As for seeking asylum, that has become much harder since 2003 - there is the notion of internal asylum, for example: there is a list of countries where it is considered that people seeking asylum should be able to find protection in their own country so they cannot come to France.
It has been made tougher for other kinds of migration, too - for example students wanting to prolong their stay and work in France. Under the 2006 "Sarkozy Law" they can stay a year but it is very hard for them to change their student carte de séjour to a salaried worker's one if they find long-term work. In certain sectors, where there is demand for workers, it is easier to get permission to live in France - including in IT and for certain technical fields, also for plumbers and specialised carpentry, nurses and textile work. People also find jobs in sectors that are physically difficult - cleaning jobs in catering, building work or being a council labourer. Many people end up in badly-paid work, often working illegally.
How do you think newspapers in France deal with the issue of immigrants compared to the UK?
We don't have the equivalent of the tabloids. Journalists do a good job informing people about problems linked to illegal immigration and raise awareness of political excess. Journalists do get across the suffering of the sans papiers ["without papers" - illegal immigrants] and the pointlessness of policies of extreme dissuasion. Like the former Sangatte refugee camp - many people still go there, hoping to get on to lorries, trains or boats. The immigration minister closed a site they called the "Jungle", a sort of wasteland with old Second World War bunkers - now they're camping in council gardens or anywhere they can find. It's difficult.
Are many illegal immigrants only here to get to the UK?
It is mainly a question of language. The English-speakers want to go to the UK. It is also about whether they have family links in France - that is often important for the North Africans, for example.
Is France tougher in terms of immigration policies than the average?
No, I think the situation is similar to most countries in the EU. There has been a general toughening of policies, meaning there are more sans papiers.
Is it important that immigrants learn French?
It is complex - you get some sans papiers who speak good French and some legal immigrants who speak almost no French at all. It is not unreasonable to ask them to learn French to live in France but one problem is that it is often made a condition that they must learn it. [Notably under the contrats d'accueil et d'intégration, for non-EU immigrants.] For people who don't progress very well, their right to stay is precarious and it can be difficult for families.
To work in France it is better if you speak French, but sometimes I think there is too much stress on it. In a lot of jobs good French is not needed, like agricultural work or council labouring.
We interviewed minister Fadela Amara about her work to make the banlieues (housing estates) less isolated. Is that important?
It is a good idea to open them up more, sometimes the populations there are too closed in on themselves - with people who live 20km from Paris but never go to Paris. The idea of Le Grand Paris [policies to treat the Paris suburbs as part of the capital] is good. Having better communication with the city centre avoids pockets of exclusion where there can be problems of violence and Islamic extremism. However there must be jobs for people - if people are just hanging around you get violence.
Is there still a tendency for immigrants to be poorer and more disadvantaged?
The fact that people of North African origin are entering the middle class in large numbers is often underestimated.
You see a lot in jobs like primary school teaching, the middle ranks of public service and the post office, and more and more are going to university.
There are also a lot of mixed couples. This often goes unnoticed.
There are still quite a lot of jobs reserved only for the French - is that a problem?
Yes, there are about 100,000 positions where you must be French, though the situation is improving under EU pressure. For example, you used to have to be French to work for the RATP [Paris public transport]. In many cases we are talking about rules dating to the Second World War which have no relevance. Also in some cases jobs are only for Europeans, but some are being opened up.
Would you say racism has dropped?
No, it is still prevalent and in particular there are a lot of errors by the police - they need to be better trained.
You get incidents, like unwarranted identity checks, that spark violence. There's not enough confidence in police among immigrant communities. There's a state of war with them in some of the banlieues with deaths on both sides.
The far right seems to be less popular than it was
In electoral terms yes, but people with these views are included to an extent in those who voted for Sarkozy. The government often listens to them too much and should do more for rights of new French [immigrant] populations and to encourage consideration for them rather than being swayed by public opinion.
The Connexion, aqui.