Assembly green lights contested immigration law

17th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 17, 2006 (AFP) - The French National Assembly on Wednesday approved a controversial new immigration law which is intended to tilt the system in favour of qualified foreign workers.

PARIS, May 17, 2006 (AFP) - The French National Assembly on Wednesday approved a controversial new immigration law which is intended to tilt the system in favour of qualified foreign workers.

Drawn up by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who says he wants France to "choose" rather "undergo" the process of immigration, the law has prompted a strong hostile reaction from the left-wing opposition, rights groups, the Catholic church and some African countries.

After passage in the lower house of parliament, it will be debated in June in the upper house or Senate.

Critics say the law risks creaming off the most talented people from countries where they are badly needed, and will make life harder for ordinary migrants.

"Keeping the best and sending back the worst is not exactly Christian," said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon.

Ivorian reggae singer Alpha Blondy said: "This notion of chosen immigration, this migratory apartheid takes us back to the time of slavery, when the traders chose the strongest or those with the best teeth to take them to the west."

Sarkozy — a frontrunner to become French president after next year's elections — left France Wednesday to visit Mali and Benin, where he faces protests from opponents of the law.

The law creates a new type of residence permit — named a "skills and talents permit" — open to foreigners with qualifications which are judged to be important for the French economy and labour market.

At the same time rules are tightened for migrants moving to France for family reasons, as the vast majority currently do.

Foreigners will be allowed in only if they can be supported not from state hand-outs but earned income; in order to fight convenience marriages foreign spouses will wait longer for residence cards; and migrants will sign an "integration contract" committing them to respect the French way of life.

Sarkozy has said the November riots in France's high-immigration suburbs — where unemployment is rampant among young males — is evidence of the failures of France's current system of immigration.

"The violence which exploded in our suburbs is not unconnected with the shocking failure of our policies of integration and immigration," he told the National Assembly.

"We are closing the doors to those who have a job and opening it for those who don't. This absurd system is an essential ingredient in our malaise."

France's last census figures — for 1999 — showed 4.33 million foreign nationals living in France, and every year a further 140,000 are entering using legal channels.

In addition some 90,000 are believed to enter illegally every year, mainly by overstaying on short-term visas. According to Sarkozy, only five percent of those entering the country legally do so for work reasons.

The government believes there are between 200,000 and 400,000 'sans-papiers' — paperless ones — but it is resisting calls to regularise their situation.

In recent years the number of deportations has shot up, as has the number of people refused asylum. In 2006, the government is banking on making 26,000 repatriations, many on flights run jointly with Britain.

Sarkozy, who is himself the son of a Hungarian father, says his aim is to strike a sensible mid-way path between the immigrants-out rhetoric of the far right and the laissez-faire approach of the left.

In an open letter Wednesday he rebutted the slavery comparison made by reggae singer Blondy, who is a UN "messenger of peace" for the Ivory Coast.

"African slavery was one of the worst tragedies of history and it is essential not to trivialise this crime against humanity by inapt comparisons. Chosen immigration means regulated immigration, organised with reference to the reception capacity of our country," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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