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France to unveil new immigration quotas

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Via Financial Times

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is set to unveil new immigration policies designed to discourage illegal migration, channel skilled foreign workers to the companies that need them and at the same time win over voters from far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Members of parliament for Mr Macron’s centrist party said that Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, would announce a series of immigration measures on Wednesday.

They would include quotas for legal economic migrants and a plan to deprive newly arrived asylum-seekers of access to basic medical care for three months.

The details that have emerged so far have prompted angry denunciations from leftwing politicians and grudging approval from some on the right.

The French government is portraying its proposals as a move to encourage legal migrant workers sought by labour-starved French employers while cracking down on illegal migrants and fake asylum seekers from countries such as Albania and Georgia who are unlikely to face political persecution at home.

François Gemenne, politics professor at Sciences Po, said the restriction on medical aid was “scandalous” and clearly “a gift to the extreme right”, whereas the idea of encouraging legal economic immigration and revising the decade-old official list of labour-deprived sectors was a good idea.

“If they want on the one hand to increase economic migration, they feel obliged on the other hand to offer some sops to the far-right,” he said. “On the whole there is a lot of hot air and lots of small measures without a lot of impact.”

Ministers have not made clear whether they intend to increase or reduce the annual number of “economic migrants” — only 33,500 in 2018 — under the quota plan, which will fix targets for professions in each French region.

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“The idea is for France to recruit according to its needs,” said Muriel Pénicaud, labour minister. “It’s a new approach, somewhat like what’s done in Canada and Australia.” She told BFMTV that the quotas, suggested by Mr Macron at the peak of the gilets jaunes protests in January, would be finalised next summer.

On the controversial issue of restricting illegal migration and rejecting asylum-seekers who fail to prove their cases, Mr Macron is treading carefully as he tries to win over the right without alienating his own liberal and left-of-centre supporters.

In September, Mr Macron laid the groundwork for this week’s measures, saying that France was sometimes “too lax” when it took a humanitarian approach to immigration. Some 114,000 people sought asylum in France in 2018, triple the number of a decade ago, but the number granted asylum in that year was only 33,000.

Mr Gemenne argued that France was flooded with asylum-seekers in part because legal channels of immigration had been closed. Last year, nearly 256,000 people were granted residency in France, but most were students or relatives of earlier immigrants.

Among Mr Macron’s opponents, Les Républicains, the rightwing party, said the idea of quotas had been pushed by their president Nicolas Sarkozy and was therefore a good one, but they condemned the lack of plans to expel illegal migrants and crush people-smuggling networks.

Nicolas Bay of Ms Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National described the measures as a “public relations exercise based on political fraud” because migrants who were coming to work in France made up only just over a tenth of the total each year.

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Olivier Faure, Socialist party leader, said on Twitter that the plan was “politically cynical, scandalous from the humanitarian angle and irresponsible when it comes to public health”.

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