Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s interior minister and presidential hopeful, has unveiled tougher rules on immigration, making it easier to expel foreign workers or those refusing to integrate.
The proposals included in a draft law, which Mr Sarkozy will present to the cabinet on Thursday, aim to change the very nature of immigration into France.
“We no longer want immigration that is inflicted [on us],” he said. “We want selected immigration. The system of integration the French way no longer works,” he told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.
The draft law calls for the creation of a points system for students and workers that gives them rankings depending on the country of origin and their field of work and study.
Workers who could “contribute to the economic dynamism of our country”, such as scientists, IT experts or artists, would be given a three-year work permit.
Students taking courses that are in less demand would be given priority in obtaining visas to study at universities.
Immigrants applying for lengthy stays would have to respect a list of obligations as part of a new “contract of welcome and integration”.
These include learning French and actively looking for a job. In return, they would be “protected against discrimination” and given 10-year residency permits.
Immigrants failing to respect human rights would face expulsion.
“In the case of a woman kept hostage in her home without learning French, the whole family will be obliged to leave,” Mr Sarkozy said.
The law also makes it harder for an illegal immigrant to gain residency status by marrying a French person.
The new spouse must now wait three years instead of 18 months to apply, then prove that he has made efforts to integrate into his new home.
Only five per cent of legal immigrants came to France for work, said Mr Sarkozy, who heads the ruling UMP party. The remainder arrived to join family members.
While that right is guaranteed under the European convention on human rights, Mr Sarkozy pointed out that “a foreigner wanting his family to join him would have to prove that he can support them through his salary”.
Under the proposals, companies that employ foreign workers illegally would have to pay for their repatriation.
Immigration is expected to be a central issue in next year’s presidential elections, partly because of France’s worst urban rioting in almost four decades at the end of last year.
Mr Sarkozy’s hard-line response to the violence, perpetrated in large part by descendants of African immigrants living in poor neighbourhoods, helped lift his popularity.
In the interview, he rejected the zero immigration policy of the far-Right National Front, calling it “technically impossible and counter-productive”.
But the “clandestine prize” which gives illegal immigrants permanent residency if they stay in the country for more than 10 years unnoticed is expected to be scrapped under the new laws.
Mr Sarkozy’s proposals were criticised by the Left and by Patrick Weil, one of France’s leading immigration specialists.
Mr Weil said Mr Sarkozy’s previous law—introduced only three years ago—had not yet had time to take effect and that the new proposals amounted to a political “façade” to lure the extreme-Right vote.