France lowered the number of illegal immigrants by six percent in 2007 through expulsions and increased tracing of illicit workers, Saturday’s issue of Figaro Magazine reported.
“For the first time in a generation the number of illegal immigrants, usually estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000, has fallen,” Minister for Immigration and National Identity Brice Hortefeux told the magazine.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has made immigration the focus of his interior policy for 2008.
In 2007, some 1,564 employers who used illegal immigrants had been caught, 45 percent more than the previous year, Hortefeux said.
The number of foreign illegal workers discovered had risen by 46 percent to 2,772, he said.
At the same time, some 23,200 would-be immigrants had been deported, while 26,500 had been prevented from coming into the country, according to the paper.
The number of foreigners who had been encouraged to leave by repatriation grants had also increased from 2,400 to 4,600.
The French government pays between 300 and 3,500 euros ($439 to $5118) per couple and 1,000 euros per child to those willing to return to their countries.
Referring to the situation in Germany, Hortefeux rejected the accusation that illegal immigrants were interned in 29 centres.
“The alternative would be prison, as it often happens in Germany,” he said.
Illegal immigrants would on average remain detained for 12 days and a maximum of 32 days, Hortefeux said.
“The period permitted by law is 18 months in Germany and unlimited in Britain,” he said.
This year France plans to introduce quotas for would-be immigrants of different countries and occupations.