FRANCE: Immigration restrictions hit foreign students

Immigration measures that tighten restrictions on foreign students from outside the European Union and are opposed by university presidents, grandes Ă©coles and students, have been defended by Laurent Wauquiez, France's Minister for Higher Education and Research.

Wauquiez said the country's doors "must remain open" to international students, but he wanted to encourage student exchanges between universities, rather than individuals coming to France to study.

Recent orders from the ministries of the interior and of employment tighten the interpretation of 2006 legislation, making it much more difficult for a non-EU foreigner to change from a student's to an employee's status after graduation, and limit their stay in the country after graduation to six months.

Non-EU foreigners wishing to study in France must also prove increased financial resources before they can obtain a residence permit.

Hardest hit will be Moroccans, who comprise the biggest national group of foreign students. Chinese and Algerians form the second and third largest groups.

The Conférence des Présidents d'Université (CPU) has expressed its disquiet at the "hardening of the rules applicable to foreign students, concerning their entry into France as well as their professional employment".

It "considers these measures as contrary to the very essence of a university and to the policy [to promote] the attractivity of French universities in the context of globalisation".

CPU President Louis Vogel confirmed the body's opposition to the measures last week at a meeting organised by the International Club of Journalists in Paris. "You reduce the attractivity of universities if you do this. [Students are] not attracted by universities if they have to go back home immediately afterwards."

He said the government had not agreed to extend the six-month post-graduation period to a year as the CPU had proposed.

The Conférence des Grandes Ecoles (CGE), which represents France's selective higher education institutions, also opposes the restrictions.

Foreign graduates of the prestigious establishments, which include business schools HEC and Essec, usually stay in France for their first professional experience. But under the restrictions many non-EU nationals who have just been offered jobs on graduation are finding themselves unable to sign their contracts.

Pierre Tapie, Director-general of Essec and President of the CGE, has contacted Interior Minister Claude Guéant to express concern. He said acquiring professional experience in France was a very important part of what made the country attractive to foreign students.

He told Le Monde: "These young people do not take employment away from the French. First, because they are often recruited by French companies which hope to benefit from their double connection to develop business relations with their countries of origin. Then because through their activity, these talented people create employment in France."

The students' organisation Confédération Etudiante (Cé) condemned "the contradictory policy that consists on one hand of encouraging the best students to come to study in our universities and grandes écoles, and on the other the discriminations of which they are increasingly the target".

The CĂ© said the application of the circular in May had led to "appalling deadlines and numerous refusals for work permits, which oblige many foreign graduates to give up a first job, even when related to their degree, and to leave France.

"The forced departure of these highly qualified students who have been trained in our institutions constitutes an irreplaceable loss for the French economy and universities, at a time when numerous innovatory sectors are under-endowed," it said.

Jean-Louis Missika, Deputy Mayor responsible for innovation, research and universities at Paris City Hall, which administers the biggest university city in Europe, said 18% of the 300,000 students enrolled in Paris came from abroad, rising to 40% at doctorate level.

He accused the government of putting at risk the future of foreign students in France and threatening the capital's scientific attractivity. "It is absurd to educate foreign students only to expel them when they have obtained their degree, without even giving them a chance to offer their talents to French employers.

"So France educates students to a high level, whom it sends directly to the United States and Canada, where immigration policies have the intelligence to profit from this incredible richness represented by young graduates, whatever their nationality," said Missika.

Last week at the International Club of Journalists conference Wauquiez defended the government's measures, while insisting that "France must be open to foreign students, it would be crazy to close the doors".

However, though he wanted to retain the same level of foreign students - internationally France accounts for the third highest intake, equal with Germany after the US and UK - he added conditions.

"I don't want students to come here 'just like that'; students must come through partnerships, cooperation between foreign and French universities, to be catered for properly. If they come through a programme, that will be the highest level of efficiency."

He said he also wanted more French students to go abroad to study. "I want exchanges to be on both sides. China is a very high-performing country, so it is interesting for us to send students there."

Related link
FRANCE: Ministers unveil foreign student strategy


This new policy is more or less the same as the ones in Australia and Canada (for example) where there is a clear national preference when a company advertises for a position. Nobody makes any noise about it so why is it a big issue in France ?

François Therin

I disagree about Canada. Foreign students are given a work permit once they graduate and they can easily from there get a resident card and eventually citizenship. Canada encourages foreign students to stay on the workplace- this country has an open immigration policy anyways, so better keep the people who attended their own schools.

France owes nothing to these students (neither does Canada) but it is just that the way it justifies this new policy is completely irrelevant. I went to shool in France and even got a scholarship paid by the French government, not to mention all the allocation de logement to help me pay my rent, them paying for education etc.

The question is why spend money on people you're not getting any return on investment from. This policy only serves future elections. And again they owe nothing to no one they just gotta be consistent and relevant.