FRANCE: Ministers divided on foreign student rules

Laurent Wauquiez (pictured), France's minister for higher education and research, is embroiled in a row with Claude Guéant, the interior minister, over whether new immigration measures have made it more difficult to attract talented foreign students.

Publicly Wauqiez this week stressed that France wants to attract talented foreign students and denied there was any exclusion policy against students from outside the European Union, despite new measures preventing many from staying in France to take up a first job.

But his argument was undermined by his own assertion that the new measures needed "correcting", an idea that was slapped down by their principal proponent, Claude Guéant, who says they only repeat existing legislation. Guéant's policy is to reduce legal immigration and he believes foreign graduates should return with their skills to their own countries.

Last week Wauquiez met the heads of the three bodies representing presidents of universities (CPU), grandes ecoles (CGE) and engineering schools (CDEFI), which have all expressed anxieties about the measures contained in a circular jointly issued by the interior and employment ministries in May.

Since the circular came into force many foreign graduates have been refused permission to stay to work in France. Students' and lecturers' unions have demanded withdrawal of the order.

Speaking to journalists after the meeting Wauquiez acknowledged that the circular had "presented several difficulties in its application", and that prefectures, the police authorities responsible for approving permits according to the law, should be "made aware" where there were problems.

"France hopes to attract the best students in the world and train them" because they could "later become ambassadors for France", said Wauquiez. "There is no exclusion policy." He said France needed foreign graduates to stay on to work, especially in sectors such as engineering where there was a shortage.

The foreign affairs ministry would "ensure the message is clear through its diplomatic posts; we hope to attract students, with priority for [postgraduates]", he said, adding that targeted countries included China, India and Brazil.

But he did not believe that a controversial new rule requiring incoming students to prove they had increased financial resources should be relaxed, pointing out that "France is one of the least expensive countries in which to study". Current annual university fees are EUR177 (US$244) for a licence (bachelor equivalent) and EUR245 for a masters course.

Last week Guéant contradicted assertions that Wauquiez had made that the circular should be "corrected". The French news agency AFP reported the interior minister as saying Wauquiez could not propose correcting the circular "because it simply repeats 2006 legislation".

Wauquiez had, rather, "proposed bringing a certain number of pragmatic adjustments to its application", said Guéant. "We shall introduce in a pragmatic way solutions to the problems which present themselves, case by case."

Foreign students should "come to France to study" and "not to misappropriate their [student] status to enter the job market", said Guéant.

"We give them a first professional experience so they can develop their skills in their country of origin; that is what the law anticipates and it is very important," he said. "But the first calling of students is to return home to benefit their country through their skills.

"France has no vocation to cream off the skills of other countries."

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FRANCE: Immigration restrictions hit foreign students