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France's New Immigration Law

On January 26th this year, France passed a divisive new immigration law. 

Although the legislation was originally passed in December, it was first sent to the Constitutional Council for review. Out of the 86 proposed articles, 35 were deemed as unconstitutional, and thus were partially or fully rejected by France’s Constitutional Council, which is made up of nine people. The rejected articles include denial of automatic French citizenship to those who are born in France to foreign parents, and the introduction of annual migration quotas.

The law imposes stricter control of immigration, via minimum language requirements and stricter access to social benefits for immigrants. Yet it also introduces several special residence permits, such as one for medical professionals. By doing this, the French government hopes to fill the labour shortage in certain sectors.

One example of the law’s attempt to improve integration of immigrants in France is that it requires foreigners seeking a multiyear residence permit to have at least an A2 level of French. Previously, such applicants only needed to prove that they were learning French. 

Eric Kerrouche, a member of the socialist party, comments, “A priori, 15 to 20,000 foreigners could be refused a multiyear residence permit due to this clause”.

Contrarily, Gerald Darmanin, the minister of the interior, believes that “This is an important clause. It aims to move from an obligation of means to an obligation of result.” Those seeking a long term residency must not only attend French language courses, but also pass an exam to prove their abilities.

Immigrants currently living in France can now be deported if they have criminal convictions. 

The legislation aims to resolve France’s labour shortages in industries such as hospitality and agriculture through providing a one-year work and residency permit for undocumented migrants. The scheme will be trialled until 2026.

The recently passed legislation has created a unique residence permit for medical professionals, who previously had to apply for a general work permit. France aims to alleviate the shortage of labour in the medical field by allowing non-EU doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and midwives a streamlined route to residency. 

France’s new legislation has incited anger throughout the country. Less than a week before the law was passed, protests against it took place across France. 

More than 300 elected officials, in a tribune published by Liberation, urged people to protest against “the cultural victory of the far right”, with a significant protest taking place on January 14th. The tribune declared that, “this law violates the principles established in the French Revolution by reversing birthright citizenship”. However, the Constitutional Council rejected the article which would deny birthright citizenship to those born in France to foreign parents.

Protests counted up to 150,000 according to la CGT, France’s national trade union centre. According to the Minister of the Interior, the protests were only half that size.

The law has also divided Macron’s party, with the Health Minister Austien Rousseau resigning in protest. Rousseau told Le Monde, "It's not possible for me to defend this text".

Left wing politicians, employing the law’s severity as evidence, have accused Macron of giving in to the far-right. Without dispute, the adoption of such a law is indicative of the right’s growing popularity, with Marine Le Pen, head of the National Rally Party, describing the law’s passing as an ‘ideological victory’. 

Nonetheless, Philippe Marliere, a professor in French and European Politics at University College London, defends the idea that the issue should not be constrained to a left versus right debate. Instead, he argues that “The bill seems to undermine underlining [established French] constitutional principles.”

Marliere further explains that the idea of ‘national preference’, which the far-right embraces, had  “up until now [been] rejected by the rest of the political spectrum”, but thanks to this legislation has now entered the political mainstream. 

He goes on to state that “[National preference] has been [promoted] by the far-right in France for 50 years and with this bill it has got what it has always wanted”. This principle will establish a two-tiered system in France, in which migrants are inferior to French citizens.

Despite harsh criticisms, Macron has defended the law as being the ‘shield’ needed by the country.


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