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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Really Bad News for Foreign Students in France

Foreign students in France had a very rude awakening when they started school this September.  Apparently the French government has decided against a policy of trying to retain foreign students who have completed their studies in France and would like to stay and work for awhile.

I first became aware of this issue when I met a thoroughly charming and quite brilliant tri-lingual Latin American mathematician who had just completed his doctorate in mathematics at a French university.  He was trying to get permission to stay, had some very interesting skills for high-tech industries and was flabbergasted to discover that no one was very interested in helping.  On the contrary, the message was very clear, "Go home!" which frankly was not his first choice.  He wanted to travel a bit more and get some work experience abroad before heading back to his country of origin.

Why this change in policy?  Well, we are in an election cycle and immigration is a hot topic.  This is one method among others to lower the immigration rates so that Sarkozy's government can say they are actively doing something about this "problem."  Another is that unemployment is high, the economic environment is uncertain and it is not sure that jobs will be available for these people in the future.  Finally such policies to retain international students (U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia have them) do cause tension with other countries.  I have talked with French people who are very bitter that Canada (especially Quebec) is stripping some of the best and brightest French students out of the French system with the express purpose of turning them into Canadians.

That said, this policy is, in my opinion, counter-productive and very short-sighted for the following reasons:

  • It's positively schizophrenic.  On one hand the government is trying to get highly-skilled foreign workers into France through programs like the EU Blue Card and the Carte de "compétences et talents" which cost money to implement and promote, while turning away those who are already on French soil, have the skills French industry needs and are already integrated into French society.
  • It makes French high education much less attractive to foreign students.  There are a lot of reasons to go abroad for university and one factor in a student's decision is whether or not he can also get that CV-enhancing foreign work experience.  Now the French government is giving these students a reason not to come study in France.  Canada suddenly looks much better in comparison (and they speak French too).
  • It creates a lot of ill-will especially since the policy was changed rather abruptly.  Students who wanted to come to France and have had (we hope) a positive experience living here are now being rejected and told to leave.  Now.  That is a powerful and very unpleasant message and some of these students are going to leave with very negative feelings about this country.  Personally, I would not count on them being goodwill ambassadors for France anytime soon.  See this video for some of the reactions.

And finally do they honestly think these students are going to go home?  Nonsense.  If France won't have them there are many other countries that would be delighted to give them a hearty welcome and a path to citizenship.  With their advanced degrees and language skills, they are a net benefit to the next nation willing to have them since their advanced education was basically financed by the French taxpayer.

The Latin American mathematician I had the pleasure of talking with had absolutely no intention  of going back.  Some day, he said, but, in the meantime, he thought he would inquire at the U.S. and Canadian consulates to see what might be possible.  "Perhaps they'll want me," he said.

I have no doubt they will.


Anonymous said...

Even nearly 40 years ago when I was learning French in Montreal I met recent immigrants from France who had jobs but couldn't get citizenship there. Here in 3 years they would have the same citizenship rights that I do.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi there. Thanks for the comment and for stopping by.

The history of citizenship is fascinating because it changes so much over time and the reasons for it are not always obvious - in fact I'd most folks are not aware of what their governments are up to when they craft these laws.

In this global market (and I contend it is one) some countries use citizenship combined with laws allowing dual citizenship as a way of attracting human capital from other countries.

But if you read the papers or watch the news (even in countries of immigration) you see a completely different rhetoric with politicians explaining to their receptive electorates how immigrants are responsible for all the ills (unemployment, for example) facing the nation-state and they take up a lot of time explaining how they are going to manage this "problem". :-)