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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More on the "Circulaire Guéant"

The "circulaire Guéant" continues to be a hot topic here in France.  For those of you who are just now joining the conversation, the French government released a new policy at the end of May that restricts the opportunities for foreign students to work in France after they have completed their studies here.

International students continue to protest, the politicians are debating it in the National Assembly, and both universities and businesses are making their displeasure known in the media and to the government.  

It is worth noting that this "circulaire" did not just come out of thin air.  Going back and reading older editions of French newspapers, Claude Guereant has been saying for months that he wants to reduce legal immigration which includes selective economic immigration  ("l'immigration choisie" in French), family reunification and asylum for political refugees.  He laid out his intentions quite clearly in this article in Le Figaro back in April of this year:
Comptez-vous également intervenir pour réduire l'immigration légale ? 
Bien évidemment. J'ai demandé que l'on réduise le nombre de personnes admises au titre de l'immigration du travail (20.000 arrivées par an). Et nous allons continuer à réduire le nombre d'étrangers venant en France au titre du regroupement familial (15.000). J'ai demandé une étude sur la pratique des pays d'Europe sur l'application du droit international. 
Do you also plan on reducing legal immigration? 
Of course.  I have asked that we reduce the number of persons admitted with work permits (20,000 arrivals per year).  And we are to continue to reduce the number of foreigners coming to France as part of the family reunification program (15,000).  I have asked for a study of the practices of other European countries in the application of international law.
This means everyone trying to come live and work in France legally:  high-tech workers, people with advanced degrees, entrepreneurs, foreign family members and asylum seekers.  In this context international students are just casualties along with all the others.

To be fair to the French government and the French people, immigration is a deeply emotional issue here just as it is in many countries.  There is real fear, exacerbated by economic uncertainty, that the country is being taken over by foreigners who come to abuse the social welfare system and steal jobs.  Clearly there must be a response to this.  This is a democracy and the people deserve a debate and an intelligent  measured response from their elected officials.  The question is:  does the "circulaire Guéant" and the drive to reduce legal immigration constitute an appropriate response to these fears?   I would argue "no" and that this is more about shoring up a government that is facing re-election and much less about formulating good policy to the benefit of the French nation.

It is quite simply a way for the present government to demonstrate that it has "everything under control" and it is faithfully fulfilling one of the primary purposes of government which is to defend the people, the culture and the border.  A very powerful message that most certainly is playing to a receptive audience here.

I would also argue that it plays to another kind of fear:  the fear of decline. Rhetoric against migrants in both the United States and France could be seen as a way for natives to reassure themselves that they still do live in a great country.  The more the international students and other migrants protest, the more natives can feel comforted that they live in a country that is such a magnet for foreigners that hordes of people are knocking down the door just to have a chance to get what natives have.

The reality is that you cannot make people come to your country and you can not prevent them from leaving.  Migrants are rational actors in this game and they have options.  If they do not come to your country, they will go somewhere else where they are likely to be warmly received.   No country on this planet is so special that their government can afford to ignore this global labor market.  And let's be brutally honest about the political implications:    yes, the number and quality of people your country attracts does say something about your country's relative power in the world.  

I don't think the French Minister of the Interior really thought through all the implications of the "circulaire Guéant" and the message it sends to the wider world.

Message sent and received.  Now welcome to the world of unintended negative consequences.


Anonymous said...

I have really enjoyed perusing your website. I am a U.S. citizen and recent graduate from a masters program. My goal is to find work in Europe for two huge reasons. 1. I fell in love with a European man, and 2. I have big dreams of working for an international aide organization. In any case, it has been an absolute nightmare navigating through the process of applying to jobs and internships. I am even considering going over there to pursue a second masters with the hopes of increasing my chances of securing employment over there. In any case, I am writing because it helps to read your articles and know that maybe it's NOT me...maybe the current climate is simply just bad for all foreigners dreaming of working in the EU. Thank you for your insights.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thank you for stopping by and reading.

I can really appreciate your frustration. Foreigners are often very surprised at how hard it is to get a work permit here and how confusing the process is.

You're absolutely right - it isn't you. Just like the U.S. France is well into an election cycle and the climate isn't good right now. But don't give up hope. The Minister of the Interior wants to reduce legal immigration but he is not proposing to eliminate it entirely. The EU is also getting into the game. The Blue Card is just the beginning and the EU has signaled its commitment to attracting foreign talent. Better days will come, I think. Best of luck to you.


Anonymous said...

This is a comment on what Anonymous wrote by an economist who has been following the Eurozone crisis since it started about two years ago. The austerity programs that all the Eurozone countries, the U.S. and Britain are committed to will cause increasing contraction of their economies. Austerity equals contraction. That means zero to negative growth and fewer jobs. Young people like Anonymous just out of school will find it very difficult to get a job even without the new policy of not letting foreigners stay in France after graduation from a French school.

The economic climate is horrible but it is going to get worse because the political and economic leaders are in a state of paralysis. They have very few options. All of them are scary with respect to their consequences. That is why Angela and friends can't commit themselves to anything. The American head of PIMCO was just interviewed about this. He said Europe has an engineering and a political problem. By engineering he means a plan to follow. America is in better shape because it only has a political problem. It knows what to do but lacks the political will to do it.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

Yes, the situation is troubling. I am in daily contact with friends and family in North America and we frequently exchange horror stories and our concerns about where all this is going.

We have a saying in our family, "the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the Atlantic." Both continents have the capacity to resolve their respective situations but right now neither seems to have the will. A suivre...


Anonymous said...

Just a few thoughts on employment in France (and these are solely my opinions). First, MBAs and PhDs are not that important in France! There I said it. There are plenty of French PhDs who are looking for work and they are decades ahead of a mundane American, GB, or other PhD. Second, look around at who actually gets hired: White, French, and probably an acquaintance! Sound familiar? Same phenomenon in the US and GB. Eighty percent of jobs are found through networking (like it or lump it). Third, speak and write French fluently? Anything less than "fluently" and you don't stand a chance. Fourth, willing to start as an apprentice? Sorry foreigner. You didn't make the cut. Finally, I agree that a little austerity tightens things up for foreigners but austerity is only the tip of the iceberg. Unless you are a nuclear physicist, PhD, with 15 years experience, you must be a little naïve. They will use you up and discard you like a piece of garbage, which is what they really think of ya. Your search criteria is ass-backwards; search for what you want to do for a living and find THE environment to accomplish it.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

You have a good point - there ARE a lot of PhD's in France and they can have trouble finding work. Which is why many of them leave. For example, France exports many professors to American universities who are quite happy to have them.

I've had the experience of being a foreigner here with poor language skills and I know it's tough. It got better though with time. There is a phenomenon called "de-skilling" where foreigners with very good credentials are forced to take jobs far below their credentials in the time it takes to get integrated. It can a real blow to one's pride but if you tough it out, it does get better. Most of the places I've worked have had foreigners like me from all over the world. In many cases their French was PERFECT because they had been in French-language schools since they were children (they had a real advantage over me ;-)

In a perfect world I think we would all like to pick what we do for a living. I've had that luxury all my life but I've been around the world enough to know that it isn't always possible. And sometimes that's really not people's first priority. I count among my friends many folks who are doing jobs that they don't really love OR hate but since work isn't that important to them, they cultivate others things like family, writing, painting, sports, history and so on. That wouldn't be my choice because I don't think I could do something I wasn't passionate about for 10 hours a day without losing my mind. However I do respect the right of other people to think otherwise.

For a very funny look at an extreme "I work to live. I don't live to work" attitude I highly recommend a book called "Bonjour Paresse." :-)