Emmanuel Macron draws inspiration for his immigration policy from traditional recipes from the right. The French Government will present today a plan with quotas for economic immigration based on the needs of each sector. The plan also includes a period of three months before asylum seekers in France can access Social Security. Both measures respond to the will of the President of the Republic to prevent the extreme right from monopolizing an issue fertile for demagoguery and populism.
The mini-reform to be presented by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe is designed to bring order to a system with multiple inconsistencies. It is estimated, for example, that in France there are 150,000 jobs available without candidates to fill them, and that half of the companies have difficulties in hiring, according to the newspaper Le Parisien.
Among the most sought after occupations are those of a surveyor, carpenter, veterinarian, mechanic, or home or household assistant. Of the 255,550 residence permits granted in 2018, 13% were for professional reasons; the rest were for family reunification, educational or humanitarian reasons. Another problem, according to the Government, is the huge influx of asylum seekers from countries considered safe, such as Albania and Georgia, the third and second country of origin after Afghanistan. Many come in search of the medical care to which asylum seekers are entitled.
To the first mismatch, Macron wants to respond by reviewing the system by which France regularizes economic immigrants. In a measure inspired by Canada or Australia, it is about setting targets, reviewable each year, of immigrants with specific trades for sectors with specific labor needs. The quotas, which would not be by country, will be defined in a process in which regional authorities and social actors will participate. “We will set a number of people by trades and by territory,” the Minister of Labor, Muriel Pénicaud, announced on the RMC network.
The quotas imply a recognition of the need for economic immigration, a position far removed from the closed border policy of the far right. At the same time, in France the proposals in favor of the establishment of quotas have often come from the conservative camp, so that some, on the left wing of the presidential majority, prefer to speak of “fixed targets”.
The answer to the second failure of the system – the so-called “medical tourism” under the protection of the right of asylum – is to reinforce the conditions of access to universal health protection (Puma, in its French acronym). That is to say, to free healthcare for anyone who works or legally resides in France.
An asylum seeker, while waiting for the authorities to decide the answer to his request, falls into this category today. What will change is that plaintiffs will have to wait three months before enjoying this right. Before this date, they will only have access to “urgent and vital” care, according to Le Monde.
The initiatives of the French Government are a reflection of the macronian doctrine of yes but not applied to immigration: yes to refugees, but no to those without papers; yes to economic migrants, but only for specific jobs; yes to the right of asylum, but without encouraging the arrival of false refugees.
Criticism comes from humanitarian organizations, which warn that postponing access to health coverage for people in fragile situations will make their lives even more complicated. The left accuses the president of imitating his predecessor, the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, who has already tried to impose a quota system, or of playing the game of the extreme right.
Macron believes that in the presidential elections of 2022 his rival will be Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Regrouping. He knows that Le Pen’s favorite subject is immigration and he wants to stop him from taking it over. This does not mean that it will imitate their measures, but it does mean that, in the two and a half years until the elections, it will place the center of its action not only on immigration, but also on issues considered to be of the State such as national security. What is controversial, beyond the details of the proposals, is that the president has decided that these are the priorities of France in 2019. A decision that responds to real problems but also with a tactical background.
Occupy opposing terrain
That Macron wishes to occupy the opposite terrain, or at least to dispute the battle for votes and ideas there, was clear last week in a long interview with Valeurs Actuelles. This minority but influential weekly magazine identifies with the hard right: that of those who seek to build bridges between traditional conservatism and Le Pen’s extreme right.
“If I don’t do this job, people will no longer let us defend the right to asylum. They would say: ‘We can’t do it anymore, look, they’ll take everything, ”the president declared to Valeurs Actuelles to defend the limitations on access to Social Security for asylum seekers. “The problem is the more than 100,000 asylum seekers, of whom a very small minority obtain that right,” he adds. In defense of quotas, he affirms: “We face great hypocrisy: the restoration and construction sectors do not function without immigration. I prefer people who come from Guinea or the Ivory Coast legally than underground Bulgarian or Ukrainian networks ”.
In addition to annoying the Bulgarian and Ukrainian governments, some of Macron’s positions – and the place where he exposes them – disturb the left wing of the Republic on the Move. For the remainder of his term, the president must consolidate his bid on the moderate right without losing votes to the left: squaring the circle.