France says tough immigration policies are working
By Gerard Bon
Thu 19 Jun 2008, 10:57 GMT
PARIS, June 19 (Reuters) – Tougher immigration policies launched in President Nicolas Sarkozy's first year in office are working, with more illegal migrants expelled and more skilled workers let in, France's immigration minister said on Thursday.
France has said harmonising immigration policies at EU level was one of its priorities for its six-month presidency of the bloc that starts on July 1, and the ruling UMP party said the data released on Thursday should help it persuade EU partners.
“The UMP would like to see our country's firm and just policies become the policies of the whole of Europe on the occasion of the French presidency,” the party said after Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux's statement.
Hortefeux said 14,660 illegal migrants were expelled from France in the first five months of the year, up 80 percent compared with the same period in 2007.
In the 12 months to May 2008, Sarkozy's first year in office, almost 30,000 illegal migrants were expelled, up 31 percent year-on-year, Hortefeux said.
“Never have so many clandestine immigrants been taken back to their own countries in a year,” Hortefeux told a news conference at his ministry in Paris.
The number of illegal migrants in France, estimated between 200,000 and 400,000, is decreasing, he said.
Tougher immigration policies were a key campaign promise by Sarkozy, who has been criticised for setting Hortefeux annual targets for the number of illegal migrants expelled from the country. Human rights activists say such targets are arbitrary.
This year's expulsions target is 26,000, which Hortefeux said he was confident would be reached.
Another target set by Sarkozy was to increase the proportion of economic migrants, as opposed to those arriving to join relatives, to 50 percent of new arrivals from 7 percent now.
Hortefeux said he was on course to achieve that goal, with 30,710 skilled workers allowed into the country in the 12 months to May 31, up 36 percent compared with the previous 12 months.
So far this year, 13,429 work permits for foreigners have been issued, and they represent 16 percent of total new arrivals in the period, said Hortefeux.
France has been saying since last year that it would propose an EU charter on immigration during its six-month stint as president of the bloc, and it hoped to achieve an agreement on the text by the end of the year.
(Writing by Estelle Shirbon)