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Immigration Spotlight: France

As would be expected from the UK’s leading, specialist immigration lawyers, we at Optimus Law take a keen interest in what is happening regarding immigration issues in other countries.

After all, what is happening in one country can have a knock-on effect with multiple other territories across the globe, so any good immigration lawyer needs to have a deep understanding of what is going on internationally, be it in the furthest corners of the globe, or closer to home.

One country where the topic of immigration is currently having international reverberations is one of our closest neighbours, France. Certainly, French government spin doctors have their work cut out trying to put a positive slant on various immigration policies that are currently coming out of France, policies which risk alienating entire nations.

Furthermore, immigration has all the potential to be a policy that has the potential to either make, or break, the career of those vying to become the next president of the country.

The UK / France border

The issue of immigrants risking their lives to use the English Channel as a passage from France to the UK has attracted intense media scrutiny over the past months.

France 24 reports how at least 14,100 people have now crossed the Channel to the UK on small boats this year, according to Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency — some 6,000 more than for the whole of 2020.

France has a policy of not intercepting or turning back migrant boats unless they ask for help, and instead escorts them to British waters. That has stoked anger in Brexit-supporting sections of the British media and the government in London, who accuse France of shirking its responsibilities.

Indeed, Anglo-French relations are ebbing and flowing like never before because of immigration. Just over a month ago, it was reported in The Guardian how Home Secretary, Priti Patel was accused by France’s interior minister of plotting “financial blackmail” and a violation of international maritime law in a deepening diplomatic row over efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the Channel by boat.

However, fast forward to just a few days ago and we see Home Office minister, Damian Hinds, telling Sky News that the UK has a “good and constructive relationship” with the French authorities and a £54m sum will be handed over soon to help French immigration controls.

Almost every day, we are seeing reports of relations either improving, or deteriorating between France and the UK, showing just how contentious – and sensitive – the issue of immigration really is.

A record 828 people crossed over from France on a single day in late August, as traffickers took advantage of favourable late-summer weather.

Maghreb visas

One geographical area where France is being openly confrontational is the Maghreb nations, with France set to slash the number of visas available to nationals from Maghreb countries because of their governments’ refusal to take back illegal migrants sent home by the French authorities.

Reuters outlines how government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the French government would halve the number of visas available to nationals from Algeria and Morocco and reduce those for Tunisians by almost a third.

“It is a decision that is made necessary as these countries do not accept back nationals whom we do not want and cannot keep in France,” he said.

Morocco’s foreign minister Nasser Bourita told reporters in Rabat the decision was “unjustified” and “does not reflect the reality of consular cooperation in the fight against irregular migration”.

A potential referendum?

Reuters has outlined in an article how French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has said that if she is elected president in the 2022 election, she will call a referendum proposing drastic limits on immigration. The vote would propose strict criteria for entering French territory and for acquiring French nationality, as well as giving French citizens priority access to social housing, jobs and social security benefits.

In 2017, Le Pen made it to the second round of the presidential election, but was defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron, who won more than 66% of the vote. Macron has not yet said whether he will stand for re-election, but opinion polls show him and Le Pen as the likely two candidates to make it through to the second round, with Macron seen as the eventual winner.

Without a doubt, this proposed referendum is one of the make-or-break presidential policies of Le Pen and thrusts the topic firmly under the spotlight of not only France, not only Europe, but the entire world.

By focusing so heavily on such a policy, Le Pen is reaching out directly to French nationalists who might be concerned about the negative effect that mass immigration is perceived as having on the country. Whatever the result, whether she wins or loses the presidential race, immigration will remain a key topic in the news pages, not only in France, but in newspapers and TV studios across the globe.

Referendums are allowed under the French constitution but are rarely used. The last major referendum was in 2005, when French people voted against France ratifying a European Constitution.


To say that immigration is a current hot topic for France is a huge understatement. We are seeing international journalists picking over every detail of France’s immigration policy, examining in forensic detail how the country risks alienating other nations who will be affronted by their perceived negative actions.

The fact that one of the forerunners in the French presidential election is using a proposed immigration referendum as a main manifesto promise will also keep the topic as a hot talking point right up to the elections themselves.

Certainly, everyone here at Optimus Law is following all news updates closely and we are sure that future updates will be analysed again in another blog in the coming months.

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