France's plan to cherry pick immigrants with the skills it needs is a step in the right direction if the euro zone's second biggest economy wants to remain competitive, according to analysts.
Their main caveat is that the new immigration bill, which Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled amid controversy this week, might not go far enough to beat off international competition to attract the best brains in the world and keep the economy ahead in terms of skills and productivity.
Sarkozy has proposed creating a 3-year residence permit for qualified workers and making it easier to recruit foreigners in sectors that face staffing shortages, such as catering.
The bill also plans to force newcomers to take French and civics lessons and an end to the automatic right to a long-term residence permit after 10 years in France. But firms and economists are focusing on the move to selective immigration.
"Today it is a real battle to bring over foreign workers," said Jerome Renon, director of France Immigration which specializes in helping companies with immigration issues. It has about 40 clients, most of them big international firms.
"There is so much unemployment in France that it is difficult to bring in foreigners -- you have to explain to immigration officials why you need this person when about 10 percent of people in France are out of work."
The main criticism that this bill has received from economists is that it is too timid, particularly in its relatively delayed and insecure extension of citizenship and residency rights. France certainly has its own attractions, not least its status as the second- or third-largest national economy in the European Union and its centrality in la francophonie, but will these be enough given France's late entry?
That said, the success of Canada's immigration policies isn't unqualified, but is in fact highly contingent on a suite of demographic and economic factors.. It is true that, compared to France's incoming migrants, Canada's incoming migrants tend to benefit from higher levels of education than their French counterparts. That said, I wonder if the relative success of Canadian immigration policy might stem from the fact that Canada's population profile is well-suited for a strong migrant flow. Canada's population profile is fundamentally dissimilar from France, Canada's population being younger, with fewer children but many more immigrants. Canada's TFR of 1.53 children born per woman is decidedly low by the standards of other First World Anglophone and Francophone countries, and partly as a result, fully two-thirds of Canadian population growth comes from immigration.
Normally such a high rate of immigration-driven population growth might be expected to cause a serious stir, but it hasn't. Why? I suspect that one reason lies in Canada's maintenance of rates of labour participation considering above typcial western European neighbours. Without immigration and with Canada's birth dearth, in fact, there might conceivably be labour shortages across the country. Immigration fills a necessary economic role with relatively few apparent negative consequences. At present, as Brian Ray wrote for Migration Information ("Canada: Policy Changes and Integration Challenges in an Increasingly Diverse Society "), in recent years a bit more than half of Canada's admitted economic immigrants admitted according to the point system geared towards the admission of economically suitable immigrants, while a quarter or so are admitted under the guise of family reunification and most of the remainder are refugees. If labour market conditions were more difficult, quite conceivably Canada's 20th century immigration policies might have moved away from their current focus on economic and humanitarian grounds for migration.
Even though Canada's immigrant inflow is overwhelmingly directed towards urban areas and tends to be highly skilled, there is still a lag of a decade before employment catches up to levels among the Canadian-born, even now after the past decade of strong employment growth noted last month by Statistics Canada. More worrying that, even after the lag time is ended and relatively high levels of human capital, immigrants in Canada seem to lack the social capital necessary to succeed, with levels of poverty which remain above and levels of income which remain below the standards experienced by the average Canadian-born. It's not at all uncommon to hear about people highly educated in one country who comes to Canada and find that their credentials and experience aren't recognized in Canada, forcing them either to train to gain Canadian credentials or to work below their skill levels even though they may have been admitted because of their experience at home. This unjust outcome may just be tolerable--for immigrants and for the wider Canadian population--when the availability of employment per se isn't in question, and especially when Canadian-born citizens don't suffer visibly as a consequence. In the context of the rigid labour market that still exists in France the admission of highly-skilled immigrants, this may well be a recipe for social disaster. I suspect that unless Sarkozy is careful, ensuring the full recognition of foreign credentials at a minimum so as to allow for the free circulation of immigrant professionals in France at large, his plans might be a bit premature.