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Ludicrous Immigration Management—French Style by Hélène de Lauzun

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Ludicrous Immigration Management—French Style

A senatorial report has just been published on the management of immigration by the French administration, which further worsens the disastrous record of Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term in office in terms of migration policy. The report entitled “State services and immigration: regaining meaning and efficiency” emanates from a mission conducted within the Senate’s Law Commission. 

The report analyses the effects of the migration crisis on local administrative services such as prefectures (at department level) and courts. The mission notes a “deep disarray” and “exhaustion” on the part of public agents who feel they are losing “the meaning of their jobs.” This malaise can easily be explained by the absurdities and scandals that are multiplying in individual cases: a foreigner “removed from the national territory at the end of a cumbersome and lengthy procedure lasting several weeks” can thus, due to a lack of control, come back just a few days after his departure.

The dysfunctions are explained first by the saturation of services due to the excessive number of applications: 271,675 first-residence permits were granted in 2021 alone. As an analysis by the Polémia Foundation quoted in our columns reminds us, these figures are constantly rising—and the report does not even attempt to measure the effects of the Ukrainian crisis on the influx of foreigners to France. The administration is perfectly incapable of offering enough appointments, whether physical or virtual, to deal with all the cases. 

The scarcity of available slots has led to a new kind of trafficking: some people exchange or even sell appointments on the internet; others set up dubious companies intended to “assist in making appointments” and charge a lot of money for bogus services. Some crooks do not hesitate to ask for up to €600 to purchase one of these precious appointments in the prefecture. The services of the Ministry of the Interior are also under duress from the hacking of appointment-scheduling software. 

Faced with an increasing number of problems, the use of all-digital technology is showing its limits. Bugs are multiplying, procedures are unclear, and the ‘digital assistance’ service is only accessible via the internet. As the report states, foreigners therefore often have the impression of arriving in an episode of the Shadoks—a 1970s television series that took great delight in denouncing the absurdities of the French administrative system in a humorous way, with mottos that have become proverbs: “By continually trying, you end up succeeding… So the more it fails, the more likely it is to work.”

At the end of the day, the only recourse available to foreigners to get their cases heard and to speed up the procedure is legal: they take their cases to administrative courts, which are drowning in issues of planning and congested timetables of overworked officials: “litigation and difficulties in accessing the counter are self-perpetuating in a never-ending circle,” the report says. “In 2021, 100,332 applications relating to foreigners’ rights were referred to the administrative courts, which represents 41.6% of their activity,”—time taken up to the detriment of all the other cases that are not heard.

The absurdity of the situation may lead to giggles all over the world, but the phenomenon described in the Senate report is quite serious and is due to the inability of a country, in this case France, to adopt a clear and firm migration policy. The same problem was found at the European level and led, a few days ago, to the resignation of Fabrice Leggeri, head of the Frontex agency. In France, the system is plagued by the low rate of expulsions from the territory, which makes civil servants feel profoundly useless in their actions. The “procedural byzantinism” generates “legal insecurity,” in the words of the chairman of the law committee that drafted the report, Senator François-Noël Buffet (Les Républicains). Administrative rules prevent decision-making—and effective regulation of immigration.

Officially, Emmanuel Macron intended to take advantage of the French presidency’s place as head of the European Union to tackle the problem directly, and in particular to allow better management of asylum seekers. Regarding the Dublin procedure, a system adopted by the EU for processing migrants requesting asylum, one third of the asylum seekers who arrive in France each year should be managed by other Member States, with these states responsible for examining their asylum applications. But this is not the case, and the French administration continues to drown—with no prospect of rescue in sight. 

Hélène de Lauzun studied at the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. She taught French literature and civilization at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in History from the Sorbonne. She is the author of Histoire de l’Autriche (Perrin, 2021).