THE GALLERY – In the immigration bill passed in the Senate this week, foreign workers working in professions in shortage will be able to obtain a one-year residence permit “exceptionally” and not automatically as provided for in the version ( section 3) of the government. Several deputies from the majority have already announced that they wanted to rediscover the initial spirit of the system for regularizing undocumented immigrants in professions in shortage. Does this ambition seem worthy to you?
BENEDICT HAMON – No, everyone who has a job today should be regularized. These workers contribute to social security and do not take anyone’s job. They have jobs that are necessary to keep the economy running. Reserving the possibility of regularization in professions in tension is, in my view, a bad solution. Even with a one-year residence permit in professions in shortage, what happens to the person who changes jobs and switches to a job that is no longer in tension? Would the person risk expulsion? This is inapplicable on the ground.
But, not content with refusing the regularization of workers without a residence permit and who nevertheless contribute to social security because they have signed an employment contract, the Senate, without the government opposing it, votes for an article which provides that foreign workers, in a legal situation, are deprived of the benefit of APL and family allowances, as long as they have not had 5 years of residence. This means that part of the gross salary of these workers will finance Social Security without this giving rise to any rights. It is a political and legal aberration that says a lot about the ideology and unreason that inspire a significant part of the political spectrum.
In France, between 200,000 and 400,000 workers are currently undocumented, that is to say without the right to stay or work authorization, according to a report by the rights defender. How do you explain such a phenomenon?
Today there are extremely difficult professions which do not find takers on the job market. We must distinguish between undocumented workers who have an “under the table” employment contract. But in both cases, these are often difficult, precarious and very poorly paid jobs that no one wants, even if you find them “crossing the street”.
The fact that the people who accept these jobs are undocumented and therefore without a voice contributes to the fact that working conditions there do not improve. The aim is to make these workers visible to improve the attractiveness of jobs in these sectors. Regularizing undocumented workers is not only necessary to rehumanize our relationship with people kept in obscurity and precariousness while they contribute to collective wealth, it is also a general issue for improving working conditions. and attractiveness for sectors in tension.
A newspaper investigation The world last spring showed that National Rally (RN) deputies were served by undocumented workers in a restaurant near the National Assembly. How do you view the paradox of this society?
There is appalling cynicism and hypocrisy in the assemblies. Above all, a lot of unreason and ideology. Let’s look at the results of those who, like the RN, were elected to put an end to the entry of newcomers into their territory. The English voted for Brexit on the promise of an end to immigration. Did you know that according to the British Office for National Statistics (ONS), net migration – the difference between immigration and emigration over the twelve months of the year – has almost doubled since Brexit?
From 335,000 in 2016, it rose to a historic level of 606,000 in 2022. Did you know that in Italy where a majority of voters chose Giorgia Meloni and the far right on the promise of an interruption of migration, 130,000 new arrivals arrived in 2023, an increase of 83% compared to the same period in 2022. The French far right from the RN to Zemmour via Bolloré and, I am sorry, many leaders of the Republicans, the antipodes now of De Gaulle or even Chirac, tell the same nonsense, fuel fears and take the French for imbeciles.
Why fuel this feeling of “fear”?
I do not despise the fears of the French. These fears are firstly linked to the feeling of being downgraded and the disappearance of our common points of reference. They feel that their way of life has changed. They are sometimes themselves, as Bruno Latour described it, “immobile migrants”, women and men who have the feeling that the world around them is fleeing while they are prisoners of their lives. The world has indeed changed around them and we know what and why? When a station closes, is it the responsibility of the Syrians? When a school closes, is it the responsibility of Malians. when local businesses permanently lower their curtains, is it the responsibility of Ukrainians? When we find more of them being treated by a doctor or giving birth close to home, is this the responsibility of the Afghans?
Our lifestyles have changed because several decades of public policies have undermined public services, deprived some French people of access to the same rights as others, and rolled back the high level of social protection which together constitute our common identity. . Migration has nothing to do with it. It may even be a solution to maintain the presence of public services everywhere and finance solidarity.
The issue of refugees at work is rarely debated in France. However, they play a role in the French economy. How do you explain this paradox?
There are still many prejudices about migration. However, today there are real successes in terms of inclusion through work. We ignore, for example, that if foreigners make up 7.8% of the population, they represent 15% of business creators each year. We do not know that 31% of immigrants have a bachelor’s degree when they arrive on French territory compared to 19% of French people. We do not know that the French working population will decline by 8% by 2050 and that without migration, we will no longer be able to finance our pensions and social security. Why are these realities kept silent?
Foreigners have an important contribution to the creation of jobs, activity and wealth in France. The OECD recently recalled that immigrants bring in more in work, contributions and taxes than they cost in care, education, wages or social assistance. But parliamentarians legislate as if they were a burden while all the figures show that they are an asset. Let’s be concrete. Let’s talk, for example, about pensions. 90% of French workers were opposed to raising the legal retirement age to 64. Foreign workers contribute. They receive on average a lower pension than the French and have a shorter life expectancy because they are over-represented in difficult professions. If they contribute as much as the others but receive less in return, the conclusion is therefore simple: to what age should legal retirement be postponed to balance the system without foreign workers? 66, 67, 68 years old? Are we ready?
Germany is often presented as a model of inclusion. How does it compare to France?
Germany was able to include a million Syrian refugees through labor. Our neighbors also welcomed 1 million Ukrainian refugees. France has only welcomed 38,000 Syrian refugees and 68,000 Ukrainians. Across the Rhine, the effort is focused on inclusion through work. As a result, the debates on immigration are not as ideological and obsessive as in France. The far right weighs three times less than in France
Where is the professional integration of refugees in France?
In France, it takes 10 years for a refugee to regain their original social status. There is a huge waste of talent. We can talk about downgrading. France is missing out on people who could create wealth and be socially useful. We need to have a more proactive policy of inclusion and integration through work.
Germany has chosen to allow asylum seekers to work even before having their refugee status to accelerate inclusion. The Germans save a lot of time by doing this. In France, this provision existed until 1991. From then on, the administration considered asylum seekers to be cheaters. Presuming they were cheaters, the administration delayed the inclusion of thousands of refugees. This strategy had a considerable social cost.
The war in Ukraine has caused a wave of exoduses since February 2022. France has welcomed very few refugees. How do you explain this firm position of France?
France had set modest objectives which it had difficulty achieving. There were not many candidates for exile to France. They went to countries bordering Ukraine, to Germany, or directly to Spain or Portugal. Because of the messages it sends and the tensions in society, France is not as attractive as we think. This is valid for Ukrainians. But also for many other nationalities. There is a real loss of France’s attractiveness due to the deterioration of its international image.
Fewer than 100,000 Ukrainians came. Out of 5 million refugees, this is a relatively modest proportion. On the other hand, France is well organized in terms of access to accommodation, training, education and employment. This is partly due to Europe which decided to grant a three-year residence permit to all Ukrainian refugees. In the case of Ukraine, we have collectively proven that we are fully capable of achieving refugee inclusion. No one slept outside. Everyone has been supported and found their place. What we were able to do for the Ukrainians, why not reproduce it with other refugees?
Since the 2022 legislative elections, National Rally deputies have occupied the platforms to criticize the role of refugees and migrants. Meanwhile, the left has become absent on all these issues. Why have the left-wing forces deserted these burning issues?
I hope this will change. Today, several parliamentarians and many mayors want to talk about inclusion. There has been a real deficit of work on these questions. The left was timid, probably because it assumed that the subject was not popular. Since migration is never presented as a solution, we find ourselves at a moment where these subjects are treated mainly through fear.
The debate is often polemical, hysterized by far-right or identitarian, racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic groups and media. I invite the parliamentarians of the presidential majority and the left to assume their convictions. By its constitution, the French Republic is inclusive.