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Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960

Notes on Immigration, Migration, and France

Excerpted from Behind the Bamboo Hedge: The Impact of Homeland Politics in the Parisian Vietnamese Community. University of Michigan Press, 1991 (Ch. 4).

A 1984 article published in Le Monde asserted that nearly 11 million French citizens are descendants of recent immigrants (Le Monde, October 1984).

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, economic problems heightened problems between French citizens and the Arab immigrant population.

19th Century—beginning of immigration into France by Italians and Belgians as laborers; concomitant with the migration of Algerian/Maghrebian Arabs as laborers; this influx increased dramatically after the Algerian war and the decolonization period.

January 1984: “Renault” issue—Renault attempted to down-size its labor force by half, eliminating work positions for many Arab immigrants—opposed by ‘Leftist’ groups and labor organizations.

History of Immigration Laws in France

1932  First French law establishing quotas for immigrants: limited immigration to foreign workers with work identification cards.

Post-1945 The government instituted a more active immigration policy in order to reconstruct the post-WWII economy and to increase population growth.   National Office of Immigration created—allowed for three types of residence permits:

  1. temporary—valid for one year only
  2. ordinary—a three-year residence permit
  3. privileged—a ten-year residence permit

The new law also permitted the government to expel all immigrants who were deemed to pose a “threat to public order.”

Mid-1950-60s France negotiated several “man-power” agreements through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: with Greece (1954), Spain (1961), Morocco, Tunisia, Portugal (1963), Algeria (1964), and Yugoslavia and Turkey (1965).

Before 1954, the French Vietnamese immigrant population was composed on “voluntary” immigrants who came to France seeking work or economic gain.  After the 1955 withdrawal of French troops from Indochina, however, many Vietnamese sought refugee in France.

1960s  Loss of governmental control over immigration.  Increase in illegal immigration, particularly of immigrants from North Algeria.

1973  Decline in French economic progress.

July 1974 Provisional halt of immigrant-laborers into France authorized by the government.

1974-1981 Period of French anti-immigration policies, although the number of foreigners (especially illegal aliens) did not decrease during this time period.

Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Vietnamese political refugees sought asylum in France and were granted political asylum by the French government.

Political asylum was restricted to those who:

  1. had been employed by the French colonial government or French businesses in Indochina;
  2. were French citizens residing in French Indochina;
  3. had families in France or had family members who were French citizens;
  4. were among the “boat people” rescued at sea by French ships;
  5. were selected as refugees by the French government among those residing in Southeast Asian refugee camps.

In 1979, the Vietnamese government agreed to allow the Viet seeking relocation in France and Britain to leave Viet Nam.  Due to anti-immigration policies, however, all Vietnamese entering France were classified as “refugees.”

Mid-1980s Increase of anti-immigrant sentiments among the French right, especially among the followers of Monsieur Le Pen, leader of “le Front National,” a right-wing political organization.  Le Pen has made “restricted immigration” a core issue of his political platform.  Le Pen and his party have gained power in France, despite Le Pen’s overt racism, “with which many French are in silent agreement” (74).  Most of Le Pen’s anti-immigrant rhetoric targets Arab or North African immigrant populations.

Le Pen’s platform:

  1. advocates the return of all temporary immigrants to the native countries, as a way of reducing unemployment and as a means of increasing work availability to permanent French citizens;
  2. argues that cultural differences (racial, religious, etc.) between the ‘French’ and immigrants make assimilation impossible. 

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