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Explainer: What's at stake in Macron's new immigration bill?

PARIS – French lawmakers started this week discussing the government’s latest version of a much-delayed immigration bill.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s initial aim was to please both wings of his “neither left nor right” ruling coalition, by speeding up the expulsion of some migrants, while making it easier to obtain residency permits for those who work in sectors struggling to find workers.

The bill has been in the works since last year. Debate was pushed back for lack of enough support in parliament to get it adopted.

The government says the killing of a French teacher by a suspected Russian-born Islamist militant last month has given new urgency to the immigration bill, on which the opposition-controlled Senate began discussions Nov. 6.

WHY IS FRANCE TRYING TO PASS An IMMIGRATION BILL (AGAIN)?

Growing support for the far right in France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere in Europe has meant that restricting migration has become a key political issue.

France recorded 155,773 asylum requests in 2022, up 28% on the previous year and returning to pre-pandemic levels. It was far below that of Germany, which recorded 243,835 requests in 2022.

Last month, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and other ministers from across the EU said renewed Islamist attacks in northern France and Brussels highlighted the bloc’s need to screen migrants and asylum seekers better and expel those deemed a security risk more quickly.

It is the 29th immigration bill presented in France since 1980 and the second since Macron was first elected president in 2017.

WHAT’S IN THE BILL?

Darmanin said the bill aimed to be “welcoming to the nanny, the waiter, and fruit pickers, while giving more powers to expel delinquents.”

It includes measures designed to appeal to conservative lawmakers to win their votes in parliament, such as making expulsions easier for undocumented migrants, denying welfare benefits to those told to leave, and removing an existing provision that prevents the government from expelling trouble-makers who arrived in France under age 13.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN STICKING POINTS?

The provision that makes it easier for migrants who work in sectors of the economy with labour shortages to obtain residency has become the main sticking point.

So-called article 3 has divided lawmakers, especially within Macron’s ruling minority coalition, but also within the conservative Les Republicains party who the government is relying on to reach a majority of votes in both houses.

Conservatives and centrists in the Senate reached a deal on article 3 Nov. 7, replacing it by a provision that would still allow undocumented immigrants in key sectors to request residency papers without the authorisation of their employers. But there would be stricter criteria to approve the legalisation.

The conservative-controlled Senate has also made the bill lean more to the right by removing the rights of undocumented migrants to the French healthcare system, and replacing it by a provision that would only allow emergency care.

Advocacy groups including Amnesty International say the bill is an attack on basic human rights.

Even with a deal in the Senate, the bill needs to go through the lower house of parliament, where Macron’s supporters are divided.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR THE GOVERNMENT?

Less than a year before European elections, the government’s credibility on the issue is at stake.

Failure to find a deal would complicate Macron’s ability to pass reforms before the end of his second and final mandate and could convince more voters to turn to other parties in future elections, including the far-right Rassemblement national.

Macron’s government could use special constitutional powers to pass the bill. But such a move would be politically explosive.

A successful deal would be a welcome boost for Macron, and even more for Darmanin, whose presidential credibility would be reinforced. REUTERS

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