Immigration Politics In France And Britain

In Europe, 80% of migratory flows are concentrated in five countries: France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany (French ministry of immigration, integration, national identity and development partnership, 2010). According to Roche (2000, cited in Coleman et al.2004): “Britain has always been a nation of immigrants". Likewise, a French quote qualifies France as “Terre d’asile" [1] .

In 2009, about 567,000 people arrived in the UK. Non-British citizens accounted for 83 per cent of all immigrants; a third of these were from European countries. Immigration for students is the most common reason for arrival into the UK in 2009, representing 37 per cent of immigrants, while work-related reasons was 34 per cent (Office of National Statistics, 2010). In 2009, France delivered the right to stay to 173991 migrants (Le Monde, 2010). The major reasons for migration to France are economic, familial reunification, and studies. Even though immigration to France has increased steadily over the past years, it remains at levels relatively lower than those observed in the United Kingdom (Thierry, 2004).

Public management reforms enable the government to make savings in public expenditure, improve the quality of public services, make government’s operations more efficient, and can make the implementation of policies more effective (Pollitt et al., 2004). In the case of immigration, policies shape immigration patterns, which, as a result, have an enormous impact on the demography, economy, culture, and politics of a state. Similarly, immigration is responsible for population stability and growth in many Western societies. It is crucial for the population as it inverses the “age pyramid". Immigration policies mainly determine the scope of global migration given the large number of people who would like to emigrate to the industrialized countries for economic or political reasons, and the very limited opportunities to do so (Meyers, 2000). Politics of immigration in France and Britain have been institutionalized (Freeman, 1995), meaning that they are one of the onus of the state.

The aim of this paper is to compare the structures, the policies and the recent reforms of the immigration systems in France and in the United Kingdom, and to deduce from this comparison the main factors that shape public management in both countries. For the purpose of answering this topic, firstly the French and then British immigration systems will be explained. Secondly, the systems will be discussed and compared and, from this comparison, the main factors shaping the public management system in each country will be identified. Finally the conclusion will highlight the key points of this paper.

The structure and policies of the French immigration system

In France, according to the High Council for Integration, the definition of an immigrant is a person who is born a foreigner and abroad, and resides in France. Not all immigrants become French. The status of immigrant is permanent; the individual will continue to belong to the immigrant population even if he or she acquires French nationality. It is the country of birth, and not nationality at birth that defines the geographical origin of an immigrant (INSEE, 2010)

According to the commitments made in May 2007 by the President of the Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy, for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, France has gathered in one structure various aspects of immigration policy, which had been so far split up between the ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs and Justice. Indeed, thanks to the impulse of the president and the prime minister, François Fillon, an official Ministry specifically responsible for managing migratory flows has been appointed. Its name, the Ministry for immigration, integration, national identity and development partnership, illustrates the consistency of France’s new immigration policy which represents four objectives. The first is to control migration flows, the second is to favour integration, the third is to promote the French identity and finally to encourage development partnership (MIINID, 2010).

Firstly, controlling migration flows means to reduce illegal immigration and to improve the management of legal immigration. One of the main priority is fighting illegal migration, with the aim of 25 000 people brought back to the border. By law, any foreigner wishing to stay more than three months in France must apply for a residence permit. Beyond this time, in theory, their stay becomes illegal (Thierry, 2004). Hence, any foreign migrant in an illegal situation will be sent back to their country of origin. This was executed in the recent and controversial events about the deportation of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria and the dismantling of Roma camps done by the former immigration minister Eric Besson (Macheel, 2010). Migrants willing to stay for long period will be selected and accepted according to France’s welcoming capacities, and economic needs, such as the needs for skilled workers for enterprises. This politic called “Chosen Immigration" (Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes, 2008) was introduced in 2006. The asylum policy, consisting in protecting persecuted foreigners, will remain a moral imperative for France.

In order to encourage integration, foreign nationals arriving legally in France should have, in principle, the same economic and social rights as French citizens. Following the law concerning to management of immigration passed in 2007, a foreigner allowed to stay and intending to set up him/herself in France must respect republican principles and master the language so that he or she can benefit from a 10 years residence permit. Furthermore, the foreigner is asked to complete a course intending to promote integration in the community. Finally, concerning familial reunification, the law states that in case of doubts regarding the authenticity of the links to relatives already living in France, prospective migrants must take a DNA tests (Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes, 2008). The State also has duties towards the immigrants. In the aim of making their integration easier, the State provides access to housing, education and training. In the same time, associations are working to fight discriminations.

The third aim is to promote development partnership with the southern states, such as such as in Senegal and Tunisia, by providing them the means to build a future on their territory. It consists in mobilising the tools allowing migrants to act in the interest of their country of origin. Also, the French State will need to ensure that co-operation and development policies of the countries of origin pay a greater attention to immigration control (MIINID, 2010)..

The final aim is to promote the French identity, consisting of both historical heritage and the future of national community. The promotion of the identity is a response to communitarianism and intends at preserving the Nation’s equilibrium. Immigration, integration and national identity are complementary and very closely linked (MIINID, 2010).

The structure and policies of the British immigration system

In The United Kingdom, The Coalition Government has proposed changes to the ways migration to the UK will be managed in order to reduce the level of net migration (Achato et al., 2010). The immigration policy is governed by the Immigration Act of 1971 and subsequent modifications to it (Hatton, 2005). Immigration control and policies are administered by the Home Office which is the lead government department for immigration and passports as well as drugs policy, crime, counter-terrorism and police. The Home Office is headed by the Home Secretary and five other ministers. From within the Home Office, three agencies provide directly managed frontline services, and is part of the public sector. These agencies deliver the government’s services but do not make policies. The first is The UK Border Agency. It strengthens Britain’s borders, makes fast-track asylum decisions, ensures and enforces compliance with immigration laws, stimulates Britain's economy by bringing the skills needed from around the world and ensures Britain is visit legally. The second one is the Identity and Passport Service which issues passports to British nationals living in the UK. The last one is the Criminal Records Bureau which helps organisations verify whether job applicants are suitable to work with children or other vulnerable people by checking their criminal backgrounds (Home Office, 2010). Consequently, the UK Border Agency is responsible for securing the UK border and controlling migration by enforcing immigration and customs regulations. In other words, it considers applications for permission to enter or stay, for citizenship, asylum and issues of work permits (UKBA, 2010).

Irish citizens and nationals of European countries are essentially free to live and work in the United Kingdom. Commonwealth citizens with Right of Abode and those who have British passports have the right of free entry.

In the late nineties, there was a substantial increase in the number of work permits issued, including an increased allocation of work permits and relaxation of controls on non economic immigration, showing a significant relaxation of policy adopted by the labour administration elected in 1997. Since 2008, migrants wishing to enter for work or study are managed through the five-tier points-based system with the concept of sponsorship at its core. If an employer wants to hire a migrant or to enrol a migrant as a student, he or she must first obtain a license and be their sponsor during their stay in the United Kingdom (UKBA, 2010). Tier 1 (General) allows highly skilled migrants who score the requisite points to enter the UK without any kind of sponsorship (workpermit; 2008). The other categories include applicants from overseas. The other sub-tiers are Tier 1 (Investor), Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Post-Study Work). The tier 2 is for Skilled Workers and Tier 5 is for Temporary Workers (UKBA, 2011). Following the introduction of the system, unskilled migration from outside Europe was stopped in 2008. More recently, the British government is aiming to reduce net long-term immigration by cracking down on non European migrant. The government has imposed a temporary 5% cut on Tier 1 and 2 migrants (The Economist, 2010a).

Under the 2002 Act on nationality, immigration and asylum, the government introduced an expansion of immigration routes including new programme to attract highly skilled immigrants and to support arrangements for asylum seekers. Migrants under the work permit system may obtain indefinite leave to remain or be accepted for settlement and may eventually qualify for British citizenship. What concerns the immigration related to studies; students are admitted if accepted for a course at a recognised educational institution, but without the right to work and only for the duration of the course. Finally, Students are admitted if accepted for a course at a recognised educational institution, but without the right to work and only for the duration of the course. Britain's policy towards asylum seekers is based on its obligation under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. About one third of asylum claims are accepted, either as Convention refugees or under the discretionary category of “exceptional leave to remain" (Hatton, 2005).

The French and British Immigration System and Policies Compared

Politics of immigration in France and the United Kingdom present many convergences. In both countries migration flows occurred when the countries were fully developed national states. The tendency of migration flows has started rather small and has build up over time, especially as a consequence of chain migration, family reunion, and the tendency for temporary labour migrations, generally from a non-European origin, to develop into permanent settlements (Freeman, 1995). Furthermore, the relative importance of immigration is for both from former colonies (Thierry, 2004).

Politics of immigration in France and Britain are now concentrated on reducing and limiting entry. This change is the result of “a good times and bad times dynamic" where migration is tolerated during expansionary phases, but becomes the focus of anxieties when unemployment rises (Freeman, 1995), such as in the current financial crisis. For example, enterprises are delocalising cheap labour; hence less unskilled immigrants are needed. The French minister of immigration, Brice Hortefeux, stresses the importance of stopping illegal immigration and encouraging the entrance of high skilled workers. However, In Britain, the focus is on reducing all ways of entry to the immigrants; such as for students and work permit (The Economist, 2010b). Both countries are targeting non-European migrants.

Politics tend to be more and more similar because of the European Union. Each country has its own rules, but must comply with European Union principles and measures. For instance, the entrance of asylum requests is examined in each State according to a common procedure and shared criteria (MIINID, 2010). In addition, the European Economic Area (EEA) facilitates worked related migration, for example, if a national from the EEA zone do not need to apply for work (UKBA, 2010).

On the other hand, there are also divergences between France and Britain, the main one is that the structure in France is centralised as there is a special ministry for immigration, while in Britain, the system is more bureaucratic and fragmented as the UK Border Agency is under the authority of the Home Office. The centralised system is a tradition in France due to the Jacobinism heritage; it gives a better follow up, a better monitoring control, some autonomy and a global vision.

Because of the economic situation, the governments are now looking for qualities rather than quantities. Therefore, they want to choose their migrants. Britain has established the Point Based System, which is more precise and organised than in France, where it is more empirical. In contrast, France does not mention in its reforms any decrease for the students wishing to come like in the United Kingdom.

What concerns the help and support provided to the migrants, the French state supplies it. Whereas, in Britain, foreign nationals applying for a visa will generally have to satisfy the immigration authorities that they have the financial means to support themselves and any dependents. Some non-EU nationals may be granted leave to remain in the UK which states that they are not entitled to any help from public funds. However, even if a foreign national resident in the UK is not entitled to receive state benefits they may still be entitled to receive certain contribution-based benefits, such as for unemployment benefits, maternity pay and pensions (AboutImmigration, 2010). This relates to the fact that as Britain is more decentralised, it is more subject than France to New Public Management. This is show by France, where the state offers support for the integration, while in Britain it tends to be the private sector that gives this service.

Moreover, despite the effort from the French government, the integration of the immigrants in the society is not really successful. Hence, the system is tougher, they have established a quota for immigrants’ expulsion, and would use force if necessary.

This comparison enables to make some assumptions about the factors that shape the public management in each country. It is clear that one of the main reasons that a pushes government to make reforms is the respond to the environment, and more precisely the economic one. In the current economic climate, austerity is the priority and therefore immigrants become the scapegoats. Another point is that governments need to take into account the view of the electors. However, Hammar (1985) argues that policy is typically made in administrative contexts, without public participation and with little parliamentary supervision. Likewise, the current climate encourages governments to be more competitive and therefore they have to modernize and adapt policies and make reforms. Similarly, the structure of the public management can be shaped by whether it is a centralised or decentralised perspective. Another important factor is the position of the government. Like many other European countries, Britain and France are more right oriented governments. As a result they are more conservative. In addition, the influence of Europe and globalisation shape policy reforms and structures. There are more and more common laws and regulations to follow.


France and the United Kingdom have, for a long time, been countries welcoming many immigrants, and have had fairly open borders policies. The French immigration system is centralised and the major objectives of the immigration policies are to control migration flows, to favour integration, to promote the French identity and to encourage development partnership. What concerns the British system, the Home Office, who makes the policies, is at the head the UK Border Agency who is responsible for controlling immigration. Both structures are similar on several points. They aim at reducing the number of immigrants; France wants to substantially decrease the number of illegal immigrants and encouraging skilled workers to enter the country; and in Britain by bringing down entrance in general. Also, reforms are influenced by the current economic environment, the growing importance of the European Union and the political position of the government. The systems differ by the fact that France is more centralised and Britain more fragmented and bureaucratic. Britain is more precise thanks to its point-based system for work-permits. However, France has a tougher system. Also, migrants arriving in France receive help from the state while in the UK it attributed on a case by case basis.

All this suggests that it is very complex to determine which structure and politic is the most effective one. As the reforms have been implemented recently, there is no hindsight. Each structure has its strengths and weaknesses. A potential solution would be to have France’s centralised structure with Britain’s precise system. Also, in order to avoid controversial issues France should be less radical in its reforms towards immigrants and Britain should not limit its student’s quota. In the aim of having a well managed immigration during the current recession, governments should clearly state a list of what kind of immigration and profession they need for the country. For instance after the Second World War there was a need for workers to rebuild and repopulate the countries (Hammar, 1985).Now it is no longer the case, there is a need for more graduates and experts.

Even if France and the United Kingdom are facing the same immigration issues, they react according to their own cultures and past experiences, and attempt to adapt their solutions and reforms to the current environment.