The OECD calls on France to modernise and strengthen the co-ordination of labour immigration


20/11/2017 - In a new report, the OECD says that France should modernise and strengthen the co-ordination of labour immigration in order to attract foreign talent and align itself more closely with the needs of the labour market.


"Recruiting immigrant workers in France" notes that, despite a recent increase, the labour migration of non-EU nationals remains low in France by international standards, accounting for only a small proportion of inflows of migrants allowed to settle in France (16% in 2016), and this observation should be seen in the context of total immigration which is also low compared to the size of the French population.


The report analyses French public policies governing the recruitment of immigrant workers, and assesses the extent to which labour migration meets the needs of the labour market and helps France to attract foreign talent.


In 2016, around 28 000 initial permits were issued in France for economic reasons, around 6 000 of which were regularisations and 13 000 of which were changes of status, mostly for students. Almost a third of foreign students remain in France after completing their studies—one of the highest levels in the OECD.


While direct entries of foreign workers are relatively limited, the contribution made by immigration to the French labour market needs to be seen in a wider context. Family migration and EU nationals each contribute at least twice as many people to the labour market as labour migration from non-EU countries.


Like most countries in the OECD, France has a full range of administrative services to assess foreigners' employment situation before granting a work permit. Applicants must have received a job offer with the same conditions enjoyed by other workers, in addition to which their application may also be subjected to an examination of the employment situation to check whether there are other workers legally residing in France, either foreign or French, who might be  available for the job in question.


Since 2008, it has not been mandatory to examine the employment situation if the occupation is one of those appearing on a list of "shortage" occupations, given the regional situation of the labour market. This list has not been amended since it was first compiled, however, and just 15% of occupations listed are still facing a nationwide shortage, while many real recruitment needs are excluded (e.g in the care and health sectors). The same observation can be made about the lists appended to the concerted migration flow management agreements (accords de gestion concertée—AGC) which have been signed with some countries of origin. More generally, the OECD's report shows that the procedures for granting work permits are complex and are governed by rules that differ between regions and give very little transparency to employers, which tends to put SMEs at a disadvantage.


Consequently, the OECD is calling for better co-ordination of labour immigration policy, with a simplified employment situation examination process, the development of an operational mechanism for updating the list of shortage occupations, the establishment of an information system for managing work permits, and closer communication between the different parties and services concerned. The report also suggests re-examining relations with countries of origin over the management of labour migration flows, given that the concerted migration flow management agreements, introduced in 2006, have had no more than a negligible impact on the flow of workers from signatory countries.


Despite its advantages, France seems to be struggling with an attractiveness deficit in some categories of highly qualified workers. In order to tackle this problem, in 2016 the country adopted the passeport talent, which signalled a reorganisation and improvement of the system for skilled immigration, allowing longer stays, reducing the number of prefecture visits, abolishing the rule allowing an immigrant's employment situation to prevent him or her accessing the labour market, and creating new categories for investors and start-ups. The conditions offered to foreign start-ups in France now seem to be relatively attractive by international standards, although there is certainly room to improve the co-ordination and  promotion of the system.


The impact of recent changes, especially the new provisions applicable to students, entrepreneurs and investors, will need to be particularly closely monitored to ensure that the effects observed remain in line with the objectives of the new public policy. The OECD's report also stresses that the success of the passeport talent will depend largely on the resources deployed to transfer skills to consulates and prefectures, the implementation of a co-ordinated interministerial policy and more proactive communication with employers and foreign talents.


On the specific issue of foreign students remaining in France after completing their studies, the report shows that they are underrepresented in occupations that are struggling to recruit and their integration into the labour market in the medium term is not always as successful as expected. The report therefore suggests expanding the systems in place for welcoming and offering guidance to foreign students in higher education establishments, in order to maximise their chances of successful integration into the labour market, whether in France or in their country of origin.


For more information, journalists may contact Jean-Christophe Dumont  (tel.: 33 (0)1 45 24 92 43), Head of the OECD's International Migration Division.


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