In 2020, the number of first-time resident visas issued in France (220,535) decreased by 20.5% compared to 2019. Immigration to re-join family remains the main reason for visas being granted (75,245), although the total has decreased by 16.9%. There are fewer foreign students (71,900, down 20.4%) and economic immigrants (26,950*) is the group most affected by the Covid-19 crisis with a 31% decrease. What are the consequences of this downturn?
If the downturn recovers, the effects will be fairly limited, particularly in comparison with other disasters caused by the pandemic. However, if there are lasting restrictions on international mobility – due to health-related causes or a paradigm shift leading to societies closing themselves off – the effects will be very negative for the economy. Our empirical work with Ekrame Boubtane and Dramane Coulibaly shows that a fall in international migration reduces per capita income, increases unemployment, worsens the balance of public finances and contributes to the growth of certain inequalities.
When we breakdown the reasons for admission that you mention, it makes it possible to clarify this overall analysis. Half of the non-EU nationals entering France each year are admitted so that they may join their family (spouses of French nationals or foreigners). The decrease in this inward flow constitutes a loss of well-being for the households concerned and a breach of the right to live with one’s family. At the beginning of the crisis, there was a difference in treatment between French nationals abroad wishing to return to France and foreigners wishing to join their families legally residing in France.
A quarter of non-EU nationals entering France each year are admitted for study purposes. The decline in the number of international students represents a reduction in opportunities to acquire skills; in addition to the personal effects, this will have consequences for the development of countries in the South, whose youth will be less well trained.
Labour migration is in the minority, accounting for 10%. Nevertheless, it is essential because it makes the labour market more fluid and fills jobs that would otherwise remain vacant. Immigrants are over-represented in sectors that have difficulty hiring such as construction, catering, personal care and services, security guards and agriculture (which depends on foreign seasonal workers). We saw this in Spring, during the first lockdown, with the call to help farmers in France. The economy is simply less productive when these jobs are not filled.
From an economic point of view, what can be said about the decline in the number of people admitted as students or for family reasons?
Even when not admitted for economic reasons, immigrants can contribute to the economy. In an article published in 2016 in the Annals of Economics and Statistics, we even showed that people arriving for family reasons contribute more than others. This is explained by the fact that they work, pay taxes and above all consume in France. The evaluation of the effects of immigration should not be limited to microeconomic approaches because much of the bigger picture is at stake.
As far as students are concerned, some of them stay in France after their studies and thus constitute the qualified immigration that governments want and that too many immigration analysts refuse to see, repeating tirelessly that immigration to France is not qualified. The stakes are high: one study showed that foreign students in the US were more likely than US students to file for a patent. In support of these statistics, there are many anecdotes and without going back to Marie Curie, we can mention Özlem Türeci and Ugur Sahin (BioNTech’s messenger RNA vaccine) in Germany or Sergey Brin (Google) in the US.
Are there areas of competition for certain jobs between French, Europeans and non-EU citizens?
There is competition for skills from non-EU countries and EU countries, especially Eastern European countries. Nearly 80,000 people from EU countries came to France in 2017; this is five times less than Germany and, relative to the French working population, these low flows are insufficient to meet economic needs. Indeed, France massively employs seconded workers – more than 240,000 people in 2017, i.e. three times more than ten years ago – who do not come under the heading of immigration because they come in the context of a one-off mission, but who generate scandalous social dumping. These unfilled needs of the French economy also reveal that the educational offer in France does not fully correspond to the country’s needs.
What are the consequences of Brexit on the UK economy and labour market?
Immigration to the UK has not decreased in recent years, but it has increased less than emigration. The balance of the two has been falling steadily since 2016. And as much as immigration is good for a country’s activity and employment, emigration has the opposite effect. This development is therefore recessionary for the UK.
Interview by Clément Boulle
*The balance includes immigration for humanitarian reasons (32,080, down 15.3%) and immigration for other reaso