French senators remove worker-permit clause from proposed immigration bill

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France’s much-debated immigration bill veered towards the right overnight as senators removed an article that would have facilitated residency permits for undocumented migrant workers in sectors struggling to find staff.

President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to overhaul migration legislation in France has long been delayed as it struggles to find enough support, underlining the difficulty of lacking an absolute majority in parliament.

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The government had tried to please the left and right with a carrot-and-stick approach that would have sped up the expulsion of illegal migrants while making it easier to obtain residency permits for those in sectors in high need of workers ranging from restaurants to farms.

Tuesday night’s agreement, pushed by conservative and center-right senators, could increase the likelihood of the bill passing since it relied on votes from the right.

Before that change was adopted, members of the conservative Les Republicains in the National Assembly had planned to abstain on the law, a source from Macron’s Renaissance party said.

The lower house of parliament will have the final word on the law in December.

But Tuesday’s move also created tensions among the majority’s ranks, suggesting debate on the bill is far from over.

“They’re doing as if there were no employees without documents or employers that need these skills. Even worse, this is reducing the existing possibilities of regularization,” Stella Dupont, an MP with Macron’s party, said on X.

Dupont told Reuters she would like the article to be reinstated and to create a visa for workers in “under tension” sectors, without giving discretionary power to local prefectures (administrations) to do so.

Under the tweaks made by the Senate committee, residency permits for workers of these sectors would only be issued on a case-by-case basis by the prefecture, and with tougher conditions, a Les Republicains statement said.

Gerard Re, confederation secretary of the CGT union, said this represented a step backwards for migrant workers’ rights as it would further limit those who can access a residency permit.

He said the current lists of sectors classed as needing workers, which vary from region to region, do not correspond to the sectors in which undocumented migrants represented by the union often work. In Paris, for example, jobs in construction, logistics and cleaning are not included.

“If it’s based on these lists, no one is going to be getting legal status,” he said.

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