Immigration hits new records in Macron’s France and that may be by design

By Olivier Bault
11 Min Read

The year 2022 was a historic year for immigration in France. Never before had that country seen such an influx of both legal and illegal immigrants. Meanwhile, the proportion of those deported after having been denied asylum remains absurdly low.

“A record year for the flood of immigrants into France: 320,330 residence permits were issued in 2022, the equivalent of the population of the city of Nantes. And that’s without taking illegal immigration into account. It is urgent to regain control of our borders!” Marine Le Pen tweeted on Thursday.

On Jan. 26, the center-right daily Le Figaro commented on the figures published by the interior ministry with the title “Increasingly strong migratory pressure puts France against the wall.” It also ran its daily editorial on the government’s “guilty negligence” concerning immigration.

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“While some reforms, such as the pension reform, are difficult to carry out because they meet with strong opposition from the public,” Le Figaro’s deputy editor-in-chief Yves Thréard wrote, “others would seem much simpler, as they are very much expected. This is true of immigration in France. Legal or not, it broke records again last year, even without taking into account the forced exodus of Ukrainians. For decades, the subject has never ceased to worry us. But things have not changed, it is all getting worse: Makeshift camps appear everywhere, tensions in certain neighborhoods and territories are rising dangerously, and the links with the increase in crime are obvious.”

Last year, France — a country of 68 million inhabitants — handed out over 320,000 first-time residence permits to foreigners, which represents a 17 percent increase over the previous year. Even in 2019, the last year before the Covid pandemic, the number of first-time residence permits was “just” over 277,000. By way of comparison, the number of such permits was a little more than 170,000 in 2007, when France’s last center-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy, was elected, and it oscillated in the 193,000-197,000 range throughout his five-year tenure.

However, after François Hollande from the overtly pro-immigration Socialist Party was elected in 2012, the numbers started rising fast to reach over 247,000 in the last year of his presidency, 2017. His former special counselor for European affairs, then economy minister, who replaced him in the Élysée Palace, Emmanuel Macron, has since then kept increasing legal immigration — except for the first “Covid year” of 2020 — to reach 320,330 initial residence permits in 2022.

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Macron’s planned draft law dubbed “Asylum and Immigration” should further accelerate this evolution, with measures to legalize the stay of illegal immigrants working in the black economy in industries lacking workers, such as restaurants.

Of those more 320,330 first-time residence permits, 108,340 were delivered to students, 90,385 as part of a family regrouping, 52,570 for economic immigrants, 40,490 on humanitarian grounds, and 28,545 for other reasons.

Additionally, 255,118 short-term visas were delivered for work.

In the meantime, the number of asylum seekers — most of them economic illegal immigrants filing for asylum to avoid deportation — exceeded the 150,000 mark for the first time last year, reaching 168,699 asylum requests. This number included 137,046 by first-time asylum seekers, 19,057 asylum requests filed as part of an appeal procedure after a first request had been rejected, and 12,596 requests eventually filed in France in the framework of the EU’s Dublin agreement. According to this agreement, asylum requests should be filed in the EU member state of first arrival.

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The percentage of asylum requests leading to a positive outcome is also on the rise in France, reaching a historic level of 41.3 percent, which can only encourage would-be illegal migrants to try their luck and risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

The total number of valid residence permits held by foreigners in France also reached a new all-time record last year, with over 3.8 million such permits currently in force just for continental France. The figure has almost doubled in 15 years, according to Le Figaro.

The only immigration figure that remains stubbornly low is the number of deportations: Only 11,410 illegal immigrants were expelled in 2022. Incumbent Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin may have a big mouth when trying to sound tough on immigration, but he is very weak in terms of deeds or just lacks the will to get immigration back under control. As noted by Le Figaro, even adding the 2,098 assisted departures (in exchange for money) and the 1,888 “spontaneous departures,” the total is 15,396 departures. So, even in an area where successive French governments, including the current one, have been promising for years that things were going to change for the better, Darmanin is actually doing worse than all his predecessors under President Macron: Cazeneuve (16,489 assisted or forced departures in 2016), Collomb (19,957 in 2018), and Castaner (23,746 in 2019).

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. (Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP)

This is happening in the context of increased immigration at the European level, with 953,796 asylum requests in the EU plus Switzerland and Norway in 2022. The number in Germany is up 24 percent over the previous year, with 226,467 asylum requests. These figures do not include the 5 million or so refugees from Ukraine who sought “temporary protection” in the EU in 2022 following Russia’s invasion of their country.

At the European level, the main applicants for refugee status or so-called subsidiary protection were Syrians, Afghans, Venezuelans, Turks, and Colombians. In France, Afghanistan remained, for the fifth consecutive year, the first country of origin of asylum seekers with more than 17,000 first applications submitted, followed by Bangladesh (8,600), Turkey (8,500), Georgia (8,100), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (5,900).

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Only in 2015 and 2016 had the number of asylum seekers been higher in the EU, with 1,216,860 and 1,166,815 first-time asylum applications, respectively. Since then, the total number remained close to half a million each year, with 535,045 first-time asylum applications in 2021.

With legal and illegal immigration getting worse over the years in spite of rising hostility towards open border measures, the government’s policy on immigration looks more like intended social engineering than just bad management.

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The case for encouraging mass immigration — both legal and illegal — was made in front of the British House of Lords Migration Advisory Committee in 2012 by Irishman Peter Sutherland, the then-UN special representative for international migration and chairman of Goldman Sachs, who had earlier been a European commissioner for competition and director-general of the World Trade Organization.

According to Sutherland, migration was not only a “crucial dynamic for economic growth” for EU nations, “however difficult it may be to explain this to the citizens of those states,” but also the only sensible answer to an aging and declining native population. He added, with “hesitation” due to the unpopularity of the idea, that it was crucial “for the development of multicultural states.”

Another of Sutherland’s points in favor of mass immigration was that from a European integration perspective, the EU “should do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of its member states. “States have to become more open states, in terms of the people who inhabit them, just as the United Kingdom has demonstrated,” Sutherland argued, saying that there was a “shift from states selecting migrants to migrants selecting states,” and that mass immigration was key to the EU’s ability to compete at a global level.

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These arguments could very well be the motives driving someone like France’s President Emmanuel Macron, a convinced market-minded Euro-federalist who once famously said that there is no such thing as “French culture” but that there are “cultures in France.”

In February 2017, the EU commissioner in charge of immigration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said at an event at the University of Geneva that the EU-27 would need 6 million more immigrants in the coming years and that the EU would open immigration offices in all countries on the southern coast of the Mediterranean and in Western Africa as a way to fight illegal immigration.

However, much higher figures have also been promoted in the past. In fact, the United Nations, along with a number of think tanks, promoted the idea of 60 million migrants coming to the EU by 2050, with most of them arriving from Africa.

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In June 2018 Federica Mogherini, a former communist who was then vice-president of the European Commission and a high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, defended the case for continued mass immigration into Europe in front of African leaders gathered at an EU-G5 Sahel summit in Brussels. She told them that “some economic sectors in Europe, without immigration, would just have to stop working from one day to the other.”

And as for French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, he has proven to be much tougher on French nationals staging peaceful protests against the French government’s open border policy than on immigration itself.

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