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Migration Controls and Enforcement in France

Tuesday 09 July 2019

A new report provides an interesting insight into the process for the management of irregular migrants in France.

According to the report presented to the French parliament last month, in 2018 there were 15,677 deportations of foreign nationals irregularly resident on the French mainland.

These deportations take different forms, depending on the circumstances of each case.

The most draconian form is expulsion, where the foreign national concerned is considered to be a menace to public order or security and escorted to the border. They are forbidden any right to return to France. There were 207 such expulsions last year.

Just over 5,000 individuals were deported under 'readmission' (return) procedures for irregular third-country nationals (ie non-European) that operate right across Europe. The arrangements provide for streamlined administrative procedures for their return, either to their country of origin or to a country through which they entered or transited on route to the EU.

The remainder either left voluntarily after having been issued with an order to leave, or given financial assistance to leave the country.

These orders to leave are called Obligation de Quitter le Territoire Français (OQTF,) issued following a decision by the prefecture to refuse a visa, or to refuse renewal of an existing visa.

It may also be as a result of an identity check of an individual who is illegally resident in France.

Those served with such an order are given a notice period, normally several weeks, during which time they are subject to house arrest, which may require they cannot leave their village or department. They may also be held in short-term detention if it is considered they may abscond.

One of the most significant points to emerge from the report is the disparity between the number of individuals who were ordered to leave and the enforcement of these orders.

Of 103,000 OQTF issued in the year, only 12% were carried out, an enforcement rate that has remained broadly the same since 2008. 

This level of enforcement is low in comparison with other European countries, where the average is 44%, and considerably higher in the UK.

Nevertheless, the number of orders to leave issued by France is one of the highest in Europe, so, as the authors point out, it is to be expected that the actual rate of deportation will be lower. Of around 500,000 orders to leave each year in Europe, 80,000 are from France.

The nationalities most concerned by an order to quit France were from Algeria (12,990), Albania (8,585), and Morocco (7,481).

One of the principal reasons for the lack of enforcement was the difficulty of identification of individuals in the process of being removed, and insufficient cooperation of the authorities of their country of origin to recognise them and issue a consular permit to enable them return to their country.

In January of this year, at a hearing in the French parliament, Pascal Teixeira da Silva, in charge of migration, stated that: "la coopération des États d’origine pour la délivrance des laissez-passer consulaires est un point noir."

Many legal experts in the field also consider the prefectures to be frequently precipitate in the issue of such orders, before a proper review of the circumstances of the case has been undertaken.

It is not uncommon for individuals issued with a OQTF to be later liberated on appeal, either due to a lack of due procedure or mitigating circumstances, eg family, health.

The recent case involving a UK household that hit the headlines was a clear illustration of a order issued too hastily and wrongly, where the prefecture had to quickly withdraw it.

Nearly 3,000 EEA nationals figure among those served with a OQTF, almost all of whom were nationals from Romania or Bulgaria.

Under European law, only where an EEA national is a threat to public order or safety, or they are an 'unreasonable burden' on the social welfare system, can they be formally ordered to leave France.

In the latter case it cannot apply to workers, self-employed persons or job-seekers, or those who have established a right of permanent residence.

There is no definition of 'unreasonable burden' in European law, but under Recital 16 of Directive 2004/38/EC, recourse to the social security system should not automatically result in an order to leave.

In determining whether or not the beneficiary constitutes a burden, counties have to consider whether the individual’s difficulties are temporary and take into account the duration of residence, personal circumstances and the level of the support.

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