Reforming Work Visa Eligibility of Tunisian Immigrants

Part I: Problem Statement

Context 

In April 2011, 26,000 Tunisian immigrants fleeing the Jasmine Revolution arrived in Italy.  20,000 of them were subsequently granted 3-month residence permits. The Schengen Agreement, made between 22 contiguous European states, allowed for the free movement of Tunisians within Europe once they received their visas. The majority of documented Tunisian immigrants ended up in France, due to the country’s preexisting Tunisian community and their common French language. This policy memo addresses the fundamental question of how Tunisian immigrants possessing short-term visas will be able to obtain long-term work visas in France.

Current situation.

Due to controversial measures enacted by the French government, hundreds of immigrants who entered French territory with the Permesso Italiano did not remain there long. Indeed, despite possessing valid visas, they had to prove that they had some source of income (31euros/day if they had an accommodation, 62euros/day if not). Consequently, when many were unable to meet this requirement, French authorities arrested them and sent them back to either Italy or Tunisia. For those who managed to stay, the situation has grown increasingly complicated. A large majority of these immigrants are stuck in France since traveling back to Tunisia is difficult for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many of them are in debt from having come to Europe. Yet, they also became illegal in France when their 3-month visas expired in July 2011.

Given that they chose to emigrate from Italy to France, it is reasonable to assume that these immigrants desire to build new lives in France; at least, for a couple of years. Thus, the reality is that some of the Tunisians are pursuing employment in France and are applying for work visas. According to the Association de Solidarité avec les Travailleurs Immigrés, these Tunisian immigrants are currently ineligible for such work visas due to their financial status.

Problem

This evaluation of their financial status is the fundamental obstacle for Tunisian immigrants trying to gain a more permanent legal status in France. It is unrealistic to hold these immigrants to the same set of requirements as other  work visa applicants, particularly in regards to financial requirements. Additionally, they are being considered as a group instead of individually, as would be the case for other applicants. Even if France were to evaluate Tunisians for eligibility on an individual basis, obtaining a long-term work visa will pose many general application difficulties. These include unique applicant status, narrow criteria for approval, and time constraints.

1. Unique applicant status. 

Tunisia and France have reached an agreement in which some Tunisian nationals will be deported to Tunisia once their visas expire, while others will be allowed to remain in France. However, this committee is solely concerned with those who remain, and the visa process that will subsequently follow. If these Tunisians overstay their visas, they will be flagged when trying to renew their visa, leave the country by plane, or enter a country outside of the Schengen region. This ‘flagging’ will cripple their chances of obtaining a work visa in the future. Additionally, at any point during the application process, Tunisians will require the same specific documentation as other applicants without consideration being given to Tunisia’s political situation. It is likely that many of Tunisians left their country abruptly, without the proper documentation required. It is unreasonable for French immigration officials to expect those people to be able to request official documents from their government, which is currently undergoing a regime change.

2. Time constraints.

Tunisian immigrants are further disadvantaged by immigration laws that give them only 3 months of legal status in France to complete work visa applications, a process that can take up to 4 months. Thus, unless an applicant was able to submit the paperwork immediately upon entering France, it is highly unlikely that his or her paperwork would be processed before the expiration of the 3 month visa.

3. Narrow criteria. 

The criteria used by French immigration officials to evaluate work visa applications is quite narrow, centering on established financial security, residence, and employment. Tunisians, who are outside their country of origin and have considerable time constraints, are disadvantaged as applicants since they are unlikely to have fulfilled these requirements prior to their arrival in Europe. Furthermore, the aforementioned 3-month time constraint makes the establishment of financial security, permanent housing, and employment unrealistic.

Part II: What has been done already?

While everyone within the French political class supported the Tunisian revolution, not many supported those Tunesian migrants who came to France. Due to various  legal maneuvers, only one hundred of the original 20,000 immigrants remain on the French territory today. The majority of them are located in Paris – fewer than 400, according to advocacy organizations and associations. Following their arrival, the Paris city council has provided those associations with a fund of aabout 1 1/2 million euros to provide food and basic goods. This financial assistance ended on August 31st of this year. Since that time, the associations can only count on their own budgets, which are obviously insufficient to provide for the migrants' needs in terms of food,  healthcare and accommodations. The situation in Paris illustrates the overall lack of concern on the part of governmental authorities in regards to those migrants.

In response to this crisis, advocacy organizations are currently associations have tried -and are still trying – to lobby state authorities:

Fédération des Associations de solidarité avec les travailleurs immigrés (FASTI)

This organization advocates for Tunisians trying to gain asylum status in France. This categorization would allow Tunisians to remain in France legally. Organizations such as FASTI advocate within the existing legal framework, but have encountered difficulties since this particular set of mmigrants, due to their financial status, is not privy to the rights granted by the Code of Entry and Stay of Foreigners and Asylum-Seekers.  Meanwhile, on a more practical basis, FASTI is working to inform the immigrants of their rights.

Other organizations (Association Démocratique des Tunisiens en France, l’Union des Travailleurs Immigrés Tunisiens, Groupe d’Information et de Soutien aux Travailleurs Immigrés) 

In seeking a more long-term solution, a delegation comprised of these organizations are working with members of the European Parliament to vote into law a directive (55/2001) that would grant temporary protection to immigrants who come as part of a mass migration. This directive would grant these people legal residence under a “titre de séjour,” which would last one year (renewable up to three times) and would allow them to work.

Part III: Policy Recommendations

This committee has reached several recommendations regarding immigration policy reforms. Building upon the work of the aforementioned delegation, we recommend a more specific solution for employable Tunisian immigrants who would like to begin the process of becoming permanent residents of France.

The committee finds that the delegation’s directive for granting resident status for 1 to 3 years at a time is not compatible with state and private interests, in particular because it does not provide enough details about the renewal process. Given the fact that these immigrants may only be able to maintain their residence status for a year, employers may be deterred from hiring them. Even assuming that they are willing to hire those who are staying longer, it is unclear whether a given immigrant would be able to renew his or her legal status after 3 years; thus, obtaining long term employment would still be difficult.

The committee also has some concerns about the Franco-Tunisian Agreement, revised in 2008, which allows youths between the ages of 16 and 18 to stay in France to reside and work. Since Tunisian immigrants who entered the EU with Italian paperwork were initially given legal status in the EU, those youths also qualify for this additional provision. Additionally, Section 2.3.3. gives Tunisian nationals who wish to work in France a residence permit marked "employee," issued annually.  But while these provisions grant certain rights to current Tunisian refugees, this committee finds that more provisions are required. Immigrants who fall outside of that tiny age window of 16-18 need to have similar routes available for gaining more permanent legal status. Section 2.3.3 therefore does not provide a sustainable solution to the present humanitarian crisis. The annual reissuing of work permits does not help Tunisians find long-term work in France. A longer duration of stay (with fewer requirements for renewal) is needed, since the political upheaval in North Africa may very well continue for a long time.

Instead of granting resident status on a broad group basis, this committee proposes to evaluate work visa applications on an individual basis, highlighting those who are most employable. This would be in the interest of both the state and individual. This committee has identified several changes to the work visa application process which, if applied, would facilitate a more permanent integration of recently arrived Tunisian immigrants into the French economy.

Changes to work visa application

1) Implement point system

  • The use of a point-based system that rates individuals' employment skills will assist immigration officials in evaluating an applicant’s potential to integrate into the economic sector.
  • Points would be based on education level, language skills, past employment, job offers, sector of employment, specialized skills.
  • The system would rank these areas and assign a point value between 1 and 10 (1 being lowest), based on the applicant’s background information and resume (when available).
  • Applicants with higher values would be given higher priority, and would have a greater probability of obtaining a work visa.

This system will give immigration officials some way of organizing the large pool of applicants, and has the aim of creating a greater transparency between applicants and the government.

2) Reconfigure financial status requirements

  • Remove current Ministry requirement of documented lump sum, and replace with measure of long-term potential income.
  • Potential for employment as measured by point system should be emphasized over current capital assets.

3) Establish grace period.

  • Grace periods will be granted to those who applied for a work visa prior to the expiration of their short-term visa, but are still waiting to hear back.
  • Grace periods will be granted to applicants with expired short-term visas in a form that protects them from being ‘flagged’ or marked in a negative manner.

Part 4: Conclusion

This committee believes that the reforms outlined above will help citizens  concerned about the circumstances of Tunisian immigrants to lobby and advocate for solutions that would promote the inclusion and support of victims of political crises. In any case, because the situation in Tunisia and all over the Arab world is currently so volatile, any measures must involve a certain degree of flexibility.

Sources

Websites

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/17/france-blocks-immigrants-tunisia-italy_n_850191.html

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http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/opinion/12Caldwell.html

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/19/world/la-fg-tunisia-refugees-20110419

http://www.vie-publique.fr/decouverte-institutions/union-europeenne/ue-citoyennete/citoyennete-europeenne/qu-est-ce-que-espace-schengen.html

http://info.france2.fr/france/hortefeuxun-migrant-a-vocation-a-etre-reconduit-67382552.html

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http://sos-net.eu.org/etrangers/externe/titresej.htm#refussej

http://www.mediavisa.eu/visa-schengen-prolongation.php

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Other

European Commission of Home Affairs

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. July 28, 1951.

European Parliament and European Council. Directive 2008/115/EC. December 16, 2008

Brady, Hugo. European Union Migration Policy: An A-Z. London: Center For European Reform, 2008.

Slama, Serge. “The recent Tunisian migration : questioning Schengen after what is called a 'migratory crisis.'” Lecture presented at Humanity in Action Paris on June 20, 2011.

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