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Revaluating the Criteria for Legal Permits to Integrate 1,300 Undocumented Workers Occupying the Bourse du Travail on rue Charlot, Paris, France

To: Pierre Mutz, Office of the Prefecture of the Department of Paris

Problem Statement

The criteria established by French law for granting foreign workers a legal permit to reside in France has created unrest for undocumented workers, and must be revaluated.  Between 200,000 and 400,000 undocumented workers live in the country, with 60,000-80,000 living in Paris. (1)  Roughly 1,300 were occupying the Bourse du Travail building on rue Charlot in Paris’s third arrondissement. (2)  On June 24, 2009, the undocumented workers were evicted from the building by the Confédération Générale du Travail when Paris police were called in. (3) Most of the undocumented workers have employment as blue-collar workers. (4) Since the eviction, several have remained outside the Bourse du Travail to protest their denial of residential permits that would allow them to remain and work in France legally. (5) In the meantime, many local businesses on rue Charlot have suffered significant revenue losses as undocumented workers build makeshift sleeping areas there, presenting a public health risk. (6)

The process of obtaining legal residency in France is both inconsistent and unequal in its treatment of undocumented workers across the spectrum. (7) A modification to the Code du Travail created in May 2007 required employers to verify the records of potential foreign hires with the Prefecture, but did not address the pool of undocumented workers who held jobs. (8)  Article 40 of  The Law Related to the Control of Immigration, Integration, and Asylum, created on November 20, 2007, presented the possibility for undocumented workers to apply for an “exceptional authorization” that would allow them to remain in France, if they were lawfully employed. (9)  Foreign workers (from certain countries), under the December 20, 2007 and January 2, 2008 Circulaire, must prove that their employment 1) falls into one of the 30 high-skilled fields accessible to foreign workers, and 2) must be able to guarantee a year of future employment in their permit application.  (10) (11)  This application requires undocumented workers to show that their employment will allow them to easily integrate into French society, and will benefit the country as a whole. (12)  While the Prefecture in the district reviewing the application permits requests on a case-to-case basis, the criteria for granting a permit differs between districts and between Prefectures, revealing an inconsistency in France’s immigration policy. (13) Many undocumented workers have not been granted legal permits to live and work in France, including the 1,300 who currently occupy the Bourse du Travail.  These illegal workers present a burden to the economy and to public life, and ultimately decrease productivity for their employers in France. This problem must be addressed by both the Prefecture and the government of France.

Proposed Solution

The Prefecture and French government must recognize the importance of labor, and develop guidelines that would allow undocumented workers to receive legal permits to reside and work in France.  Undocumented workers, including the 1,300 at the Bourse du Travail, work jobs that the French are unwilling to perform. (14)  France has an unemployment rate of 7.5%, yet has 35,000-40,000 job vacancies in the hotel and restaurant industries, which are often filled by undocumented workers. (15) The  provisions  established by the December 20, 2007 and January 2, 2008 Circulaire must be removed; the French economy needs the low-skilled labor that undocumented workers provide.

In lieu of the earlier criteria, undocumented workers should be required to: 1) provide evidence (in the form of official work contracts) of lawful employment for a certain number of years  in France; and 2) provide proof of identity and/or former alias during employment in France. They must submit work contracts and proof of identification to the Prefecture in order to gain a legal permit to remain and work in France.  Employers will be legally obligated to provide contracts to all workers, regardless of legal status, to ensure proof of employment for undocumented workers.  Moreover, employers will have a legal obligation to assist undocumented workers in obtaining a legal permit. Undocumented workers have the right to request a name change if they had been falsely employed under a different alias, without penalty to either the employer or undocumented worker, if the employer can prove that he had been unaware of that worker’s illegal status.  

This recommendation is modeled after the sweeping legalization characterizing the  Italian measure that, between 2003 and 2006, legalized 1.1 million foreign workers who presented work contracts. (16)  The measure there was successful; the newly legalized workers integrated into society and contributed to the Italian economy. The same policy could be effective in France, where many labor sectors are dependent on undocumented workers. Despite the misconception that there is an ever-growing wave of foreign workers entering the country, France’s dependence on legal, foreign-born labor has remained steady in recent years. (17)  Foreign labor only represented 11% of the total employment in 2006, with undocumented workers primarily occupying low-skilled jobs undesired by French citizens. (18)

In order to alleviate the burden on small businesses that depend on undocumented workers, the French government should reevaluate the current tax on the hiring of foreign workers to low-skilled jobs.  Removing or decreasing this tax would be beneficial to employers who are willing to hire low-skilled foreign labor, and to the growth of the French economy.

Major Obstacles/Implementation Challenges

One obstacle our policy proposal faces is the negative stigma surrounding immigrants, and in particular, undocumented workers in the political and public sphere. (19) There are a number of negative attitudes and misconceptions about immigrants among the French public. The challenge is to get the French public to recognize the importance of the labor that undocumented workers provide for the country.  In the French judicial system, there are few laws addressing the rights of foreigners, regardless of status. The approval of a legal permit is often regarded as having been granted by the French government, as opposed to representing the foreigner’s right to obtain work in the country. 

France’s immigration policy is not transparent to lawyers or the general public.  Decisions regarding the granting of legal permits to work in the country are determined by three separate ministries: 1) Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity, and Co-Development, 2) Ministry of Work, and 3) Ministry of the Interior.  The Prefect is under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, but also receives recommendations and pressure regarding immigration policy from the Ministry of Immigration.  Neither the criteria for gaining a legal permit, nor the role of government officials in the process, are clearly defined and transparent.  The issue of undocumented workers should be handled by a single office or single branch of the French government.

France’s history of discrimination towards undocumented workers has led to a surge in the numbers of undocumented workers working under false aliases.  One of the challenges to be addressed by the French government is the use of such aliases, and the corresponding need to educate and assist employers  in order to facilitate undocumented workers’ gaining a legal permit to remain and work in the French Republic.


1. Bohlen, Celestine. “French illegal workers’ strike puts their value to test.” New York Times. World Section-Europe. May 27, 2008.
2. Anzoumane, Sissoko. Spokesperson for “Coordination 75” and organizer of the Bourse du Travail occupation. Interview: July 1, 2008.
3. “Manifestation de soutien aux sans-papiers expulsés de la Bourse du travail. Le Monde.  June 29, 2009.  Available Online: http://www.lemonde.fr/archives/article/2009/06/29/manifestation-de-soutien-aux-sans-papiers-expulses-de-la-bourse-du-travail_1213246_0.html
4. Davies, Lizzy. “It Takes Two.” The Guardian. World News Section – France. September 2, 2008.
5. “Manifestation de soutien aux sans-papiers expulsés de la Bourse du travail.” Le Monde. June 29, 2009.
6. Owner of “Royal Couscous” on rue Charlot. Interview on June 26, 2009.
7. Carrere, Violaine, Groupe d'information et de soutien des immigrés
(GISTII). Immigration Lawyer. Interview date: July 1, 2009.
8. Décret n°2007-801 du 11 mai 2007 relatif aux autorisations de travail délivrées à des étrangers, à la contribution spéciale due en cas d'emploi d'un étranger dépourvu d'autorisation de travail et modifiant le code du travail (partie réglementaire Décrets en Conseil d'Etat).
9. LOI n° 2007-1631 du 20 novembre 2007 relative à la maîtrise de l'immigration, à l'intégration et à l'asile (1).
10. Circulaire du 20 décembre 2007 relative aux autorisations de travail des nouveaux États membres de l’Union européenne pendant la période transitoire et des États tiers, sur la base de listes de métiers connaissant des difficultés de recrutement.
11. Circulaire du 7 janvier 2008- relative à la délivrance de cartes de séjour portant la mention « salarié » au titre de l’admission exceptionnelle au séjour.
12. Ibid, Circulaire du 7 janvier 2008.
13. Raizon, Dominique. “Regularisation des sans-papiers : quells criteres?” FRI-France Broadcasting. July 18, 2006.
14. Celestine, Ibid.
15. “The Employment of Foreigners: Outlook and Issues in OECD Countries,” Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Report released in 2001.
16. Levinson, Amanda. “The Regularisation of Unauthorized Migrants: Literature Survey and Country Cas Studies: Regularisation programmes in Italy.” Center on Migration, Policy and Society. University of Oxford.
17. Levinson, Ibid.
18. Celestine, Ibid.
19. Verbosky, Sarah. “Immigration in France: The Economics and Politics of a Sensitive Issue.” Lehigh University.  Available Online: www.lehigh.edu/~incntr/publications/perspectives/.../verbosky.pdf

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