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How the French economy needs immigrants

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Boss of a small construction company in eastern Paris, Augustin* is constantly confronted with a lack of manpower. “Cannot find qualified people”regrets the young entrepreneur. “Where I come from, in the provinces, we still manage to find staff, he explains. But here, we push young people far too little towards manual work. And nobody wants to work in big cities. »

Under penalty of losing contracts, he therefore hired an Egyptian in France for eight years, “highly qualified, hardworking and intelligent”, who manages a team of three people, or even two Ukrainian brothers. All three are undocumented, whom he wishes to declare and whom he supports in their regularization process: “It’s problematic, I know, but without them, I wouldn’t make it! »

The approach is risky: up to €15,000 in fines and five years in prison. “It’s not theoretical: I know entrepreneurs who have gone to court”warns Dominique du Paty, vice-president of the Confederation of small and medium-sized enterprises (CPME) in charge of inclusion.

“Whole sections of the economy live thanks to immigrants”

Associations such as the Christian Immigrant Network or the Cimade nevertheless criticize the“hypocrisy” of a system which, since the Valls circular of 2012, allows the regularization of foreigners who have had a declared job for several years in France. But puts all the risk on the employers who are short of arms.

“It’s not about being naive and open to anything, acknowledges Dominique du Paty, specifying that he does not speak on behalf of the CPME. But even if it’s politically incorrect to say so, entire sectors of the economy live thanks to immigrants. » Personal services thus employ 40% of them according to the Dares study, “The professions of immigrants” published in September 2021. They are also 28% of security guards, 27% of construction workers, 20% of employees in the ‘hotel and catering…

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In November 2021, the Economic Analysis Council (CAE), a forward-looking body reporting to the Prime Minister, noted the effects on employment of the drop in the number of visas during the health crisis. “The sectors of activity that made the most use of immigrant workers in 2018 are those today which declare a lack of manpower”he wrote, concluding that, immigration making it possible to relieve certain sectors, “immigrant and native workers are more complementary than substitutable”. Clearly: immigrants do not take the work of the French.

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“Our country today suffers from a lack of attractiveness”

The CAE went even further, regretting the low volume of immigration to France, which we speak of ” flow “ (292,000 people immigrated to France in 2019, i.e. 0.41% of the French population, while the European Union and OECD averages are 0.85%), or “stock” (8.4 million immigrants, or 12.8% of its population, less than its main European or OECD competitors).

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And this lack does not only concern manual jobs, thankless or low-skilled and attracting little or no natives: France also has difficulty attracting or retaining talent. A study by the Ministry of the Interior thus showed that, out of a cohort of 70,000 foreign students who obtained their first residence permit in 2015, only 21% were still present in France in 2020 for an economic reason, while 57% had left France.

“Our country today suffers from a lack of attractiveness”, regrets the CAE. The organization draws up an edifying comparison with the United States, where an immigrant is found in 44% of the founders of technology companies, which have generated 63 billion dollars in revenue and created 560,000 jobs. Immigrants are responsible for 24% of patents there (10% in France). “A 1% increase in the number of immigrant scientists and engineers increases the number of patents per capita filed by 9% to 18%”he notes.

“Immigration is a factor of economic dynamism”

For economists Emmanuelle Auriol and Hillel Rapoport, authors of the note, the main problem is a public debate on immigration “dominated by identity and security issues”but which never discusses the long-term economic benefits of immigration.

“How do you want to attract talent if you give them to understand that they may not be able to give the first name of their choice to their children who will be born in France? »summarized, last October, Hippolyte d’Albis, president of the Circle of economists, in front of an audience of young entrepreneurs from the Medef, some of whom testified to the difficulty of bringing qualified profiles or foreign partners to France.

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“Immigration is a factor of economic dynamism”, insists the CAE. “Especially since immigrants are qualified, bring new knowledge and skills, come from diverse origins and form a bridge in globalization”.

“We need brave and hardworking people”

Hippolyte d’Albis and his colleague Ekrame Boubtane have long highlighted the economic benefits of all forms of immigration. In 2018, they pointed out in an article by Science Advances that the massive influx of asylum seekers did not lead to a deterioration in the economic performance or the public finances of the European countries which received them.

“What our companies need are courageous, hard-working people”summarizes Dominique du Paty. “The resilience and willpower shown by those who had to cross the Mediterranean are qualities we need.”

Augustin thus hopes that the two Ukrainian brothers he employs will soon obtain their papers. “I have plans for the future with them, for example by creating a company specializing in thermal insulation, he hopes. This is a sector where needs are exploding: there is work for the next fifteen years. For the State, it will be taxes and social security contributions. »

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Immigrants in France: who and how many?

► For the United Nations, an immigrant is a “person who was born in a country other than that in which he resides, whether or not he holds the nationality”.

► In France, INSEE only counts people born abroad of foreign nationality: naturalized people are therefore counted as immigrants, not French people born abroad.

► In 2019 (before the health crisis which marked a 21% drop in residence permits), 277,406 people had immigrated to France: 90,502 for family reasons, 90,336 with student status, 37,851 for humanitarian reasons and only 26,583 under economic immigration.

► According to the researchers, there were approximately 300,000 foreigners in an irregular situation in France in 2017, i.e. less than 0.5% of the population. They were 3 million in the European Union, less than 1% of the population.

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