france immigration bill

Aurélien Rousseau, the French minister of health, resigned in protest over a strict immigration bill, putting the government in political disarray.

After a stringent new immigration bill was voted by parliament on Wednesday, with so many harsh provisions that the far-right Marine Le Pen hailed it as an “ideological victory” for her anti-immigration program, Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party was split and going through some soul-searching.

In protest of the bill, Rousseau promptly tendered his resignation; however, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne did not state whether or not she would accept it. It remained to be seen if additional ministers would submit resignation offers.

The initial goal of the bill was to demonstrate to Macron that he could enforce strict immigration bill while still allowing foreign workers to enter France and support the country’s economy by filling positions in understaffed industries.

The bill, according to his interior minister Gérald Darmanin, “protected the French.” He claimed that the government had to impose strict immigration laws to stop Le Pen’s anti-immigration far-right National Rally from becoming the largest opposition party in parliament and leading the polls ahead of the European elections the following year.

But a special parliamentary committee quickly drew out a compromise draft after opposition parties declined to even discuss the immigration bill in parliament last week. Consequently, the centrist government presented a much more extreme right-wing bill that, among other things, restricted foreigners’ access to welfare benefits, tightened regulations for foreign students, imposed migration quotas, made it more difficult for non-natives born in France to obtain French citizenship, and declared that dual nationals convicted of serious crimes against the French government could lose their French citizenship.

Numerous members of Macron’s centrist party abstained or voted against the measure, exposing profound splits, especially on the left, inside Macron’s own moderate Renaissance party. Macron’s party’s leading leftist, Sacha Houlié, who chaired the special committee on the bill, voted against it.

The far-right National Rally party’s leader, Marine Le Pen, declared that her party would support the law and referred to it as an “ideological victory.” The measure was dubbed “incontestably inspired by Marine Le Pen” by far-right MP Edwige Diaz.

A major component of the measure stipulated that immigrants would only be eligible for some social security benefits after living in France for five years, or thirty months if they were employed. The opposition on the left said that Macron was just emulating the contentious major campaign promise made by Jean-Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen over decades of far-right politics: the idea of “national preference,” according to which housing and benefits should be “for the French first.”

The communist MP Elsa Faucillon claimed that the administration was going farther than Giorgia Meloni in Italy and was adopting the same terminology and ideologies as the far-right.

In a joint statement, over 50 organizations, including the French Human Rights League, called it “the most regressive bill of the past 40 years for the rights and living conditions of foreigners, including those who have long been in France.”

The administration said that the law included other progressive provisions, such as the regularization of illegal immigrants in labor-scarce industries including construction, health and care, and hospitality.

Borne stated on X that the French had requested “a necessary, useful bill.” She declared that the “general interest” had prevailed and that it was “efficient and conformed with Républicain values.”

Together with the right-wing Les Républicains, MPs from Macron’s party voted to pass the measure. The administration got enough votes even without the support of Le Pen’s far-right MPs.

Left-wing opposition politicians drew attention to Macron’s admission that many people supported him to exclude the extreme views of his opponent, Marine Le Pen, rather than because of his policies when he was re-elected for a second term in 2022.

A sense of “shame and betrayal” was expressed by Green MP Cyrielle Chatelain to the house over Macron’s decision to introduce far-right ideas instead of this measure.