A new immigration law must be discussed in November in the National Assembly. Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior who carries the text with Olivier Dussopt, Minister of Labor, said it again on the 20 p.m. news on TF1 this Tuesday, September 19. It would be the 29th text voted since 1980; that’s one every 17 months. THE projet filed in December 2022 envisages, in addition to an exemption, under certain conditions, from the six-month waiting period before being able to work for asylum seekers, a tightening of the rules on the right to asylum and an acceleration of expulsions.
If the subject occupies a central space in the French political debate, the realities ofimmigration, the concepts and figures it covers, however, remain at best the object of confusion, at worst of falsification and fantasies.
We often find ourselves faced with the figure of asking for asylum in rags which would embody all or part of immigration with the idea that France "cannot accommodate all the misery in the world", formula launched by Prime Minister Michel Rocard in December 1989 and repeated many times since.
Searching for “migrants” in a search engine is exposing yourself to dozens of photos of people in distress trying to cross the Mediterranean or long columns of walkers along roads and barbed wire fences. And even more so while the Italian island of Lampedusa returns to the front pages of the newspapers, a subject on which the French Minister of the Interior affirmed a "firm position": France "will not welcome migrants who come from Lampedusa" except "political refugees", he assured.
Confusion between asylum policy and migration policy
However, the theme of migration is the subject of ever more statistics, work and publications at the international level. As recalled, for example, by François Héran, holder of the Migrations and Societies chair at the Collège de France, in a recent work, the prophecy of Migratory tsunami did not come true. In 2022, France took charge 16% of asylum applications addressed to Europe when our GDP represents 16,7% of European GDP. In total, residence permits granted for asylum and for sick foreigners represent around 13% of all permits in 2022.
One of the stumbling blocks in the debate undoubtedly lies in the handling of words and in a confusion between asylum policy and migration policy. However, there is a clear distinction between the two: the first concerns international law and respect for 1951 Geneva Convention of which France and the European countries are signatories, the second concerns the ordinary policy of a sovereign state. Asylum policy is developed for the benefit of persons Beneficiaries of international protection (refugees and subsidiary protection) while ordinary migration policy is developed by States, according to their interests at a given moment.
For the rest, discussions about the direction to be given to asylum policy suffer from a real lack of robust quantitative studies on which to base themselves.
Few studies despite available material
At the dawn of a new migration law, France is, in fact, poorly documented regarding the effects of its asylum policy and programs intended for the integration of refugees. In a recent research article, Danish economist Jacob Nielsen Arendt and his co-authors detail published work that evaluates refugee policies and their labor market performance. Only one study on France appears there, that ofAlexia Lochmann, Hillel Rapoport and Biagio Speciale. At the same time, there are more than fifteen studies on Denmark and nearly ten on Sweden, generally based on large administrative data.
The study on France also dates from 2019. The researchers assess the impact of the linguistic component of the Reception and Integration Contract, the ancestor of the Republican Integration Contract. Compared to the Scandinavian studies, the authors must rely on survey data which offer a range of restricted and self-reported indicators regarding participation in the labor market while the number of Beneficiaries of international protection within their sample is relatively small.
However, France has all the tools and knowledge to rigorously evaluate its asylum policy. French research centers have numerous teams specializing in immigration and experimental and non-experimental evaluation. In this regard, let us remember that the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, Esther Duflo, is a French specialist in evaluation using experimental methods which she largely contributed to popularizing.
On the data side, France has very important statistical systems of unrivaled quality and the Secure Data Access Center (CASD) provides remote access to a secure infrastructure where confidential data is protected. All the technical conditions are in place to carry out evaluation work of the best academic level based on a wide range of methods in order to study our asylum policy in detail and contribute to the debate comments based on scientific evidence.
Without evaluation, much less visible benefits
Whatever the outcome of the debate on the immigration law, it is therefore appropriate to undertake the evaluation of our asylum policy by equipping ourselves with the required means. This involves in particular anticipating funding and support for rigorous scientific evaluations but also carrying out the development of matched statistical systems to compensate for the risk of seeing the figures being manipulated and scientists turning away from the French context to carry out their research.
These are necessary, in particular because the costs linked to immigration are more directly visible than its positive impacts, the measurement of which requires more detailed evaluations.
From a cost point of view, in addition to processing asylum applications, France is required to guarantee material reception conditions under the European law. All this is encrypted within programs 303 and 104 of the finance bill (PLF). In the PLF 2022, action no. 2 of program 303, “Guarantee of the exercise of the right of asylum”, represented almost 90% of the program budget and covered the allocation credits for asylum seekers (the famous "ADA"), the reception and accommodation of asylum seekers within the national reception system (the DNA), and the payment of the State subsidy to the French Protection Office refugees and stateless people, Ofpra.
As for program 104, which accounts for just over 20% of the funds allocated to immigration and integration, several actions are directly linked to asylum policy. This includes part of the funding from the French Office for Immigration and Integration (Ofii).
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At a very large scale, nearly 74% of the funds allocated to immigration and integration would thus be allocated to the policy of welcoming asylum seekers and supporting refugees. Faced with these expenses, the only recommendation formulated by the Court of Auditors in April 2023 during its budget execution analysis exercise is:
“Improve the accommodation rate for asylum seekers by continuing to develop the reception capacities of the national system for the reception of asylum seekers (DNA), simplifying the types of accommodation for DNAs, standardizing their pricing arrangements and financing."
Conversely, identifying the economic dividends of a policy such as asylum policy requires much more sophisticated calculations. Some lessons are nevertheless already available.
Economic flows and performances
Hippolyte d'Albis, research director at the CNRS and the Paris School of Economics, seconded to the General Inspectorate of Finance as Chief Economist, shows with his co-authors that over the period 1985-2015, the flows asylum seekers do not deteriorate economic performance or the budgetary balance of Western European countries. The explanation lies in the fact that the increase in public spending that they induce is more than offset by an increase in tax revenue net of transfers. Better, as asylum seekers become permanent residents, that is to say they obtain a form of protection, their macroeconomic impact becomes positive.
For the United States, Michael Clemens of Center for Global Development shows, for its part, that the policy aimed at reducing the arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers between 2017 and 2020 would cost the American economy several billion dollars each year. According to his estimates, after deducting public spending, the shortfall for public coffers at all levels of government would amount to more than 2 billion dollars per year.
However, to fully benefit from the potential economic dividend of welcoming asylum seekers and refugees, effective policies and programs must be developed and funded, which can only be identified through rigorous evaluations. As early as September 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis, economist Jens Weidmann, then president of the Federal Bank of Germany declared to the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that the influx of refugees represented "opportunities which are all the greater if we manage to successfully integrate these people into society and the job market".
Benjamin Michallet, Researcher in refugee economics at PSE-École d'Économie de Paris, associated with the Chair of International Migration Economics and the Convergences Migrations Institute, teacher at IEP Paris, Sciences Po