France to reduce visas for North Africans in migration dispute

President Emmanuel Macron is under pressure to impose tougher immigration rules

France will reduce the number of visas issued to people in North Africa because governments there are refusing to take back migrants expelled from France.

The move announced on Tuesday comes amid pressure from far-right politicians on centrist President Emmanuel Macron to implement tougher immigration rules.

It creates new tension between France and North Africa. The Moroccan Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita, condemned the decision as “unjustified".

Starting in a few weeks, the French government plans to slash the number of visas given to Algerians and Moroccans by half, and to Tunisians by 30 per cent, government officials say.

All three countries were part of France’s colonial empire, and many Europe-bound migrants and other visitors coming from those nations have family or other ties in France.

French spokesman Gabriel Attal told Europe-1 radio that France decided to take action because Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have refused recently to provide consular documents for their citizens being deported from France after arriving illegally.

Virus travel restrictions have also complicated return efforts.

A senior official in the French presidency said France especially wanted the countries to take back people flagged for extremism, and expressed hope that a solution could be found soon.

Mr Attal said France had been trying to reach a diplomatic solution since it passed a tougher immigration law in 2018.

Between January and July, French judicial authorities ordered 7,731 Algerians to leave its territory because they did not have residency authorisation.

But only 22 departed because many lacked the necessary documents from Algeria, Europe-1 reported.

Mr Bourita said his country had issued 400 consular documents to Moroccans being expelled from France, but many of them refused to take a virus test, which is required to re-enter Morocco.

That is “the problem of France, which must deal with it", he said in Rabat.

Mr Bourita said Morocco was trying to find “the necessary balance between facilitating the movement of people, whether students, businessmen and those wishing to benefit from medical services, and combating clandestine immigration".

Tunisia took a more conciliatory public stance.

“We are among countries that are co-operative in this domain and we have excellent relations with France,” President Kais Saied’s office said.

French politicians on the right and far right are pushing for tougher immigration rules before France’s April presidential election. Mr Macron is expected to announce a re-election bid.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gave qualified backing to the visa reduction but said the government waited too long before acting.

Ms Le Pen was Mr Macron’s main rival in the 2017 election and is regarded as his principal opponent if he runs again.

“For a long, long, long, long time, I have been asking that steps be taken to oblige certain countries to respect international law,” she said, identifying Algeria and Tunisia.

“I am pleased that the president of the republic heard me. I find it’s a bit late.”

Ms Le Pen was speaking about her plans for a referendum on her proposals for a “drastic reduction” of immigration to France.

Updated: September 28th 2021, 10:42 PM