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France starts tackling sensitive asylum, immigration reforms

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Two bills that aim to tackle France's saturated, inefficient asylum system and reform stringent immigration rules are already attracting controversy before they have even been officially introduced.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who was to submit the two bills at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, stressed in an interview with daily Liberation that France must continue to welcome immigrants as "countries that are closed in on themselves are doomed to decline."

The first bill on asylum seeks to reform a system crumbling under the weight of requests for shelter.

In seven years, the number of asylum seekers has nearly doubled to reach more than 66,000 cases last year.

As a result, there is a severe lack of housing facilities and half of all seekers have to fend for themselves, resorting to living in slums, squats or sleeping rough.

Processing these asylum requests takes an average of two years, and the bill aims to shorten this to nine months by 2017, giving authorities dealing with the cases more funding and staff.

"We must reject unjustified requests so that those who legitimately claim asylum can rapidly benefit from French protection," Cazeneuve said in the interview.

The immigration bill, meanwhile, seeks to attract more qualified people among the 200,000 non-EU foreigners that France admits legally every year.

It creates a new, four-year residence permit dubbed the "talent passport" which will replace the confusing plethora of existing documents.

Many foreigners in France also need to renew their residence permit every year, creating huge bureaucracy and complicating their lives given that 99 percent of these renewal demands are accepted.

The bill therefore calls for two- to four-year permits to be delivered after the initial one-year document has been handed out.

But these longer-term permits will only be delivered if the person has followed French classes.

And if a foreigner has lived in France for five years or more, he or she will only be able to get the sacred 10-year residence permit if they can read French and understand simple texts.

But the immigration bill in particular has already drawn the ire of associations and the centre-right opposition.

The Information and Support Group for Immigrants, for instance, said the bill was still too focused on the need for integration and remained obsessed with "fighting against illegal immigration... and does not bring substantial progress where fundamental rights are concerned."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140723/france-starts-tackling-sensitive-asylum-immigration-reforms