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France liberalises visa regulations: less paperwork, more post-study work options

In pursuit of an ambitious target for boosting international enrolment, the government of President François Hollande has recently taken steps to make France a more attractive destination for foreign students.

A new “Talent Passport” (a Compétence et talent permit) has been introduced to “facilitate the entry into France of foreigners who are likely to contribute in a significant and sustained way to the economic development or intellectual, scientific, cultural, humanitarian, or athletic advancement of France or their country of origin.“ This new permit will allow as many as 10,000 foreign graduates – particularly researchers and highly skilled workers – to remain in France to work for up to four years following their studies.

Aside from the new talent permit, graduates from the European Union may continue to work in France without restrictions. Students from outside the EU who have earned a master’s degree or equivalent during their studies in France may also stay to work for up to a year after graduation.

All students will now also be issued visas for the entire duration of their planned programme of study in France, as opposed to the previous approach under which foreign students were obliged to renew their visas annually.

Campus France, the government agency with responsibility for promoting France as a study destination, reports that France is the fourth most popular choice for international students worldwide, after the US, the UK, and Australia. The country hosted 278,000 foreign students in 2012, representing just over 12% of its total post-secondary enrolment. Drawing on Campus France statistics, the Alliance for International and Cultural Exchange adds that African countries provide 43% of international enrolments in France. “Asia and Europe both account for 24% of inbound mobility to France, lead by students from within the European Union and China.”

Government officials have announced that France intends to nearly double its international enrolment to 20% of total tertiary enrolment by 2025. The latest Campus France figures, as reported in World Education News & Reviews, indicate that enrolment is trending in the right direction, “Visa issuances were up 8% for 2013 and universities account for 78% of foreign enrolments.”

The new visa measures announced this year will now aim to build on the strengthening enrolment recorded in 2013. The US colleage admissions association NACAC notes as well that France, “Will continue to recruit students from Africa, as it has historically done, but will look to broaden its reach to attract students from Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Brazil, India, and the United States.”

In a related development, a 2013 Campus France study of 20,000 students – including prospective students planning to study in France, those actively studying in the country, and foreign alumni of French institutions – found that, “The three main reasons to choose France are the quality of the teaching, the French language practice and the cultural interest for the country…Students choose France to practice French or because they’re interested in French language and at the same time their stay improves their language level and maintains friendly and professional ties with France.”

Employment and internship prospects strengthening too

France’s drive to build its international enrolment may get a further boost from recent news of a strengthening labour market for 2014. The country continues to struggle with high levels of unemployment, particularly among younger workers, and with persistent labour market and skills gaps. On a bright note, however, the government employment agency Pôle Emploi forecasts that 1.7 million new jobs will be created in France this year, the majority of which (64%) will be in the services sector. “The French tourist industry which has remained buoyant despite the economic downturn will also see an increase in demand for new staff in particular in hotels,” reports the English-language news site The Local. “There will also be a demand for care and community workers, which has been put down to France’s burgeoning elderly population.”

The more robust jobs outlook for 2014 is accompanied by new measures passed by the French government this month to increase the minimum wage for interns to €523 per month. This is a noteworthy development in a country with an estimated 1.2 million interns, many of whom pursue internships as a path to landing a permanent job and often as a component of their post-secondary studies.

Aside from the improved minimum wage, the new legislation will provide for the following improved conditions or protections.

  • Interns will be entitled to the same benefits as employees. They won’t be allowed to work longer hours and will be entitled to meal vouchers, holiday pay, and subsidies for public transit;
  • French labour inspectors will now have additional powers to assess whether intern positions should be converted to ongoing employee positions;
  • The bill also limits the number of interns to a percentage – to be determined but expected to be 10% – of the company’s total workforce.

This provisions apply to international students pursuing internships in France. For additional background, The Local offers a handy guide to the “good and the bad” of French internships for foreign students.

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