French President Emmanuel Macron has maintained a frosty rapport with the national media since taking office in 2017, giving just two press conferences and accusing journalists of “no longer seeking the truth.” So it was a bit out of character when in late October he sat down for a lengthy interview with the magazine Valeurs Actuelles, to outline his priorities for the second half of his five-year term. Immigration—notably, how to reduce it—was chief among them.
Valeurs Actuelles isn’t mainstream or widely read. It’s a conservative weekly magazine known for alarmist tropes against migrants and Muslims, so it seemed like an odd pick for a president who ran as a “radical centrist.” But for Macron’s critics, his decision to talk immigration with a publication closely associated with France’s right confirmed what they had been saying all along: That the young reformer is pushing an increasingly right-wing agenda on immigration, using it to distract from his unpopular economic reforms and to hedge against an ascendant far right.
Sure enough, in early November, his government rolled out strict new reforms that fundamentally change the face of incoming immigration to France. They are designed to both discourage asylum-seekers from attempting to reach France and encourage skilled foreign workers to apply for visas. One provision requires asylum-seekers to wait three months before they are eligible to receive non-urgent health care; another states that, as of 2020, the government will implement annual quotas for skilled immigrants. Last week, the Labor Ministry announced measures it says will make it easier for businesses to recruit foreigners, calling current levels of red tape “dissuasive.” According to an Interior Ministry official, “the goal is to give a stronger place to professional immigration.”