How Welcoming is France to Foreign Students? Not Very

On Monday, 19 November 2018, the French government announced a new strategy to attract more foreign students to France. Under a new “Bienvenue en France” label awarded to exemplary institutions, the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, wants to go from 320,000 international students today to 500,000 in the universities of France by 2027. In what way? Among other things, by increasing tuition fees for “extra-European” students.

Thus, as of the next school year, these young people should pay 2,770 euros instead of 170 euros to register for a license, and 3,770 euros for master’s or doctorate programmes – against 243 euros and 380 euros currently. The prime minister finds it “absurd” and “unfair” that a “wealthy” extra-European student “pays the same tuition fees as a poor French student whose parents live, work and pay taxes in France for years”.

This statement confirms, once again, the ambiguity of French policy towards foreign students. A policy that oscillates between a desire for attractiveness, drawn from a liberal vision marked by the era of the commodification of higher education systems, and an obsession with control affirmed by a restrictive, selective migration policy, thriving in a bureaucratic logic safe.

An administrative marathon

In 2017, more than 78,000 first residence permits were issued in France for “reasons related to education”. Documents obtained at the end of a real obstacle course. Since 2010, any foreign candidate must pass through the digital platform of Campus France, an institution under the joint supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education, with a network of more than 200 spaces and antennas in the world.

The application, called Pre-Admission Application (DAP), is subject to a fee. To submit an application, students must pay the application fee in cash from an accredited bank. The amount varies from one country to another. For example, for Senegalese candidates, it is 50,000 FCFA (about 75 euros), for Turkish students, it is 430 LT (about 98 euros), while for Moroccan students, it is 1,900 Dhms ( approximately 172 euros). It is clearly stated that these administrative fees are not a guarantee of pre-registration and that they are not, under any circumstances, refundable even in case of withdrawal, non-admission or refusal of a visa.

Thus, as a first step, foreign students must create an account on the Campus France website and complete an educational file, by entering personal information and proof of diplomas. Candidates must also provide a certificate attesting to their level in French, by performing a test of knowledge of French (TCF), paying or by presenting an equivalent diploma.

The next step is to send the educational file to the French institutions in which the candidate wishes to register. In the event of a favourable opinion from one of them, Campus France services call the student for an interview in order to verify the authenticity of the documents provided, his level of French, his motivations and the coherence of his project. At the end of this interview, the agent of Campus France gives his opinion. If it is favourable, the candidate is invited to make an appointment with the French Consulate to apply for a long-stay student visa.

Costly steps…

Any student who does not have a scholarship must submit a bank certificate justifying “the deposit of a transfer order, permanent and irrevocable, a minimum amount of the equivalent of 615 euros per month for the duration of the stay (12-month basis for a school or university year)”. This sum is significant, since for a Moroccan student for example, this represents twice the monthly minimum wage in his country. In fact, to be able to apply for a long-stay visa for study in France, a Moroccan student must have saved the equivalent of two years of minimum wage.

Let us keep the example of Moroccan students, since they top the list of foreign students in France (38,000 in 2017 ). Since 2015, all French consulates in Morocco have outsourced the receipt of visa application and issuance files to a private provider, TLS-Contact. Thus, besides the inevitable costs of visas – not refundable in case of refusal, the applicants also pay a service fee to TLS-Contact, equivalent to 269 dirhams (around 25 euros).

Upon arrival in France, foreign students must present themselves, within three months from the date of entry, to the services of the French Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) of their department. Once all the administrative steps have been completed and paying a tax of 58 euros in the form of tax stamps, the passports of these foreign students are given a sticker attesting the completion of the formalities.

… and endless

As of their second year in France, foreign students must apply for a temporary residence permit marked “student”. According to Article L.313-7 of the French CESEDA (French Code for the Entry and Stay of Foreigners and the Right to Asylum), this card is granted to “foreigners who establish that they are or that he is studying there and justifying that he has sufficient means of existence “.

The level of livelihoods deemed sufficient is equivalent to the initial request for a long-stay visa, ie at least € 615 per month. That said, the application file for this first temporary residence permit is composed, among other things, of a proof of financial resources of the defined amount; proof of address; a certificate of registration in a higher education institution and a certificate of affiliation to a student social security cover. The delivery of this first residence permit requires the payment of a tax of 79 euros in the form of tax stamps.

At the end of their studies, some foreign students find employment opportunities in the Hexagon and decide to settle there. This decision exposes them face to face with a new “paper career” ( Spire, 2005 ) as boring and complex as the previous ones. In fact, in order for a foreign student to legally reside in France at the end of his/her higher education and to pursue a salaried professional activity, he/she is subjected to an administrative procedure called “change of status”, at the end of which he passes from “student” status to “temporary worker” or “employee”.

That being said, I’ll let you calculate the sum of all these fees (Campus France file + TLS-Contact + Visa fees + OFII tax stamps) that extra-European students pay to continue their higher education in France. Costly, requiring several months of procedures, the procedure for obtaining a visa for Jamid studies, 2018 is indicative of the selective immigration policy of France. A selection that is both an inegalitarian social dimension and apparent economic logic, prescribed by the economic needs of the French labour market.

Counterproductive measures

Many foreign students depend on, during their expatriation in France, the financial resources that their families provide them. Many of them are from modest backgrounds. To meet the different material requirements of their children’s stay in France, there are many families who sometimes go into debt. With this new registration fee policy that adds to the burden on them, it will no longer be a “Welcome to France”, but rather “Go elsewhere, do not come to France”.

If foreign students are often considered as “desirable” candidates for immigration to France, perfectly in tune with the canons of what you call “chosen immigration”, the fact remains that they are treated as foreigners, permanently suspected of later becoming an irregular legal.

In 2014, Campus France conducted a survey of a representative sample to identify the economic contribution of foreign students to the country . According to the results of this survey, online:

“While the cost of these foreign students for the state budget can be estimated at about 3 billion euros, the contribution of students to the French economy amounts to 4.65 billion euros of which: 3,250 EUR million in daily consumption of goods and services; EUR 563 million in registration and tuition fees; EUR 364 million in air transport expenditure from French operators; EUR 466 million spent by relatives visiting students. “

Perhaps politicians should take a tour during their holidays in cities like Brest, Nancy or Mulhouse, where foreign students energise local life. Their inhabitants will confirm it.
The Conversation

Hicham Jamid is a PhD student in Sociology, National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (CNAM). 

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Read the original here

Featured image credit: Calvin Hanson on Unsplash