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France eases non-EU student visa restrictions

France has made it easier for students from outside the European Union to obtain visas and work in the country after they graduate, in a bid to attract more international students to the country.

Minister of the interior, Manual Valls, has annulled the controversial Circulaire du Mai 31 which sought to lower immigration by curbing post-study work rights.

"It shows that international students are welcome. It’s a completely different state of mind”

On May 22, minister of the interior Manuel Valls sent a circulaire to all local immigration offices annulling unpopular restrictions imposed by the former UMP government that sought to lower immigration.

In a major change, foreign students will no longer have to renew their visas annually with permits lasting the full duration of a course—two years for master’s, three years bachelors and four years PhDs.

Students will no longer have to renew their visas annually with permits lasting the full duration of a course

After graduation they will also be able to stay for one year to look for work – up from six months – in a field related to their studies. The policy is no longer linked to labour market conditions such as the unemployment rate or skills shortages, and makes obtaining a work permit easier (although the amount of personal savings required of students will not be lowered).

“Previously companies who wanted to hire international students had to prove many things, for example that they weren’t displacing French students from jobs,” Olivier Chiche Portiche, director at Departement de la Promotion at Campus France, told The PIE News.

“Now if a student wants to find a job in France they simply have to give the authorities a letter from their future employer saying that they need him. It is also recommended that they get a letter signed by the head of their university but that is optional.”

The move annuls the controversial “Circulaire du Mai 31” issued by the former minister of the interior, Claude Geant, in 2011. A publicity nightmare for France, it attempted to limit immigration by curbing post-study work rights and prompted a spike in visa rejections as well as student protests.

Claiming the country’s position as a study destination was “fragile” in May, Higher Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso vowed to improve visa conditions, as well as overhaul Campus France (the government’s higher education promotion arm), build more student housing, provide foreign students with free French language lessons and increase English-medium education.

The move annuls the controversial “Circulaire du Mai 31” issued by the former minister of the interior

The visa changes should help France appear more welcoming, says Chiche Portiche. “Everything is smoother now. These measures are very open and show that international students are welcome and that France wants them. It’s a completely different state of mind.”

France is the world’s fifth most popular study destination according to the OECD, although some believe it to be fourth ahead of Germany. According to Campus France the country welcomed 288,500 foreign students in 2011-2012, a real terms increase, and it remains the destination of choice for Africans despite losing some appeal since 2006.

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