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France moots softer line on overseas students

Studying in France could become more attractive thanks to a pledge from the new French President, Francois Hollande, to overturn controversial restrictions on work rights for overseas students introduced by the last government.

Collectif 31 du Mai estimates 2,000 students have been expelled since the last government made it harder to gain post-study work and residency

Hollande wants to withdraw controversial restrictions on post-study work rights

He has promised to withdraw the infamous Circulaire du 31 Mai – a government memo issued in May 2011 which instructs immigration officials to reject more non-European applications for post-study work and residency visas through tougher interpretation of the law. The policy, aimed at lowering immigration, caused an outcry among students and universities and has led to as many as 2,000 highly qualified graduates being expelled from France in 12 months.

Fatma Chouaieb, a spokesperson for the protest group the Collectif du 31 Mai, said that she was happy the President had prioritised the issue. “We are of course waiting for it to happen, and in this perspective we sent him a letter today to make this suggestion: may the 31st of May, 2012, be the anniversary of the end of 12 long months. It would be the perfect date for us to withdraw the memo,” she said.

“May the 31st of May, 2012, be the anniversary of the end of 12 long months”

Defending the circulaire last year, the former prime minister, François Fillon, claimed the rules protected French graduate jobs and addressed immigration fraud, while the granting of post-study work visas actually increased.

However, the measures are widely seen as having damaged France’s image abroad. A recent survey of five of Europe’s most popular student destinations found that international students felt most discriminated against because of their backgrounds in France (39.9% said it was a serious concern), with the circulaire cited as a cause.

“It is very sad to see the large quantity of brilliant students being forced to leave France”

One Bolivian female student was quoted as saying in the report: “It is very sad to see the large quantity of brilliant students, having acquired degrees from prominent and top French universities and schools, being forced to leave France… The students lose out in the short term, but all the negative effects of this circulaire will make France lose in the long term.”

Hollande, a long time critic of the circulaire, said that overseas students had been treated badly in France and promised to reexamine existing laws on student immigration as part of a wider overhaul of French education. However, his traction on the issue will be determined by the results of parliamentary elections this June, in which Nicholas Sarkozy’s UMP party could still see a strong showing.

France is the world’s fifth most popular student destination according to the OECD and has among the highest rates of students staying on after their studies.


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