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July 2006, Volume 13, Number 3

France, Germany, Benelux

France. As in the US, about 75 percent of the immigrants arriving in France each year join family members already settled there. In an effort to attract more skilled immigrants, a bill approved on a 367-164 vote by the French National Assembly in May 2006 sets targets for three categories of immigrants: skilled workers, students and families, with the skilled eligible for three-year "talent" work and residence permits.

However, the new law approved June 30, 2006 limits family unification by requiring newcomers to study French and civics, cracks down on bogus marriages, and ends the practice of giving legal residence to unauthorized foreigners who have been in France at least 10 years.

There are 200,000 to 400,000 foreigners living without authorization in France, and 20,000 were removed in 2005. Unauthorized foreigners who "voluntarily" agreed to return to their countries of origin could receive payments of $2,400 per adult and $600 per child. In July 2006, the French government began to seek out unauthorized families through children completing the school year; French schools enroll children regardless of their legal status.

Opinion polls show rising support for the National Front led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, about 20 percent, with analysts citing the riots by North African youth in Fall 2005 and protests over a labor law that would have made it easier to fire youth in Spring 2006. The National Front holds no seats in Parliament, but has up to 30 percent of the seats on some municipal councils, many seats on regional councils and seven seats in the European Parliament.

In 2002, Le Pen placed second in voting for president, but lost to Jacques Chirac in a run-off election. Le Pen used his May 1, 2006 speech to recount the story of Joan of Arc, the 15th-century heroine who fought British domination in France and whom the National Front has adopted as its patron saint. Le Pen says that today's threat to France is from immigration.

The New York Times reported June 2, 2006 that many young French graduates are working in the UK and Ireland, holding white-collar jobs while young Poles fill blue-collar jobs in France.

Germany. Germany has 6.7 million foreign residents, eight percent of its 82 million population, and an additional 7.1 million residents with migrant backgrounds, defined as a person with at least one parent who was a foreigner, or is an ethnic German who moved to Germany from Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR. Unemployment among foreigners, 26 percent, is over twice the overall rate of 11 percent.

According to an opinion poll, 61 percent of Germans in 2006 agreed that "there are too many foreigners living in Germany," up from 55 percent in 2002.

Germany has been rethinking its education system, which assigns children to academic or vocational tracks at age 12. The OECD's Pisa study found that immigrant children in Germany performed especially poorly. Some German states, which largely determine education policy, have embraced comprehensive schools that minimize the tracking of children at an early age.

The World Cup began its one-month run in Germany on June 9, 2006 amid fears that skinheads might attack nonwhite soccer fans. African community groups in Germany compiled a list of "no-go" areas they described as unsafe for foreigners during the World Cup, but there were few reported attacks.

There are 4.7 million unemployed workers in Germany, and over half have been jobless a year or more. The long-term jobless receive about E650 a month, equivalent to E4.50 an hour for a 32-hour week. The government is considering whether to introduce a minimum wage and, if so, what level would encourage the jobless to seek work. France and the Netherlands have minimum wages equivalent to about E8 an hour, and Ireland and Britain equivalent to E7.50 an hour.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on May 24, 2006 that some 280,000 Poles were working in German agriculture, many harvesting asparagus. The German Labor Department is insisting that 10 percent of farm workers in 2006 be German. German farm workers can receive subsidies that give them E13 to E20 an hour tax free, or $17 to $25.

According to farmers, Poles are much more efficient harvesters, averaging 400kg or 880 pounds a day, twice the German average. A Polish nurse who took her six-week paid vacation to harvest asparagus in Germany expected to earn E2,000, the equivalent of six weeks pay at home. A German farm with 890 acres of asparagus reported hiring 1,350 workers, including 800 Poles, for the harvest.

Benelux. A Somali woman who received asylum in the Netherlands and was elected to the Dutch parliament resigned in May 2006. Ayaan Hirsi Ali lost her Dutch citizenship for lying on her asylum application in 1992, saying she had come directly from Somalia when she actually had lived in Kenya for 12 years.

The immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, known as "Iron Rita" for her tough stance on immigration, agreed to reconsider the Hirsi Ali case after the government was dissolved in the dispute. A million of the 16 million residents of the Netherlands are Muslim.

Hirsi Ali wrote the screenplay for "Submission," a film that outraged many Muslims and prompted an Islamic radical to kill its director, Theo van Gogh, in 2004. The film featured four women wearing see-through robes with words from the Koran scribbled on their bodies; they claimed to have been abused by their Muslim husbands. Hirsi Ali will move to the US and promote her book, "The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam."

Verdonk said that a new law requiring 250,000 immigrants to enroll in Dutch language and integration courses will begin January 1, 2007.

Violence against foreigners in Belgium drew attention to the Vlaams Belang, the Flemish Interest party, which advocates less immigration (Vlaams Belang is a successor to Vlaams Blok, which was outlawed in 2004). The party disavowed a youth who was expelled from school and killed three foreigners at random in May 2006.

Andreas Tzortzis, "When Germans join migrant field hands, the harvest suffers," Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2006. Marlise Simons, "Muslim's Loss of Dutch Citizenship Stirs Storm," New York Times, May 18, 2006. "Let the skilled come," The Economist, May 4, 2006.