France has announced a “targeted” reduction in the number of visas granted to nationals from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, amid a diplomatic dispute with the Maghreb countries over what France calls "illegal immigrants" on its soil.
Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told Europe 1 radio, “It's a drastic decision, and unprecedented, but one made necessary by the fact that these countries are refusing to take back nationals who we do not want or cannot keep in France."
The Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune also emphasized, “These countries must be told that they must take back people who are identified as their nationals. We have levers to do this, for example, visas (…) by targeting political leaders, economic leaders.”
On his visit to the three African countries last year, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin presented a list of 230 foreigners that France wishes to expel. Darmanin said these “illegal” nationals are in an irregular situation, also suspected of “radicalization.”
However, Algerian authorities dismissed the claim, saying that the list includes names of citizens born in France, but of Algerian origin, insisting it is not an issue of illegal migration.
Moreover, the three Maghreb countries are refusing the issuance of the consular licenses necessary to forcibly expel these individuals back to their home countries.
Consular pass is needed after visa requests are denied.
In the case of Algeria, more than 7,000 visa requests have been denied in the first six months of 2021; however, only 22 nationals have received consular license and have been sent back to Algeria.
French President Emanuel Macron has ordered the number of Algerian and Moroccan visas to be sharply reduced by 50 percent compared to 2020.
He has also reduced more than 31,500 visas for Algerians for the second six months of the year, while the number of visas delivered to Tunisia has also been reduced by a third.
Macron has called on the European Union to reform the Schengen Zone visa. Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the request at a European leaders' meeting.
France is also planning to strengthen its border controls to curb clandestine immigration by doubling police on its borders.
Immigration has become a contentious issue for the French presidential election set for April next year, with right-wing and far-right parties challenging Macron's policies. Macron has not yet said whether he will stand for re-election.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Monday she would call a referendum proposing drastic limits on immigration if she is elected president next year.
Le Pen said the referendum would propose strict criteria for entering French territory and for acquiring French nationality.