A 2014 study by the Migration Policy Institute concluded that “the French labor market can be hostile to new entrants, whether they are recently arrived immigrants or young people looking for a first job”. The country prohibits foreign nationals from working in the public sector, fails to recognize many foreign qualifications, and implements onerous professional licensing requirements for many positions.
Costly hiring and firing laws reduce the dynamism of the labor market, while regulations that come into effect when businesses exceed 50 employees deter businesses from expanding. The result is high unemployment, especially for people on the fringes of the labor force, such as migrants, young people and the unskilled.
Before the pandemic, the French unemployment rate among the foreign-born working population was 13.1% compared to just 4.3% in the UK. The employment rate was also lower: 58.9% in France against 74.7% much higher here. Those same rules and regulations crush opportunities for young people – youth unemployment was 20 percent in France, almost double the 11.1 percent in Britain.
The human costs of such a high unemployment rate are enormous, contributing to intergenerational difficulties for the children of migrants. Previous research has shown that second generation immigrants in France are severely disadvantaged in the labor market, with descendants of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and Turkey being the most discriminated against.
One might think, given all this, that senior French politicians would be more circumspect in condemning other “economic models” or denouncing the humanity of their labor laws. But there has always been a particular French snobbery towards a liberal labor market that does not incorporate ID cards or a host of protective entry restrictions. Using the dead in the Channel to express it just seems muffled at the moment.
None of this minimizes the current Channel crossing crisis, which has many causes, including displacement following the crackdown on other modes of crossing, such as trucks. Travel attempts are a difficult problem to solve without overhauling the entire immigration system in a way that could lead to a politically difficult increase in applications.
But for the French government to suggest that these problems reflect a deliberate policy of promoting illegal work in the UK is despicable. And given their overall effects, if I were asked to choose between France’s “humane” labor laws and ours, I would always choose that of the United Kingdom.