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France : 150 years of immigration

lundi 7 septembre 2009

France has always been a country of immigration. Between 1851 and 1911, the percentage of immigrants rose from to 1% to 3% of French population. These immigrants were mainly Belgian, Italian and Spanish. In the 20th century, the first important wave of immigration took place between 1920 and 1930.

So the percentage of immigrants rose from 3 to 6,6% in 1931. In the 1930s, there was an important arrival of Polish workers (600 000) and Spanish people (500 000) after the defeat of the Spanish Revolution.

These numbers can give the impression that Muslims were not an important religious minority in France before the Second World War. In a way it’s true : before the First World War there were around 5000 North African workers. But the war obliged the French State to import, partly by force, 100 000 thousand North African workers and 100 000 soldiers. After the First World War the soldiers were sent back home and the workers pushed to come back, but obviously many stayed and decided to reside in France.

If we want to take into account the importance of the « Muslim » population, one must take into consideration the French Empire (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia but also Western and Central Africa) and the fact that in the 1920s France claimed to be a « Muslim power ».

After the Second World War the percentage of immigrants rose from 4,4% in 1945 to 6,6% of the total population in 1975. So it reached more or less the level of the 1930s. This percentage has not changed much in the last 30 years : today immigrants represent 7,4% of the French population.

To appreciate exactly how many foreigners live in France, it is necessary to make a distinction between foreigners and immigrants. An immigrant is somebody who was born abroad and came to France but may become French rather quickly. A foreigner is somebody who has a foreign passport and therefore is not a French citizen.

Immigrants regularly become French and their children are automatically « naturalized » if they are born in France. That’s why we can consider the question of immigration from three different points of views, which give way to 3 different statistics, which fit into eachother like Russian puppets. In France there are : 3,6 million foreigners, or 4,3 million immigrants, or 6,1 million persons living in a family where either the father or the mother is a migrant. (see the graphic page 6)

The main « non European nationalities » are roughly :

Algerians : 488 000

Moroccans : 475 000

Tunisians : 147 000

Turks : 229 000

Subsaharean Africans : 418 000 (the African population has tripled between 1982 and 1990, and once more doubled since then).

Asians : 260 000

The main European communities were in 2005 :

Portuguese : 493 000

Italians : 179 000

Spanish : 138 000.

In we take into account all the immigrants, the non Europeans represent today 55 % and the Europeans 45 %. Since 1990 the non European migrants represent therefore a small majority of the immigrant population.

To these immigrants one must add those who are French by birth but come from the French DOM-TOM : Guadeloupe, Martinique, Polynesia, New Caledonia. The 400 000 French West Indians represent an important fraction of the poorly-qualified employees of the public sector (postal services and hospitals). But none of them is considered as a migrant !

The percentage of women among immigrants is much higher than before 1974 because the frontiers have been closed in July 1974 for « non Europeans » and only family immigration and asylum seekers are allowed to enter.

- Yves-

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