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France To Its Foreign Graduates: Here's Your Degree, Now Bon Voyage

In France, a controversial new decree is wreaking havoc among foreign-born francophone students who arrived looking to enter the global elite via the country's top universities. Now that they have their degrees, they are being told to leave. Is t

Students at Paris' elite liberal arts institution Sciences Po (Knowtex)
Students at Paris' elite liberal arts institution Sciences Po (Knowtex)
Jacqueline de Linarès

PARIS - Is the future of the international French-speaking elite likely to start snubbing France?

As usual, hundreds of top foreign-born graduates from the best French universities – engineering schools, business schools like HEC, social sciences institutions like Sciences Po — have been hired to prestigious positions over the last six months. But over the past few weeks, these same students have started receiving letters coming from local authorities forbidding them to work in France. Faced with a general outcry from the Grandes Ecoles, France's network of elite universities, the French government pledged to review the decree.

Nevertheless, Nihal, a 24 year-old student from Morocco, has been worried sick after receiving the ominous letter. She had been awarded an excellence scholarship by the French government so that she could come study engineering at the INSA Grande Ecole in Lyon; and upon graduation was hired by an important consulting firm. But then came the letter, which stated that she could not retain her job due to "inadequacy between the training and the position."

It all sounds absurb, given that every year the most prominent consulting firms are desperate for young engineers to come and work for them. Nihal, in fact, had already been offered five positions from various highly prestigious firms. Now she is supposed to leave France -- by next week.

Canada and Germany are good alternatives

Sami, a 25 year-old Tunisian student, graduated from Paris's ESCP international business school and was also hired by an international consulting firm thanks to his skills in English and Arabic and his expertise of Gulf countries. But he too was prevented by local authorities from taking his position. He is now considering relocating to Canada or Germany to find a job.

These are some of the devastating effects of the "Guéant decree" that was passed on May 31, 2011, in which the Minister of the Interior Claude Guéant reminded French prefects to keep the door shut to foreign job-seekers. Since October, the governement has been trying to play down the disastrous consequences of the decree on France's prestige abroad. France's minister of higher education and research, Laurent Wauquiez, tried to explain that the text was "misunderstood." He also promised that all the cases submitted by the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles (CGE) would be reviewed by the end of the year.

Last week, an answer had already been found for 202 of the 530 cases filed, according to the CGE. French Prime Minister François Fillon also added that foreign students could still resort to the 2006 immigration law which allows them to get a first working experience in France. Still, the damage is done. Some graduates have already left France. One, an Indian-born graduate from a commerce school outside of Paris who'd hoped to create a start-up liking businesses between France and India, has chosen to settle in Germany instead.

It is also unsure whether reviewing files is going to put all these young people back on their feet in France. "We will base our judgment on evidence," says Pierre Aliphat, director general of the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles. "Companies have not kept their promises," complains one of the students gathered together in a group dubbed the May 31 Collective for the day the law was passed.

At the end of the day, "as long as the government does not withdraw this decree, there's no way we can prevent a civil servant working at the préfecture from denying a foreign graduate permission to work here," says Pascal Codron, director of the ISA Lille school of Agricultural Engineering. "They must be rubbing their hands with glee in Germany and other countries where there's fierce competition for securing the best graduates."

Read more from Le Nouvel Observateur

Photo – knowtex

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