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Resources Expectations Overshadow non-EU Student Visa Relaxation in France

On 12 January the French government backtracked on its decision to limit the employment of non-EU students when they finish advanced training in France. Under the new guidance, non-EU students with a two-year Master’s degree or above can remain in the country for 6 months after graduation in order to look for a job, and obtain a professional visa once they have found one. (For comparison, foreign students in Germany are allowed to stay for a full year under similar circumstances.) The new circular comes just a few months after a previous circular dated May 31 2011 made it much more difficult for students to obtain those very rights, which were first granted in 2006. (The May circular included other changes, too.) The visa refusals and delays that ensued have generated widespread protests from students, researchers, and university presidents.  
The 12 January circular goes further in trying to redress things by granting foreign students who find jobs before graduating the right to stay — the first time they have had that right in France. A spokesperson representing the Conference des Présidents d’Universités, or CPU, the body representing French university presidents, described this as a welcome measure, in an interview with Science Careers — but said it would only partly alleviate the red tape that reportedly leads many foreign students to camp overnight in front of the administrative office to get their visas renewed. 
However welcome, this policy shift is a small victory. Higher taxes on student and working visas were introduced in the 2012 finance law. 2011 regulations that require students to prove that they have more substantial resources at their disposal are also likely to put off many prospective students. Specifically, non-EU citizens living in France under a ‘student’ visa now have to demonstrate that they have funding at least equivalent to 100% of the French government student stipend, which varies between €615 (at B.Sc. level) and €767 per month (at Ph.D. level). That’s 30% more funding than was required in 2007, and not all Ph.D. stipends are that large. The immigrant-support group GISTI initiated legal action against the Prime Minister, accusing him of creating a situation in which admission is decided on the basis of ability to pay rather than academic excellence. 
Last September, France imposed additional financial requirements as part of the implementation of the European Blue Card, which was introduced by the European Commission in 2009 to allow highly qualified professionals to move more freely around Europe. Should foreign scientists wish to take advantage of the ‘European Blue Card‘ to spend time working in France, they will have to meet a minimum salary requirement of one and a half times the national average gross salary, currently set at about €4,250/month. 
There is one consolation for researchers who enter France through a hosting agreement at an academic institution or a public or private research organization, including students with a doctoral employment contract. Since October 2011, such researchers are given extended-stay scientific visas (called “VLS-TS”), which means that they no longer must ask for the right to stay after they arrive, though they still need to register with the immigration office. The VLS-TS are valid for up to 1 year, after which they can be replaced by a permit to stay (“carte de sejour”) valid for up to 4 years. Another change gives researchers’ spouses and children easier access to the right to stay in France. 
All in all, the current regulations offer a mixed picture for professional immigration. Even with the improvements described above, barriers remain for foreign scientists who wish to work in France. Perhaps this accounts, partly, for the 26% decline in professional immigration documented in government figures in 2011.
– By freelance science writer Sabine Louët