Academic journal article Population

Characteristics of Migration Flows to France Based on Residence Permit Data (1998-2013)

Academic journal article Population

Characteristics of Migration Flows to France Based on Residence Permit Data (1998-2013)

Article excerpt

Migration flows are more difficult to measure statistically than other demographic variables. While birth, marriage and death are clearly defined events, migration is less easy to pinpoint. It cannot simply be defined as a stay in another country: we do not consider tourists and business travellers as immigrants, for example. A person must stay for a sufficiently long time, and - according to international guidelines on migration statistics - have the intention of settling in the host country. Length of stay and individual motivations are hard to incorporate into a statistical estimation, added the simple fact that no democratic country is able to record every single entry and even less every single exit.(1) Inflows and outflows of goods are tracked more closely by the customs administration than inflows and outflows of people. Compounding those methodological difficulties, migration is a highly sensitive political and media issue. When multiple sources and indicators are used to measure migration, this is sometimes interpreted as an attempt to cover up the "reality" of the situation, or as the government's inability to monitor migration flows effectively. Yet it is the through wealth and diversity of statistics that we can shed light on the complex phenomenon of migration, whose many facets can never be encapsulated in a single figure.

This article uses administrative data on residence permits issued to foreign nationals resident in France to define the characteristics of migration flows. A residence permit is an administrative document that authorizes a foreign national to reside in France for a specified length of time. It differs from a visa, which authorizes entry and a short-term stay in the country. Although some long-stay visas are now equivalent to residence permits, as explained below, in most cases a residence permit is required to reside legally in France after a visa has expired.

This article looks in detail at the advantages and disadvantages of using residence permit data to construct statistical series on migration. It then presents migrant inflows and outflows, broken down by several criteria, for a sixteen-year period from 1998 to 2013.

The migrants included in the study

By using residence permit data to characterize migrant flows, we consider only a fraction of the people who move to France. Firstly, the migrants included in our study are all foreign nationals. French citizens who return to France after having lived abroad are not recorded in these inflows. Secondly, some foreign nationals resident in France - European nationals, in particular - are not required to hold a residence permit. The right to move and reside freely within the European Union was introduced in 2003 and has been gradually extended to new member countries since then. Citizens of most European countries now have the right to live and work in France without a residence permit. Thirdly, among non-European citizens, residence permit data only cover those third-country nationals who are living legally in France. The only undocumented migrants recorded in the administrative database used here to measure inflows are those who have legalized their status by successfully applying for a residence permit.

Inflows and outflows of foreign nationals who hold a residence permit are therefore smaller than total migration flows. In this article, the term "inflows" refers to entries into a legal status, not entries into the country. The status in question is that of legal, long-term migrant. It should be noted that the start date of a residence permit does not necessarily correspond to the date of entry into the country, especially if the migrant entered illegally. Similarly, the holder of a valid residence permit may have left France. The term "outflows" therefore refers here to the expiry of the right to legal, long-term residence as a foreign national in France. To sum up, residence permit data provide a measure of migration via rights granted to foreign nationals, specifically the right to reside, rather than through observation of physical residence. …

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